Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ushering in the 51st century

While it may sound funny that I am writing about 51st century even as we are still in the nascent stages of the 21st century. But this comes at the back of an achievement, a record, a feat that will remain unparalleled for years to come.

Yes I am talking about the 50th test century that the best batsman of the modern generation of cricketers, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has scored. In a country, which fantasises about personal achievements in cricket more than anything else, this record breaking effort has caught the eye of every cricket follower across the world. Every newspaper is carrying a sizeable coverage of the feat with the Sydney Morning Herald even conducting a poll amongst its readers, comparing the Little Master with the great Sir Don Bradman.

As I write this blog, I recollect the edition of TIME magazine that featured the Little Master among 60 Asian Heroes. The section that covered the athletes and the explorer featured the likes of Jahangir Khan and Bruce Lee to name a few. And here found our batting genius, an introduction, which is an apt picture of what was to expect of the man. An excerpt of the article is presented below:

"When Sachin Tendulkar travelled to Pakistan to face one of the finest bowling attacks ever assembled in cricket, Michael Schumacher was yet to race a F1 car, Lance Armstrong had never been to the Tour de France, Diego Maradona was still the captain of a world champion Argentina team, Pete Sampras had never won a Grand Slam. When Tendulkar embarked on a glorious career taming Imran and company, Roger Federer was a name unheard of; Lionel Messi was in his nappies, Usain Bolt was an unknown kid in the Jamaican backwaters. The Berlin Wall was still intact, USSR was one big, big country, Dr Manmohan Singh was yet to "open" the Nehruvian economy. It seems while Time was having his toll on every individual on the face of this planet, he excused one man. Time stands frozen in front of Sachin Tendulkar. We have had champions, we have had legends, but we have never had another Sachin Tendulkar and we never will."

They say immortals never die; they remain in the hearts of the people, even after they are long gone. That may not hold true in every sense. We will never get to see John Lennon write, compose and perform like the way he did. Nor will we see Rod Laver winning the grand slam for the third time, no matter how badly we crave for! And so I consider myself blessed, more than lucky, to have been born in an era, when Tendulkar played and scored all those 50 Test centuries. It is a candid enough confession that I have faint memories of the first few hundreds scored by him, even though I was not even in my teens. And thanks to my elder brother who happens to be as sports fanatic as yours truly, that I could stay up late and watch the highlights package in the good old Doordarshan days. I remember the winters of 1991-92 and 1992-93 when India toured Australia and South Africa respectively in the summers of the southern hemisphere. The Doordarshan days were ‘special’ in every sense, as there was no satellite television in the country, which meant no live coverage of cricket matches when India toured, and all that the viewers could see was the one hour highlights package which would begin with a blue screen displaying the programme and the venue blinking at a rate more than a car indicator would, at a traffic signal.

So it was during these highlights show, that I saw Tendulkar bat for the first time. It was the tour of Pakistan in 1980, which also happened to be SRTs first. And it was in one of the one day exhibition matches that my brother asked me to occupy the privileged seat in front of the TV. He mentioned about Tendulkar for the first time and told me that this is the guy who resembles Pappu and plays superb. Pappu?? Hang on. Pappu was the elder son of one of our family friends and in the murky days of Doordarshan every one would resemble someone or the other. This was the match, when the then 16 year old kid from Bombay took on the then best spinner, Abdul Qadir. Pakistan had had set India a meagre target of 158, and the crowds jeered Sachin by calling him “Doodh Peeta Bachcha”. India got home thanks largely to Sachin’s 18 ball 53. That one over from Qadir read 6, 0, 4, 6, 6, 6. Twenty eight runs were scored in one over off the miserly Abdul Qadir. That marked the arrival of Sachin on the big stage.
Sachin got to his first test century on the tour of England in 1990, when he scored a brilliant 119 not out to help salvage a draw for India at Manchester. Next hundred came on the tour of Australia, where India were completely outclassed and lost four of the five test matches played. Tendulkar scored his second hundred (148 not out) in the third test match at SCG, which also saw Shane Warne’s debut and Ravi Shastri’s highest test score of 206 not out. India were undone by the rain and saw them draw a test on foreign soil after coming within sniffing distance of a victory. India headed to Adelaide for the fourth test and were again unlucky to lose the test match by 38 runs, chasing 371 in the last innings. The fifth test of the series was at the “bouncy, pacy” WACA Ground, Perth. India were struggling at 69 for 2 when the 18 year old kid walked in to play the biggest innings of his life. All the Indian batsmen had struggled on the fast, bouncy pitches of Down Under against the likes of Craig McDermott, the hostile and the burly Merv Hughes, Bruce Reid and Mike Whitney. But one man stood tall. That was the master class. Sachin scored a superb 160 balls 114. The Aussie bowlers bowled the short stuff brilliantly, but the little batsman from Mumbai had every answer. Nothing could sound sweeter on the television than listening to Bill Lawry’s voice that still echoes “Short, wide, cut, four”. And the script was full of cuts, pulls and drives. A hundred studded with 16 hits to the fence. That for many remains the best hundred that Sachin, has scored. Other hundreds that rekindle are the ones scored in Chennai (136) against Pakistan, at his favourite SCG (read Sachin’s Cricket Ground) where he scored a no driving in the off 241* against Australia.

So before I wrap up this article, here is my list of top test 100s by the man:

1. 114, WACA, Perth against Australia 1991-92. He was still in his teens when he scored this hundred on a pitch, considered by many as the graveyard for the batsmen from the subcontinent.

2. 136, MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai, against Pakistan 1999. Out of nowhere, Saqlain Mushtaq was bowling his Doosras with pin point accuracy. Yet again the famed Indian batting line up collapsed, this time to a spinner. This is where SRT played on a turning fourth day pitch and scored a chanceless hundred. He fell to a rash stroke, which meant India lost hopes and with it the match.

3. 241*, SCG, Sydney, against Australia 2003-04. SRT struggled in the first three tests on this tour with his favorite drives on the off side, which brought his downfall in every innings. He headed into the final test at SCG and did not score a single boundary on the off side with the drives. To cut out his favourite stroke and yet score a magnificent double takes a lot of determination, grit and focus. And this is what one witnessed in SCG.

4. 155*, MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai, against Australia 1998. Yet another hundred that sparks brilliance is 155* against Shane Warne led Aussie attack in the first test of the Border Gavaskar Trophy in Chennai, which Warnie famously put it as having nightmares of Sachin dancing down the track and hitting him over his head.

5. 168, Newlands, Capetown, against South Africa 1996-97. The tour of South Africa with the dusty, bouncy Durban, where India was shot out for a mere 100 in the first innings and lost the test match inside three days. The second test at Newlands was no different in the manner the Indian batsmen faced the red cherry. Allan Donald was the best fast bowler then and was breathing fire. Sachin, in the company of the wristful Azhar launched a counter offensive and scored huge hundreds in quick duration. He fell to the brilliance of Adam Bacher and the match ended in yet another Indian loss on foreign soil.

In my next blog, I will pick the best ODI hundreds by Sachin, hopefully by which time he would have scored his 100th International hundred.


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