A different sort of century

Partab Ramchand

September 4, 2002

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Sachin Tendulkar
© Reuters
One remembers the tremendous excitement generated in July 1968, when Indian-born England captain Michael Colin Cowdrey became the first cricketer to appear in 100 Test matches. He had made his debut in Australia in November 1954, and even for an England regular like him, it had taken almost 14 years. It was a singular achievement, but one was sure that it would not remain unique for long. With the international calendar getting more and more crowded, it was only a matter of time that other cricketers joined him in playing more than 100 Tests.

And yet, by the time Cowdrey had played the last of his 114 matches - interestingly enough, also in Australia, in 1975 - he remained the only cricketer to have played in a century of Tests. Over the next quarter of a century, however, with international engagements getting heavier, around 25 cricketers had joined him. All of them were over 30, some even close to 40 ­ and Geoffrey Boycott was over 40 - when they played their 100th Test. The latest entrant into the club is therefore unique in that he is only 29 years of age.

But then, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has been associated with recordbreaking feats ever since his entry into the Test arena at Karachi in November 1989 at the age of 16 years and 205 days. Given the fact that he was always going to be a regular member of the side, it was only a matter of time before he played his century of Tests, and the only point of interest was whether he would be playing the significant match at home or abroad.

At the Oval on Thursday, nearly 13 years after his debut, Tendulkar will become the youngest to achieve the feat. Except for missing three Tests in Sri Lanka last year due to an injury, Tendulkar has played in every single Test since his debut - a run of 84 consecutive matches that is a tribute to his fitness, calibre, skill and enthusiasm.

Over the years, Tendulkar has carved out a niche for himself in world cricket with his inimitable brand of batsmanship that has seen many speak of the little Indian as next only to Don Bradman. The great man himself reckoned that Tendulkar's approach was the closest to his style of batting and included him in his all-time dream team.

Tendulkar of course is no Bradman, as he himself has admitted. Sunil Gavaskar summed up the issue in succinct terms way back in October 1983, when he equalled Bradman's record of 29 Test hundreds. Discounting any comparisons, Gavaskar said that the only batsman better than Bradman would be the one who gets 30 hundreds in 52 Tests.

Sachin Tendulkar
© CricInfo
But while Bradman remains supreme, there is little doubt that no one since the high noon of Vivian Richards, about a quarter of a century ago, has generated so much excitement when he comes out to bat. Tendulkar's dominance of the bowling can be compared to Richards, and since he is a shade better in defence, it makes him a more complete batsman.

Few batsmen in the game's history have inflicted greater psychological damage on bowlers. The manner in which Tendulkar takes them apart drives the bowlers to nervous depression. He has them in such a tizzy with a trail of devastating shots that at last, in desperation and disgusted with life as it were, the bowler has to either look to the heavens for divine help or, closer to earth, implore with the captain to take him off. "There is no use bowling to this bloke" has been the general refrain of bowlers the world over. When you bowl to him, there aren't enough tricks. Similarly, when you write about him, there aren't enough words.

Tendulkar is a peerless player of any bowling. His technique is so well-organised that he can counter any delivery with ease and comfort, giving the impression of having all the time in the world to play the stroke ­ the hallmark of the greatest of batsmen. His excellent eyesight sees any minute change in the bowler's action, and his nimble footwork enables him to get to the pitch of the ball faster and with much less effort than most batsmen.

Should the bowler force him onto the back foot, Tendulkar's feet are in perfect position to essay a square-cut, hook, pull or the lofted drive. He has no pet stroke; he plays them all handsomely, felicitously and lucratively. There is an element of power in his batting, but it is not total, naked power, just controlled force. Timing is the essence of all his shots. His concentration is legendary, his determination is fierce, and his hunger to succeed is insatiable.

An important facet of Tendulkar's character is his ability to rise to the occasion when a challenge is thrown at him. His treatment of Shane Warne is the foremost example of this. The ace Australian leg-spinner, voted among Wisden's five cricketers of the century, does not even want to hear his name mentioned, stating that Tendulkar has given him nightmares.

Tendulkar will become the fourth Indian to achieve this prestigious landmark. Sunil Gavaskar was the first; he played his 100th Test at Lahore in October 1984, becoming the fourth after Cowdrey, Boycott and Clive Lloyd - and also at 35 the youngest. Dilip Vengsarkar was the second, playing his 100th Test at the age of 32 in his hometown of Bombay against New Zealand in November 1988. Almost exactly a year later, Kapil Dev became the third to reach the landmark. Interestingly enough, his 100th Test was Tendulkar's first. Kapil was a couple of months short of his 31st birthday when he played that Karachi Test.

Cowdrey made his 100th Test a doubly memorable occasion by getting a century. Gordon Greenidge emulated his feat in 1990, and along with Javed Miandad, holds an absolutely unique record. Both batsmen scored centuries in their first and 100th Test. Will Tendulkar emulate the others by getting a hundred at the Oval? That would make the occasion all the more unforgettable and be a fitting tribute to the pre-eminent batsman in the world today. Calm, cool and composed even in the most critical situation, Tendulkar remains the picture of modesty and cultured behaviour, the prime role model for today's youth.

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