India v West Indies, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 4th day November 25, 2011

'Why did he play that?'

N Hunter joins Mumbai's crowds as they go through ecstasy and agony watching their hero fall six runs short

Sudhir Gautam is sitting in the first-class compartment of the Churchgate-bound local train. It's 7.30 am, peak traffic hour when thousands shuttle from Mumbai's northern suburbs to the older, more beautiful southern neighbourhoods en route to their offices. Today the trains are even more packed than normal as the office crowd is joined by hundreds travelling to watch Sachin Tendulkar try and score his hundredth international century.

Gautam, famous as Tendulkar's most devoted fan, sits quietly amid the chaos, his pale brown eyes staring ahead. He's dressed in his work clothes: bare torso painted in the Indian tricolour (which is scrubbed off each night with kerosene), shaven head sporting a single lock of hair; around his waist is a sign saying "100 century Tendulkar". His trousers are the unwashed whites worn by Indian cricketers, his sneakers are dirty and the soles are evidence of how much he's travelled.

His fellow commuters recognise him from the innumerable television images - waving the Indian flag, blowing the conch shell, even making it to the Indian dressing room - on Tendulkar's invitation - minutes after the World Cup win on April 2. Gautam doesn't seem to mind the stares; he's focused on getting to the ground before the Indian team so he can blow his conch as they drive through the stadium gates. Then he must start waving the flag before the first ball.

As the train enters Churchgate station (Wankhede is next door) someone finally musters the courage to address him directly. Gautam is asked why he doesn't have a regular job. "Who will do this?" he answers, without even looking at the man who'd asked the question. Will Tendulkar get the century today? "Today he will score. It was his dream to win the World Cup at home. Now that is fulfilled, he should get his hundredth at home, too. He deserves it." His words are strong but there's a note of anxiety in his voice.

The ground is filling up fast. The intensity and fervour of the previous day doubles as soon as Tendulkar comes down the steps from the dressing room. Just before he crosses the ropes, he takes off his gloves and washes his hands. He's ready. The final delivery of the first over, from Ravi Rampaul, is flicked for a four behind square. Fourth over, fourth delivery, facing Fidel Edwards for the first time in the morning, is punched through the offside; Adrian Barath chases it to the long-off boundary but the ball has too much on it.

The noise inside the ground reaches cacophonous proportions when Tendulkar uppercuts Edwards over third man for six. He is now seven short of the century. The next 15 deliveries yield just a single while he and the crowd enjoy watching Virat Kohli tackle Edwards' short-ball barrage expertly.

However, the tension is growing. Being in the 90s is no guarantee of reaching his target; he's already fallen there once this year, when Tim Bresnan reverse-swung a delivery on the final afternoon of The Oval Test in August to trap him plumb on 91.

During that England tour, fans had travelled across continents and paid as much as £250 for a daily ticket to watch the 100th hundred.

Tickets on Friday were cheaper - Rs 100 going for eight times the value - but equally hard to come by; thousands of fans stood for hours a kilometer outside the ground on the Churchgate and Marine Drive sides, hoping the Mumbai Cricket Association would somehow find extra tickets to sell. No such luck; daily tickets for Day 4 had been sold out within minutes of the windows opening on Thursday afternoon.

There are a lucky few like Aniket Bhalekar, a Class XII student at Sathe College in Vile Parle who decided to skip his semester exams to fulfil a dream of watching Tendulkar get a hundred. "I'd convinced my father yesterday to allow me to come to the ground. Today my mother asked me why I was wasting my time - even if Tendulkar gets his century it wouldn't help my future," Bhalekar says. He managed to get a ticket after skipping the last two sessions of Thursday's play and standing in a queue for six hours.

Now he and thousands of others are holding their collective breath as Tendulkar, six short of the landmark. stands calm in the middle, leaning on his heavy bat.

"We want six, we want six," Wankhede shrieks as Rampaul runs in to deliver the final ball of his fourth over. The ball pitches on a length on the off stump and seams in a bit too quickly into Tendulkar's body. But Tendulkar goes for a premeditated steer - and offers a simple catch to Darren Sammy at second slip. The only voices heard now are those of the ecstatic West Indies players.

"Why did he play that? Why?" Bhalekar screams next to me as he stands, sits down again and then covers his face in disbelief. Tendulkar looks up to the heavens immediately, then, walking back, cranes his neck to watch the replay on big screen. He raises his bat slightly, stares at it, almost blaming it for deceiving him. Gautam stands there, stunned.

To their credit the crowd stays on. They are rewarded by R Ashwin, who becomes the third Indian to get a five-for and a century in the same innings of a Test. And when Tendulkar comes on to deliver the final over of the day, they stand and clap with the same enthusiasm. There is even a hint of redemption when Kohli gets a difficult chance off a push from Darren Bravo, but this isn't Tendulkar's day. Stumps drawn, the crowds go home.

