ODI batting winner February 14, 2011

A new peak for an old master

In the alleged twilight of his career, Tendulkar goes past yet another milestone
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Best ODI Batting Performance

Sachin Tendulkar
200 not out v South Africa, second ODI, Gwalior


This was an innings that even poker-obsessed Shane Warne followed, with tweets exhorting his mate to get the world record.

As it progressed and Tendulkar went past 150 with plenty of overs remaining, millions of Indians stopped what they were doing and gathered in front of television sets. Prayers were said and fingers crossed. The explosion of emotion when he finally squeezed a shot through the hands of the man at point was part joy and part relief. At long last, one-day cricket's record score belonged to the man who has redefined the way the form is played.

There had been a score of 186 in 1999, and a glorious but ultimately futile 175 against Australia a few months before this epic. At one point Tendulkar even told Virender Sehwag: "It will eventually happen if I am destined to do it."

That it happened at all is testament to how Tendulkar has reinvented himself after some lean times in the middle of the past decade. There were times during the dry spell when he appeared to have lost the champion's ultimate weapon - self-belief. Like the run-of-the-mill pro, his game, too, was beset by doubt and uncertainty. Injuries didn't help, but at some point in 2007 he flicked an invisible switch, and he hasn't looked back since.

The new version bats at times with the freedom of the teenager, but the sense of adventure goes hand-in-hand with a technique that has been pared down to such an extent that it's almost risk-free. Even strokes that others would consider chancy, like the bunt down to third man or the super-fine paddle sweep, are ones he has played with absolute certainty for years.

When a man has scored 46 centuries, it's hard to rank them in order of significance. But by any benchmark this was a special innings. The cover drives in the opening overs were breathtaking, teasing the fielders to give chase. Tendulkar punched the ball immaculately through backward point and was as ruthless as ever when the ball angled in to the pads.

For a man of 37, though, most eye-catching were the scampered singles and twos once the ball had been nudged into gaps. Up against him was a serious bowling line-up, not some array of popguns. Dale Steyn went for 89 from his spell, and it's hard to forget the perplexed look on his face as Tendulkar whistled one through midwicket after making contact well outside off stump.

Wayne Parnell was taken for 95, while the usually aggressive Roelof van der Merwe was noticeably quieter after being thumped down the ground. As Tendulkar tired later in the afternoon, MS Dhoni took over, with fans getting increasingly jittery that Tendulkar might be denied the strike needed.

They needn't have worried. By the time India were done, 401 runs were on the board, and Tendulkar had faced 147 balls for his 25 fours, three sixes, 56 singles and 13 twos. He hadn't used a runner and symptoms of cramp were ignored as he went past Saeed Anwar and into the record books.

It was the last one-day match he would play in 2010, conserving his energy for Test challenges and one final tilt at the World Cup in 2011. At the top of an order that is perhaps the most destructive that India has ever seen, he will hope to go one better than in 2003, when his 673 runs weren't enough to prevent an Australian triumph.

After the celebrations and the hosannas, Anil Kumble, who had played alongside Tendulkar nearly two decades, put it best. "I thought the way he celebrated when he reached his 200 epitomised the man's persona. There was no running laps around the field, no aggressive gestures, nothing over the top."

Understated but incredibly effective, the new Tendulkar stands poised on the verge of achievements that eluded the old marque.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo