Nagpur: Sachin Tendulkar returned to haunt Zimbabwe producing yet another majestic knock which placed him third in the list of highest century makers and his team in a commanding position in the first Test against Zimbabwe on Saturday.The master batsman notched up his 28th Test century and remained unbeaten on 137 as India reached 437 for five by the end of third day's play on Saturday. Only Sunil Gavaskar (34) and Don Bradman (29) have scored more Test hundreds than Tendulkar. The hosts now enjoy a lead of 150 runs over Zimbabwe's first innings score of 237 with five wickets remaining.
All-rounder Sanjay Bangar was giving Tendulkar company on 22 at stumps. Tendulkar batted throughout the day after India resumed at the overnight 209 for two and got good support from Rahul Dravid, skipper Saurav Ganguly and later Bangar. Tendulkar, who had scored 201 not out against Zimbabwe at this very ground in 2000, was looking set for his third career double century. For Zimbabwe, left-arm spinner Ray Price claimed four wickets for 130 runs from his 58 overs. The visitors suffered a setback when one of their leading bowlers Travis Friend was barred from operating further in the innings after he sent a delivery over the batsman's head for the second time.
Friend was warned by umpire S Venkataraghavan when he had committed the mistake, though inadvertently, for the first time on Friday against Shiv Sunder Das. V V S Laxman was the only real failure on a day when every single batsman on display chipped in with useful contributions. The Hyderabad batsman, who was dropped for the One-day series against England earlier this year, managed only 13 during his 32-run fifth wicket stand with Tendulkar. It was slow progress for India for most of the day. Dravid and Tendulkar found the going tough initially before the master batsman, who hadn't scored on Friday, got his rhythm going. Tendulkar scored his first boundary after facing 20 balls when he drove Price off the backfoot through the cover region.
Soon after, he square cut Friend and flicked Heath Streak to mid-wicket fence for two more fours. Zimbabwe took the new ball after the sixth over on Saturday morning with the Indian total reading 219 for two. Dravid, who was batting on 57 on Friday, was the only batsman to fall in the morning session when he dragged a short and wide delivery from Streak on to his stumps. The ball kept very low and Dravid went for a cut but only managed an inside edge which crashed into the stumps. Dravid made 65 with eight fours and added 38 runs for the third wicket with Tendulkar.
India took lunch at 274 for three with Ganguly playing a patient innings in the company of Tendulkar. Keen to get a big score, Ganguly was very cautious in his shot selection, even giving a lot of respect to the two left-arm spinners - Price and Grant Flower - a breed he generally treats with contempt. He played a few fine strokes, a delicate late cut against Grant Flower being the pick of his shots, before temptation got the better of him. After making 38 with seven fours, Ganguly charged forward to Price in a bid to hoist him over long-on but only managed to give a catch to Grant Flower.
Tendulkar, in the meanwhile was determination personified, as he negotiated the Zimbabwe bowlers with utmost concentration, never giving them any chance to get the better of him. He produced some glorious cover drives and scored fluently on both sides of the wicket as India took tea at 363 for four. It was extremely slow progress after tea with only 22 runs being added in the first half with the loss of Laxman's wicket. However, things picked up considerably in the last one-hour of play with both Tendulkar and Bangar stepping up the scoring. Bangar, playing his second Test, took his time to settle down but once set he played some fine strokes.