India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 5th day March 22, 2006

When Tendulkar made Udal's day

For one man immortality, for another the ultimate sign of mortality. Shaun Udal will dine out on this moment for the rest of his life. Sachin Tendulkar will prefer never to speak of it again
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Shaun Udal savours his priceless moment © Getty Images

For one man immortality, for another the ultimate sign of mortality. Shaun Udal will dine out on this moment for the rest of his life. Sachin Tendulkar will prefer never to speak of it again.

Tendulkar looked briefly like he was on the road to redemption. He wasn't supposed to get out to a 37-year-old, balding off-spinner, nicknamed Shaggy, with a Test bowling average of 92.

And it was a regulation off-spinner's dismissal: bit of turn, push forward, inside edge on to pad, thank you and goodnight. It was a very ordinary way for an extraordinary player to get out. And coming so hard on the heels of Rahul Dravid's departure, it sealed India's fate.

The problem with Tendulkar for the neutral observer has always been that he seemed too perfect. I've always been a Brian Lara man myself simply because, with him, you expect the unexpected. I'm not saying he's a better player. I'm just saying that his all-too-obvious human flaws make him more interesting, even more exciting.

This series has changed all that. Tendulkar has been human. And to the followers of English cricket, pretty much for the first time.

With Tendulkar, expectations have known no bounds. Performances, even at his unparalleled level, can never live up to those expectations almost by definition. Yet expectations of him have sunk so low in this series that one English journalist had the temerity to refer to him, in conversation, as "a walking wicket".

When he came out to bat towards the end of the first hour's play at 33 for 3 were people expecting or hoping? Was Sachin himself expecting or hoping?

The team were under pressure but maybe Tendulkar wasn't. He no longer carries the hopes of a nation. That is Dravid's curse. He's out of the one-dayers. This was a chance to salvage pride and his reputation. Saving the match would be a bonus.

The crowd cheered his arrival with one voice and then chanted his name. It was as if the booing of Sunday never happened.

He looked anxious to get off the mark, not as anxious as he had in the first innings when panic started to set in. But he was still edgy. His first scoring shot was a boundary of Andrew Flintoff, steered to third man. Much excitement.

In the next over he eased James Anderson through mid-wicket for four more. That sent Ian Bell from gully scurrying to talk to Anderson. Then Flintoff had a chat too. However bad Tendulkar's form, boundaries still have the opposition hopping around.

At the end of the 27th over with India 57 for 3, Dravid gave Tendulkar a little pat on the back. It was the sort of gesture he would normally reserve for a nervous debutant, not a man who's played more Tests for his country than anyone else.

Panesar started the next over by turning one past slip. The next ball was a full toss. Even with his eyes shut Tendulkar could have hit that for four. He did. Geraint Jones counselled Panesar. It didn't help. He dropped short and Tendulkar rocked back on his heels to cut exquisitely for four. The roar could have lifted the Mumbai smog. Relief. Welcome back Sachin.

By lunch, he looked comfortable, even serene. With he and Dravid still in, my gut feeling was 'draw'. But in nine balls, the game was as good as over.

Tendulkar, caught Bell, bowled Udal. Who would have thought? But there it is, in the scorebook. Forever.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer