Tendulkar returns to favourite haunt
During the first Test, Sachin Tendulkar will most likely get the 12 runs he needs to go past Sunil Gavaskar's aggregate of 5067, the most Test runs by an Indian batsman on home soil. It will be fitting if he reaches the mark at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, a ground where he has been influential in every one of the nine Tests over the last 15 years.
Mumbai may claim complete ownership of Tendulkar, but it's Chennai that has had a chance to watch him in full splendour. With four hundreds in seven Tests (two of which were almost completely washed out) he's been near invincible.
He has soared against Australia - not once but twice - with epic knocks that turned series. The first, the opening game of the series in 1998, came after India had conceded a first-innings lead and the second, in the deciding match in 2001, set up India's response to 391. One turned the tide on the fourth day; the other set up a classic on the third.
Few will forget the magnificent 136 in the final innings against Pakistan in 1999, a masterpiece which lost a bit of its lustre only because the team tripped at the final hurdle. There was also a controlled 165 against England back in 1993 that shut them out of the contest and a guarded 43 against West Indies, an innings which went a long way in India gaining the upper hand.
Take out the the rain-affected match against Sri Lanka in 2005, and you have Tendulkar's imprint in every game. Few batsmen have handled Chennai's heat and humidity as well as him. Surprisingly, neither Rahul Dravid nor VVS Laxman have a century at this ground and Sourav Ganguly averages a paltry 16.12 in his six Tests here. On a surface that offers true bounce and assists spin, Tendulkar has thrived. It's no wonder that he has always maintained that it's one of his favourite grounds.
As if to re-emphasise the point, he flowed freely in Tuesday's net session, unusual for one who normally prefers to simply knock it around before the big day. Through the Tests in Australia he preferred being low key a day before the match - he would bowl some spin and stretch - but both yesterday and today he got down to some serious business. He patiently waited his turn, standing for a good ten minutes behind the netting, and watched Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Rahul Dravid have a hit.
Then he spent half an hour smashing the spinners. Piyush Chawla was put to some serious grilling, Harbhajan Singh was slog-swept over the manual scoreboard and out of the stadium and even Anil Kumble was cut away with some degree of violence. It was at this ground that he unleashed the famous slog-sweep back in 1998, smacking Shane Warne's round-the-wicket ball into the stands. It was as emphatic a statement as any and one from which Warne didn't recover for nearly six months.
|Despite the talk usually hovering around the Fab Four, Tendulkar remains India's premier batsman. Dravid held the mantle for around four years and Laxman leaves a lasting impact on some series but Tendulkar continues to be the first among equals|
Despite the talk usually hovering around the Fab Four, Tendulkar, even after all these years, remains India's premier batsman. Dravid held the mantle for around four years and Laxman leaves a lasting impact on some series but Tendulkar continues to be the first among equals. Even in Australia he rattled off gem after gem to allow India a winning chance in three of the four Tests and carried his form through to the one-dayers.
Tendulkar will need plenty of support, though, as India prepare for one of the toughest challenges this year and Kumble was clear that it was upto the batsmen to set up wins. "I think whenever we have played at home we have been able to post big scores on the board and that will be the key. Once you do that, our spinners and fast bowlers [get the chance to] put pressure and this is how we won matches and we would like to continue that way."
The Chennai faithful, though, wouldn't mind watching India riding on Tendulkar. Another hundred here would also fill one blank in his glittering resume - the lack of a home ton against South Africa. It would also give him 17 hundreds at home, going past Sunil Gavaskar's tally for the most by an Indian batsmen on home soil. Going by his exploits over the last decade and a half, it will be fitting if he brought it up at this venue.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo