'It was a very emotional one for me'
In relaxed yet sporty clothes, shy grin plastered across his face, under the glare of numerous television-camera spotlights, Sachin Tendulkar was calm and collected, but you could sense the excitement and sheer joy as he answered a volley of questions after reaching his 35th Test hundred. "Landmarks happen. You just go and bat because you want to bat well and get runs for your team. If you chase landmarks then it becomes a problem," said Tendulkar. "The wait was more for the people than for me. After the Bangladesh hundred we have played only four Test matches. It was not that it was 25 Tests and everyone had run out of patience."
More emotional than most people have ever seen him on a cricket field, Tendulkar reacted with a long look up to the heavens when he reached the hundred, and admitted it was different from what he had felt before. "That was for my father. I miss my father very much. I'm sure he would have enjoyed every moment of this if he were here. There have been very few moments in my life when I have got emotional. But this time I felt very different."
Soon after, though, Tendulkar raised his bat a second time. "It was for the team. This was a special occasion for me. They appreciated it so I acknowledged them. Everyone came downstairs [from the dressing-room] to congratulate me. I didn't say anything, I was finding it difficult to talk. I was feeling shy."
From his first Test century in Manchester, way back in 1990, it has been a long journey. "The first century I made when we had to save a Test match. This one was played in a very different situation," said Tendulkar. "It was a very emotional one for me. It is difficult to say whether the first one is important or the last one is important but if I didn't get the ones in the middle I wouldn't have got to this stage." Some batsmen insist that picking a favourite out of centuries is like choosing between your children, but Tendulkar was able to put his finger on his best. "Every century is important. But the hundred against Australia at Perth in 1992 was probably my best.
"This was a very important hundred for me, four-and-a-half months after elbow surgery. Mentally it [the break because of injury] was very tough on me but physically I could cope. I got frustrated and impatient, so getting out of it was not a singular effort - my family, physio, trainer ... they all helped."
There was a time in the day when it seemed unlikely that Tendulkar would reach his century before stumps were drawn. But a sudden spurt of runs, spurred on by three consecutive boundaries off Muttiah Muralitharan, ensured that he got the monkey off his back. But getting it over with was never on his mind. "No I did not think of that. But when they changed the ball, the new one was harder," he said. "I could hit it easier because it came onto the bat well." Yet he did admit that he had, in his mind's eye, lived out this moment already. "One visualises before every Test the moment of getting a hundred. Similarly I did last night. It is part of my pre-match preparation."
On the eve of the match there was plenty of advice for Tendulkar. What did the coach have to say to him? "All we were discussing was not thinking about No. 35 - that it was just another innings, just another century. Coincidentally I got the same advice from my wife. It's to listen to words like these. It helps."
And even though he was the man of the moment, Tendulkar still had time to remember an approaching milestone for another giant in Indian cricket. "It [This ground] was always remembered for Anil Kumble's ten wickets, now there are two reasons to remember it. We hope there will be similar reason to remember the Ahmedabad Test, where Anil is playing his 100th match."
With No. 35 out of the way, the question of where to next popped up, and Tendulkar's reply was spontaneous. "Back to the hotel!" On a more serious note, when asked what could be expected of him, Tendulkar said, "I can't say what heights I am going to achieve. But what you can expect from me, what is in my hands, is 100% commitment and sincerity and playing for the cause of the team."
In all the adulation, Tendulkar has somehow managed to remain remarkably humble. On the day when he broke Gavaskar's 22-year-old record, he said, referring to the little man with the title Mr, "Heroes will always be heroes. Mr. Gavaskar will always be a hero of mine. I would say to him, `Thank you for the support you have given us. Not only me but other batsmen as well. It really helps to have senior cricketers who can speak to you about your game.' I have often gone to him for advice and he has set such benchmarks and standards for us that you needed to have a disciplined and dedicated life to get to a landmark like this."
And in that moment there was a hint of how Tendulkar had managed to stay on the straight an narrow path through 20,000-plus international runs, virtually every batting record in the book, the adulation of millions, multi-crore sponsorship deals ... Because at the end of it all, when he goes out to bat, Tendulkar is still just that curly-haired little boy who loves to bat.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.