More than just another hundred
"After 17 years, I don't think I have a point to prove," Sachin Tendulkar said at the end of a rain-marred second day at Chittagong. He may just be wrong. Before today, it had been over 17 months, 10 Tests and 17 innings - the longest interval in terms of chances to bat - since his last Test century, against Sri Lanka at New Delhi. His highest score in that duration was 64. Tendulkar also missed a full tour of the West Indies due to injury last summer. The critics sharpened their knives with each passing day, and then Tendulkar, who has always been boyishly enthusiastic for cricket, was "rested" for the one-day leg of this tour.
Today, in a brief spell of play, Tendulkar reached his 36th Test century, and it was more than just another addition to his burgeoning numbers. The lack of runs in the recent past made this effort more special, but there was another reason which gave it more meaning - he started this innings yesterday, exactly eight years from the day his father, Ramesh Tendulkar, died when his son was playing in the 1999 World Cup in England. "I would dedicate this to my father," Tendulkar said, "as it was his eighth death anniversary yesterday. So, this one was pretty emotional." Tendulkar had dedicated his last century to his father as well; clearly he misses him a lot. He had been criticised for plenty of things throughout his illustrious career, some fair, some unreasonable. What he can't be faulted for, surely, is his timing.
Was it difficult to come back after the way India were grilled after a dismal World Cup? "We were disappointed at not having played well at the World Cup," Tendulkar said. "People's demonstrations didn't matter. It was a huge disappointment [to have done badly at the World Cup], but whatever else happened didn't matter."
Tendulkar has also been criticised in the past for going slow when the team needed quick runs to push for a result. When he came in yesterday, and saw Rahul Dravid get out soon after, he and Sourav Ganguly had a mini crisis on their hands. India were playing only five specialist batsmen, of which they were the last two, and there were only 132 runs on the board. The pitch was flat and the bowlers needed all the time to take 20 wickets here, so going slow to consolidate would not have been the best option.
But Tendulkar and Ganguly, who scored his 13th Test century today, paced their innings perfectly - consolidating and yet scoring at a brisk rate. Tendulkar had words of praise for his partner, with whom he forged together perhaps the best opening combination in ODI history. "It's always a pleasure to bat with him [Ganguly]," said Tendulkar. "We have been together for so many years now. Sourav is a wonderful player. He knows how to make runs and pace his innings. We had fun in the middle. We tried to keep each other going. The conditions were tough, [but] you have to encourage each other."
That the two gave their wickets away immediately after reaching their hundreds suggested the advantage had been squandered somewhat, but their 189-run stand has given India the opportunity to post a significant first-innings total. The focus now shifts to the bowlers, and, of course, the weather.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine.