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December 15, 2008
Lou Reed's A Perfect Day could have been playing in the background as Yuvraj Singh faced the cameras. "My dream has come true," he said with the expression of a man who's come home and found Audrey Hepburn sitting on his couch. "I have won a Test for India with Tendulkar." His Test credentials may have been queried by some down the years, but the role he played in this once-in-a-lifetime victory should never be underestimated. More than a generation ago, Mohinder Amarnath batted 440 minutes for his 85 as India pulled off a 403-run heist at Port of Spain. Yuvraj spent less than half that time at the crease, but his unbeaten 85 will be cherished just as much in the years to come.
By the end, it was obvious he would leave the winning runs to Tendulkar. "This is something I wanted to do," Tendulkar said afterwards, a broad smile lighting up his face. "I've scored a hundred in the second innings, but to actually win a match, play the winning shot, that was something I wanted to do. This makes it really really special." Inevitably, many of the questions he fielded were about Mumbai, his home city, the scene of terrorist attacks that have caused so much anguish and rage in India over the past few weeks. In the aftermath of that, Tendulkar appeared in a commercial which had the line: "I play for India, now more than ever". It was a point he stressed again once the euphoria of victory had faded a little.
"From my point of view, I look at it as an attack on India, and it should hurt every Indian, not only people from Mumbai," he said. "I would like to dedicate this hundred to all those people who have gone through such terrible times.
"In no way am I trying to say that this will make everyone forget what happened in Mumbai. But I'd like to thank England for coming back to play Test cricket. We've witnessed a wonderful match. People are again enjoying cricket the way it's meant to be.
"What happened in Mumbai was extremely unfortunate and I don't think by India winning or my scoring hundreds, people who have lost their dear and loved ones would feel better. It's a terrible loss and our hearts are with them. All I can say is that in whatever way we can contribute to make them feel better, we'll make that effort."
He said that he had never contemplated not playing, though such an incident so close to home had obviously left its mark on the psyche. "From my daughter's school, there were a couple of parents who lost their lives unfortunately. Otherwise, no one that I knew.
"I was confident that our security would make us feel secure," he said. "They've done a fantastic job and because of that, people have been able to witness such a match."
There were a couple of personal demons to slay too. A little less than a decade ago, he couldn't take the final step as Pakistan prevailed in the tensest of finishes. Later, he admitted that the events of that afternoon had been on his mind as India edged ever closer. "I told Yuvi when he played a shot off Monty [Panesar] that landed between short midwicket and long-on: 'Wait till the last run is scored. We need to make sure that both of us complete the runs'. On a track like this, when you lose a wicket, it can become hard for the new batsman. The odd ball will keep a bit low or kick up and you can lose two or three quick wickets. Better to finish the job ourselves.
"The disappointments are there and they will be there. What you can make sure is that you don't repeat the same thing in the future. I feel extremely happy and proud that I have been able to achieve something very special."
The partnership with Yuvraj was worth 163 at a shade under four an over, and there were still a staggering 20.3 overs left in the day when victory was clinched. No praise was too high for Yuvraj though, after all his naturally flamboyant approach, tinged with the needed circumspection, allowed Tendulkar to work the ball around at his own pace. "To Yuvraj, I said: 'Don't be tense'. People have been talking about whether Yuvraj is a Test player or not and I think that is just a loose statement. He is a terrific player who has got important runs and three Test hundreds.
"Anyone can have a bad phase but that doesn't mean he is not capable of scoring runs at Test level. I'm glad that he came up with such an innings, where people are made to rethink their opinions."
As magnificent as the decisive partnership was, Tendulkar was in no doubt as to the identity of the fire-starter. "We are quite used to that," he said with a grin, when asked about Virender Sehwag's dazzling 83. "You kind of expect something which is not expected. When Viru is batting, it's always entertaining and full of surprises.
"He set it up brilliantly. How many players in the world can do that? Without any doubt, it was Viru's contribution that mattered. Very few people in the world can do what he does and we're extremely happy that he plays for India."
This was the first time since December 2005 that India have won back-to-back Tests, and Tendulkar was certain that confidence would be even higher when the team got to Mohali, scene of a 320-run thrashing of Australia in October.
"It's extremely important to continue with this momentum," he said. "From the start of the Australian series, all the boys have played some fantastic cricket and it's important to continue. At no stage did we feel that this was beyond our reach. We always felt that if we played to our potential we would be able to overhaul this target.
"Now that we have done it, we will have hope in the dressing room even if we are faced with a big target in the future. That hope is very important in cricket."
There were words of comfort too for Rahul Dravid, who has persevered by his side for more than a decade. "The bad patch that Rahul is going through happens to everybody," he said. "It's nothing to worry about. He is not just a good player, he's a great player. These cycles happen in a career. I don't think Rahul's form or what people are saying is a worry for all of us. He will definitely score runs."
"You've made me think again," he said with a laugh when asked what his thought process had been after he walked to the middle. "I don't know exactly what I think about. I was just telling myself that I was going to watch the ball as closely as possible and keep my mind free. If your mind is free, then the rest will happen.
"If your mind is preoccupied, the bat flow is not going to happen. I just kept my mind free and reacted to whatever was coming at me."
So, where does this 103 with an asterisk on top figure in the Tendulkar pantheon? "I would rate this hundred as one of the best for sure," he said. "The win makes it even more special. I would put this one right up there given the circumstances and the surface, the weather and the target. We were able to overcome all the obstacles. I would rate it as one of the top ones."
"I just think Sachin played a super super knock today," said Pietersen. "Just like the man he is." Millions of Indians, who have taken KP and his team to their hearts in the past week certainly won't quibble with that assessment.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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