More than stock market indices, headline inflation figures or GDP data, Sachin Tendulkar’s on field performances have perhaps been a better barometer of our national mood for over two decades.
If a Martian a happened to scan the archives of Indian newspapers, it would appear to him that Tendulkar’s milestone has a greater importance on our existence than the economic crises in the Eurozone, or the policy paralysis that has gripped India’s economy.
As India breathlessly awaits his 100th, a veritable Mount Everest of cricket records, alongside Sir Don Bradman’s Test average of 99.94, which is unlikely to be ever scaled, all other cricketing matters have taken a backseat.
This is perhaps the weakest West Indian team to tour India, and the series itself seems hurriedly put together to fill the gap before the much awaited India tour to Australia later in the winter. And it’s only the anticipation of Tendulkar’s record that seems to lend the series any meaning.
But for a man who is at the cusp of a 100 international hundreds, his spells without a ton (and there have been a few) have been agonizing for his fans.
Having broken on to the international stage at the tender age of 16, more than 20 years ago, at a time when George Bush Sr. was the president of the US and the Berlin wall still stood, it took him fairly long to reach his first hundred.
Tendulkar himself has spoken in detail about the creeping self doubt whether he belonged to the big stage at all. He came close in Napier in his 10th Test outing at Napier.
Team India’s future coach John Wright took a famous catch at mid off when Tendulkar was on 100, robbing the boy wonder of the record of becoming the youngest Test centurion beating another pint-sized subcontinent batting great Hanif Mohammed.
Finally, the moment came late summer at Old Trafford in 1990 when he cracked a breezy 119 not out in a match saving effort. He had to wait seven more innings but nearly a year and a half to get his second.
“There are many phases in Tendulkar’s career when India played precious few Tests. If like Australia or England, India had a tradition of playing at least 10 Tests a year, he probably would have been within touching distance of 20,000 runs,” says K Srikkanth, Tendulkar’s first skipper.
In the 1991-92 winter tour of Australia, came Tendulkar’s finest moment. While the tour had been disastrous for India, a young Tendulkar lived up to the promise. His 148 not out at the third Test in Sydney was the youngest by anyone playing in Australia, and he won the first of many battles he would fight against the great Shane Warne.
Then at Perth, in the fifth and final Test of the series, when an utterly demoralised Indian team was hoping for a swift end to its prolonged agony, the 18 year-old played a lonely hand.
At a venue which the best in business detested, a fresh-faced Tendulkar cracked a 114 which even he to date rates as one of his best. With his brand of attacking strokeplay, and the fearless ability to play lofted strokes even off quick bowlers suggested he was tailor-made for the shorter format of the game. But here, it took him a very long time to truly blossom.
By 1994, Tendulkar had established himself among the front rank batsmen in the world. But a three figure score in ODIs eluded him. Despite, winning the world cup in 1983, and the world championship of cricket in 1985, Indian batsmen weren’t in the habit of posting big scores.
Even until the 1994, Srikkanth, and Ravi Shastri were the highest century makers for India with four apiece, and Desmond Haynes’ tally of 15 plus, 100s seemed unsurmountable.
But the course of India’s ODI cricket changed for ever on a freezing day at Auckland in 1994 when skipper Azharuddin pushed Tendulkar to open the innings, and take advantage of the field restrictions. The Mumbaikar scored 82 off 49 balls, and looked certain to break Azhar’s own record of the fastest 100 by an Indian.
That knock was followed by a string of quickfire half-centuries, and ended all debate over his batting position in ODIs. Finally, eight matches later, in his 77th ODI knock, against Australia he made his first 100, opening up the floodgates.
More than any of his contemporary batting greats, Tendulkar had the knack of enduring unusually barren spells. In his long career, there have been eight occasions when he has gone without a hundred in 10 or more consecutive innings.
In a 13-innings spell between 2002 and 2003 which ended with an ultra cautious career best 241 not out against Australia in Sydney, Tendulkar managed to score just 254 at an average below 20.
The longest such spell occurred in 2005-06 when he failed to score a 100 in 17 outings to the crease. That was the period when he was plagued by the recurring tennis elbow and Achilles tendon problems. Greg Chappell’s presence in the dressing room as Team India’s coach could have also played a part.
It took him another two years to emerge fully from the trough, as he repeatedly kept falling in the nervous 80s and 90s.
With at least nine possible innings at home against a middling West Indian attack, it wouldn’t be a bad bet to put your money on Tendulkar embarking on a tour to Australia with 100 tons and some.
35th Test century beating both Lara & Gavaskar: 198 innings, 16 yrs (10 Dec, 2005)
18th ODI century to overtake Desmond Haynes’ record: 191 innings, 9 yrs (26 Sep, 1998)
Longest break between his Test 100s: 14 innings
1st Test century: 16 innings, 9 months
1st 150: 36 innings, 3 yrs & 3 months
1st ODI 100: 76 innings, 4 yrs
1st double 100: 109 innings, 10 yrs
Consecutive Test 100s: 2
90s in ODIs: 18
Consecutive ODI 100s: 1
90s in Tests: 9