And somewhere in Mumbai Tendulkar's biggest fan prepares to scrub off his hero's name until the next match.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on November 27, 2011, 16:09 GMT

    @RandyOZ, mate now this is sick! Hussey is a great player. But, you sure Sachin is regarded far below Hussey? The last time I checked, Sachin is included as one of the legends of cricket on Cricinfo. Wonder how Cricinfo would allow your comments to get published! Sachin is perceived as selfish by many including me. But, selfish doesn't mean he is far below Hussey or Lara or Ponting...Get over it! None of my or your all time favourites, including Dravid, Lara, Kallis and Ponting, can ever touch Sachin's records. I know Ponting is the next best thing that has happened to Australia since Bradman. But Ponting is below Sachin, cry as much as you and the two Chappells may want to. Bradman is being considered the Greatest by people, courtesy his numbers, not that he wasn't selfish or not that he didn't play politics. And yeah, Sachin now has the best overall numbers barring average. He has some unique individual records which Dravid, Ponting and Kallis can only dream of. So, live with it.

  • pradeep on November 26, 2011, 13:45 GMT

    Agha Hussain , You are right when u said sachin is a great batsman but were wrong in the other part. Out of his 51 test centuries, sachin has scored 22 in India and remaining in other countries and out of these he has scored 24 centuries in top 6 cricketing nations. Sachin also leads in the average even though he is playing since long time. If you check the records, you can see that all great players' avg decreased with their age but with sachin it is increasing and this shows his commitment to the game. he still works as hard as a junior cricketer at nets and on field. Anyways thans for the comments and these critics will do nothing else than help sachin to take his game to the next level.

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 9:09 GMT

    "He's scored many of his tons and big runs on easy-to-bat flat pitches in India whereas guys like Kallis, Ponting and co. score heavily even in testing conditions like NZ, ENG and their home venues."...a so-called cricket expert who should think twice before spouting inanities (aka Agha Hussain Akram)

    My dear fellow, Are you aware that Sachin has scored 29 centuries and over 30 fifties outside India and his tally is nearly 9000 runs. He has scored 10 centuries and 11 fifties in 29 tests in Australia at an average of 56. How many players, including Pakistanis, have career statistics of this kind everywhere, including in home conditions? No player comes anywhere close.

    Sorry about the harsh words, but people who aren't fit to tie Sachin's shoe-laces shouldn't be allowed to make such ridiculous assertions.

  • Narinder on November 26, 2011, 7:00 GMT

    Some people like Randy wake up in the morning and pray to god to get SRT out for anything below 99 so that they can go to certain public domains and criticise him for the sake of criticsm. SRT got out on 94..everyone felt bad..but this guy logs in and says he is selfish..Getting out on 94 is selfish??Did he plan to get himself out??WI could have won a match few years back but someone wanted to regain his lost world record and did not declare (His own teammate said that and everyone watching the match also felt the same way) but that man was not selfish according to Mr. Randy.Someone is badly out of form for the last more than two years but refuses to hang his shoes but he is not lamented as being selfish (Even I dont think he should retire yet coz he is too good). But if it was SRT in his place (As was for one year only during 2006) people started talking rubbish.

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 6:04 GMT

    Too many sadist commenting here (his critics for sure). Randy Oz, u need to brush up ur knowledge on Sachin, no one ever compared Lara or Ponting with Bradman, but Bradman himself grabs the opportunity and praised Sachin. I think you belong to Chappel's category and not Bradman, Waugh or Warne or Lee or Hayden or Gilchrist or Healy or Benaud or (u wanna more Australians who praised Tendulkar and put him on the top bracket??)

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 5:42 GMT

    Every time I read an article about this issue making me realize that where Mr. Sachin set himself up!! A player scored 94 an innings & still he is in argument. And knowing the difference between him & other players hundreds & missing hundreds make me more delightful. Rampaul also says that last dismissal was planned, what a terrible dialogue after 94 runs. For the haters: If u argue more it will take him upper, no doubt about that. :)

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 5:42 GMT

    Sachin is a great batsman, but not even close to being the best there ever was. He's scored many of his tons and big runs on easy-to-bat flat pitches in India whereas guys like Kallis, Ponting and co. score heavily even in testing conditions like NZ, ENG and their home venues.

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 5:33 GMT

    Get a life. He played a fine innings. He doesn't have anything to prove. 22 years later he is still playing well. He just needs to enjoy the game and let statisticians take care of records.

  • Vinod on November 26, 2011, 5:24 GMT

    i also felt bad while he got out, but i was surprised to see that the crowd did not even appreciate him on a well made 94! thumps down mumbai crowd. once again, congrats sachin. all the very best for your 100th 100. i dont mind waiting for that.

  • Manisha on November 26, 2011, 5:15 GMT

    get over sachin? its like asking people to stop living :) 100th ton....not that big deal? how many cricketers have done it till today? and how many are even close to that feat?

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