The pick of his blooms

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Tendulkar in smashing form in Perth, 1992. He considers his unbeaten 114 here, his best century to date.-V.V. KRISHNAN

HERE'S an attempt to pick 10 of Sachin Tendulkar's best centuries out of the 35 he has scored till the conclusion of the New Delhi Test against Sri Lanka. This list is subjective and does not seek to take away any credit from the 25 hundreds that do not find mention here.

119 not out, Manchester, 1990: Just 17, he played an innings of immense maturity to deny England a victory. His unfinished partnership with Manoj Prabhakar was worth 160 runs but more than anything it was the quality of his batting that made the contest memorable. India was not equipped to make an assault at the target of 408 in 88 overs. Even a draw looked a difficult task as India slid to 183 for six.

Tendulkar made a resolve that he would not hesitate to play his shots. His partner, Manoj Prabakhar, was stunned by the young man's strokeplay under pressure. The positive path Tendulkar chose helped him play his natural game. His ability to keep playing his shots allowed the young batsman to upset the attack. The English were left frustrated as Tendulkar returned to a standing ovation from the audience. A star was born that day and the home of cricket was quick to hail the arrival of Tendulkar in the big league. Among those who watched from the Indian dressing room included batsmen like Navjot Sidhu, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev.

114, Perth, 1992: His personal best for many reasons. First, the bounce. Second, the pace of the wicket. Third, and not the least, the attack — Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Paul Reiffel and Mike Whitney. No place for a spinner. The sensational strokeplay came in the first innings and left the cricket world in a trance. Batting on that track was a test of skills and courage, but Tendulkar was out to prove a point. His backfoot play took the wind out of the Aussie fast bowlers. Bouncers were smashed around and his shots square of the wicket were savage as he showed utter disdain for the attack. He met fire with fire and produced an innings that was applauded the world over for sheer quality. Shots exploded from his willow and the innings established him as a batsman with a great future.

111, Johannesburg, 1992: India's historic tour to South Africa was made memorable by Pravin Amre's century on debut at Durban on a lively track. Tendulkar left his mark on the series with a grand century at The Wanderers. South Africa boasted of an attack that included Allan Donald, Brian McMillan, Craig Matthews. To Tendulkar's credit, he unveiled a flawless display of aggressive batting. The faster they bowled the harder Tendulkar hit. He was not going to be rattled by the short ball at all. He arrived at the wicket with India struggling at 27 for two. It became 77 for four and Tendulkar was left with the lower order to salvage the situation. He shielded his partners and compiled his runs without any discomfort to come up with a sterling century. The South African fans mobbed him at the end of the match and in the melee someone snatched his cap. It was a sight as Tendulkar chased the man and retrieved his cap.

165, Madras, 1993: After the disastrous tour to South Africa, the Indians were under pressure to deliver when they took on England at home. Mohammad Azharuddin had produced an electrifying 182 in the first Test at Calcutta and the second at Madras was expected to extract the best out of Graham Gooch and his men. There was a lot of juice in the pitch, but Navjot Sidhu showed the way for Tendulkar to consolidate with a brilliant knock. Once again, he displayed amazing maturity to piece together an innings that put the issue beyond the Englishmen. It was a superbly paced innings that left Devon Malcolm, Chris Lewis, Paul Jarvis, Ian Salisbury and Phil Tufnell frustrated. On a bowler-friendly pitch, he had carved a century that is still remembered for some exhilarating strokeplay.

169, Cape Town, 1996: A regal show all the way. A breathtaking performance that came after the team was reduced to 58 for five. In a jugalbandi with Azharuddin, he destroyed the South African attack with a flurry of aggressive shots. The partnership was worth 222 runs and it took an incredible catch in the deep by Adam Bacher to stop the rampaging Tendulkar in his tracks. The innings was as good as a highlights package as he tore into the attack of Allan Donald, Brian McMillan, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener. "One of the greatest knocks that I have seen in my life," said Madan Lal, coach of the team on that tour. He played every stroke in the book and earned a standing ovation from the audience at Newlands for an unforgettable knock.

