Indian cricket has gifted many classic vignettes, which are too exhaustive to chronicle. The obvious few are Kapil Dev’s toothy grin while holding aloft the 1983 World Cup; Sunil Gavaskar’s late cut off Pakistan’s Ijaz Fakih to become the first Test cricketer to score 10,000 runs in Ahmedabad in 1987; and M.S. Dhoni’s steely eyes and the winning six in the 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai.
On March 16, a feat of staggering proportions was added to that list and it is a record that will stand unique and alone in the sands of time, much like Sir Don Bradman’s Test average of 99.94. Whisper ‘a hundred international hundreds’, may be say it aloud, and then get surprised by the sudden intake of breath while the words linger.
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Yes, the wait was finally over when Sachin Tendulkar nudged Shakib Al Hasan for a single at exactly 17.05 local time, at Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium on a bustling Friday. Once the tryst with history was sealed during the Asia Cup match against Bangladesh, Tendulkar raised his bat, looked at the skies, removed his helmet, broke into a half-smile and then Suresh Raina wrapped him in a hug and a few Bangladesh players rushed in to congratulate the legend.
Prior to that incandescent moment, Tendulkar’s drought of centuries lasted 33 innings that spread across Tests and ODIs played in India, England and Australia. Incidentally Tendulkar scored his 99th international ton, a glittering 111 against South Africa, in a World Cup game in Nagpur, on March 12, last year.
Over the past few months, an overwhelming sense of anticipation hung in the air but the hundred proved elusive and the larger picture of a struggling Indian team in England and Australia, made it worse. “I tried to insulate myself from the hype but even the room-service (guy) used to ask me,” Tendulkar said.
Once the feat was achieved, destiny again moved in strange ways as Bangladesh mounted a frenzied chase and knocked down India’s 289 for five. Ever the team man, Tendulkar refused to take the bait on India’s poor bowling. “Australia scored 434 and still lost to South Africa!” he retorted.
The hints of merging feverish hopes and pleasant reality were visible in the confident shots and the easy singles that Tendulkar indulged through his 114 (147b, 12x4, 1x6). A six off Shakib, showed that the fifth gear was not beyond Tendulkar’s reach though he did slow down a bit when nearing his century. Fortune too was by his side as on 51 and 89, he avoided being stumped and getting run-out respectively.
A man, who as a lad walked into an Indian dressing room that had the likes of Kapil Dev and Dilip Vengsarkar in 1989, strung partnerships with youngsters like Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina on way to his special hundred. The varied generations he has played with just reiterated Tendulkar’s sheer cricketing longevity and an overwhelmed Kohli said: “As a kid I used to go to the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium to see Sachin play. Then I used to think, ‘if only I can get close to him just once then I can be on top of the world.’ And now I am playing with him and it’s truly a privilege.”
Later at a packed press conference hall, while struggling to grasp the enormity of what he had achieved within the constricting confines of India’s shocking loss, Tendulkar said: “It was a relief. I am also human and I have my emotions. I don’t play for records but they do happen during your long journey of playing cricket. I want to do well for the team and that has been the main goal.”
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The next day, a relaxed Tendulkar told the press: “I wish I had someone to guide me. The anticipation (within the media) about this hundred was way beyond anything else.”
Ever since Australia’s Charles Bannerman scored Test cricket’s first century against England in Melbourne in March 1877, the three-figure mark has defined a batsman’s aura. It is the yardstick that secures or tears reputations and none can ever get bigger than Tendulkar at 100 international centuries. It is a record that could last forever considering modern day batsmen are spreading themselves too thin across Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 leagues so much so that the 20-year blue-chip career may ebb away with Tendulkar’s eventual retirement.
The final chapter though is yet to flicker across the maestro’s brain. “As long as I am enjoying the game and I am contributing to the team, I will play,” he said. With 51 Test hundreds, 49 ODI tons and the added gold standard of being cricket’s highest run-getter, most records are his but Tendulkar’s hunger to compete remains undiminished. It is his greatest trait and also his finest gift to the Indian team.
This article appeared on the Sportstar magazine dated March 29, 2012