155 not out, Chennai, 1998: This innings would always remain special even for Tendulkar because he showed the way to dominate leg-spin wizard Shane Warne. "He made it so easy for the rest. Every time Warne came around the stumps I would ask Sachin to take over. And what a show he produced. Sachin attacked Warne by hitting him against the turn. It was a sight for the gods really," said Navjot Sidhu. The calculated manner in which Tendulkar tamed Warne with some astonishing strokeplay was a treat for the spectators. It was a very professionally planned innings with vintage shots that gave the connoisseurs their money's worth. The assault made an impact on Warne, who was sporting enough to concede that he had been mastered by a truly great batsman. It indeed was a privilege to have watched one of the finest attacking innings in Test cricket.

136, Chennai, 1999: An innings that came in for praise even from the opposition. He almost created victory from a hopeless situation in the company of Nayan Mongia. If he failed to finish his job it was due to a painful back that hampered his movements during the latter, and most crucial, stages of his stay at the crease. Wasim Akram rated Tendulkar's effort as one of the all-time great knocks. "A flawless innings under great stress," was Akram's description of that heroic performance. The fourth innings target of 271 grew tougher because of the state of the pitch. The ball was turning and off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq had tasted blood. India stood staring at defeat at 82 for five when Tendulkar took over the stage in his inimitable way. He battled back spasms and an inspired attack that made run-making an extremely tough task. Akram, Saqlain, Waqar Younis, Nadeem Khan and Shahid Afridi tried every trick to unsettle the maestro but met with staunch resistance. "It was an innings that only Sachin could have played," recalled Mongia. Having scripted a remarkable recovery, Tendulkar succumbed to the guiles of Saqlain, who induced an unwise swipe, just the shot that Sunil Gavaskar had cautioned him against at the start of the day's play. The Pakistanis won by 12 runs and received a standing ovation from the sporting Madras crowd. Tendulkar lost the match but won the `Man of the Match' award. But he is still haunted by the heartbreaking defeat.

193, Leeds, 2002: For Yorkshire natives, it was a grand treat. Centuries from Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Nasser Hussain made it an unforgettable batting feast in conditions that were favourable for the bowlers. The English attack of Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Caddick, Alex Tudor, Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles was handled with �lan by Tendulkar. He enjoyed an outstanding tour and did not let down his supporters with an innings that evoked appreciation from Hussain. The Englishman described Tendulkar's majestic essay as an "education" in batting. Tendulkar was involved in two partnerships — with Dravid and Ganguly — that sealed England's fate despite some negative bowling by the home bowlers. Tendulkar played the dominating role and carried the innings on his shoulders. His knock was the motivation for the bowlers to fashion a comprehensive innings victory.

241 not out, Sydney, 2004: It was the last Test of a highly competitive series, and also the farewell match for Steve Waugh, one of the greatest cricketers the game has seen. Tendulkar, having struggled in the preceding matches, chose the appropriate stage to sign off the series in style. This was certainly not the best of his centuries but it was his most determined in a long time. His first double century outside India was his way of paying tribute to Waugh, who was known for similar tenacity. "Happy to score runs against a team like Australia," was a simple comment from Tendulkar but his innings was a big lesson in building an innings and playing within one's limitations. Tendulkar fought indifferent form with an amazingly disciplined knock that saw him avoid off-side shots. As a result, he came up with some great on-side play and worked the ball relentlessly to defy the Australian game plan. One could not recall a single cover-driven four since he had cut out that shot to avoid getting into trouble. The `Man of the Match' award was a fitting honour to his dedication in the middle.

194 not out, Multan, 2004: This innings is a part of history. India's first ever Test win on Pakistan soil, the first ever triple century in Tests by an Indian (309 by Virender Sehwag) and the controversy over Rahul Dravid's declaration, leaving Tendulkar stranded six runs short of a double century on the trot, added to the excitement of the contest. With Sehwag on the rampage, Tendulkar did not mind playing the second fiddle and ensured the team did not lose focus. He was instrumental in setting up a huge total that put Pakistan under tremendous pressure. Apart from playing his customary role of giving the innings direction, Tendulkar also guided Sehwag, who acknowledged his partner's priceless contribution. Tendulkar's was a solid effort and his monumental association with Sehwag was one of the highlights of the series. His invaluable knock went a long way in putting India on course to victory with Sehwag a glowing partner.