December 15, 2008

Superstar Tendulkar writes the perfect script

He's 35 years old and owns practically every batting record in the game, but you couldn't escape the feeling that this was probably Sachin Tendulkar's finest hour

Given all that's gone on over the past three weeks, this was so much more than just a match-winning century © Getty Images

As Graeme Swann prepared to bowl the second ball of his 29th over, more than 20,000 people in the stands abandoned their plastic chairs. They were on their feet, creating the sort of bedlam and noise I last witnessed at this very venue seven years ago, when Harbhajan Singh's squirt past point clinched the most famous of India's series victories. Swann bowled. The batsman came forward and patted the ball back with almost exaggerated flourish. The crowd was momentarily quieted but the primal scream started again as Swann went back to his mark.

Again, there was sharp turn, but the paddle-sweep that greeted the ball was emphatic. As it streaked to fine leg, the batsman ran down the pitch and punched the air in celebration, before being held aloft by his equally delighted partner. He's 35 years old and owns practically every batting record in the game, but you couldn't escape the feeling that this was probably Sachin Tendulkar's finest hour.

To score the winning runs in a record-shattering chase was special enough, but when that last stroke also brought up your 41st century, it became ineffably so. Boyhood dreams are made of this, and it says a lot about Tendulkar that he has never lost that child-like passion for the game.

Even in a world where cricket was played in isolation, this would have been a breathtaking effort. Given all that's gone on over the past three weeks though, this was so much more than just a match-winning century. Kevin Pietersen said it best after the game. "Who can write Sachin Tendulkar's scripts any better?," he asked. "The man from Mumbai came in and scored a sensational hundred. He batted like a superstar."

Those that reckon this will heal the wounds of the past don't know Tendulkar well enough though. The scabs of Barbados 1997 and Chepauk 1999 will always be there, especially given he had done so much in both games to take India towards victory. As the years passed, theories and opinions came and went, with people pointing to the absence of a defining fourth-innings knock from the Tendulkar repertoire. Brian Lara had the peerless unbeaten 153 at the Kensington Oval. What did Tendulkar have to offer as response?

An awful lot really, but those intent on nitpicking will inevitably find a way. As the afternoon progressed though, the feeling intensified that we were witnessing something extraordinary. With Pietersen not inclined to crowd the batsmen with close-in fielders, Tendulkar was more than happy to pick off the runs with a nudge here, a deflection there and the odd paddle-sweep for variety.

The contrast with Virender Sehwag couldn't have been more acute. Sehwag's 83 contained 11 singles and two twos, whereas 61 of Tendulkar's runs came in singles (45) or twos. It was a consummate innings. He defended purposefully, especially against the always menacing Andrew Flintoff, but there was no getting bogged down either. Every time there was a lull, either he or Yuvraj Singh would pierce the field.

Those that aren't Indian struggle to fathom exactly what Tendulkar means to so many millions, and it's doubtful whether even those that live here really comprehend just how much a part of the national consciousness he has become. He is such a unifying force, a personality capable of stirring the emotions in every nook and corner of a vast land

Though dehydration became a factor as the afternoon sun beat down, he continued to scamper between the wickets with the same urgency he showed as a teenager. It's that enthusiasm that's so infectious. Sitting in the stands for an hour this afternoon, there was no doubt what the only people that really matter - the fans - think of him. His every stroke was cheered as though it was a century, and the chants of "Sachin, Sachin" reverberating around were an illustration of an adulation-obsession that sport has never seen, not even when Diego Maradona was playing at La Bombanera.

Vijay is a doctor who was in Chennai on a short trip. On Sunday night, he found himself with a pass for the final day's play. With a late-afternoon train to catch, he wasn't sure whether to go or not. There was another reason for his hesitancy too. Like millions of other sports fans who have been scarred by defeat, Vijay was afraid that he might jinx his team and his favourite player. But after watching the first session on television, he decided to take his chances.

Over the next three-and-a-half hours, he didn't leave his seat, not even for food and water at tea time. He made his train with 10 minutes to spare. "I wouldn't have been able to forgive myself if I had given it a miss," he messaged me later.

Those that aren't Indian struggle to fathom exactly what Tendulkar means to so many millions, and it's doubtful whether even those that live here really comprehend just how much a part of the national consciousness he has become. He is such a unifying force, a personality capable of stirring the emotions in every nook and corner of a vast land. And in these times of distress and anger, it was so very appropriate that it would be Tendulkar who put the smiles back on at least a few faces.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • shve on December 18, 2008, 6:22 GMT

    Note guys -- Many of you are thinking that I am trying to prove Shewag greater than Tendulkar.. If you read my first comment -- I have put a question to all you guys -- read the line where I am saying - Is Shewag greater than Tendulkar (I forgot to put question mark "?" after my sentense). I am just trying to convey my thoughts on the two players with different styles. I am no one with capability or knowledge to analyse who is greater batsman. I am trying to highlight the ATTITUDE problem here and trying to explain that Sachin is not the guy with as great GAME ATTITUDE as Shewag or few other guys are. Sachin is Genius in what he does. But he definately have his own drawbacks. And one of them is his attitude. Just recently (2008) he has started to play selflessly to quieten his critics. And also I do agree with 'saileshkc' with his comments on Indian bowling problems in past. That's a justified analysis.

  • Darshan on December 17, 2008, 18:42 GMT

    This innings may technically not have been better than the one against Pakistan nor may the quality of the bowlers have been as great. However, this is still arguably his finest hour as so much surely also depends on the screenplay of the performance. After being outplayed for three and a half days, the manner in which the team responded was reminiscent of Eden Gardens. Further, following the atrocities in Mumbai earlier this month, how fitting that the greatest Mumbai cricketer plays this hand. And to score the hundred and the winning runs simultaneously, surely it couldn't have been much better...

  • mradul on December 17, 2008, 10:08 GMT svesharma is a great analyser...and what analysis..To begin with there is a dire need for him to understand the game of cricket or for that matter any game wherein a team is involved. So if 380 runs are to be scored on a last day pitch can one for a moment believe that a sehwag or a sachin can do single handedly. If by being selfish one can score 50,000 runs..boy wouldn't every player want to be selfish. In a team game everyone has to utilize his talent to get the desired results.I wouldn't even get into comparing sachin & sehwag because it would be like comparing apples to oranges. For the most part of his career sachin was the lone crusador for Indian cricket. It is only now that the players are standing up for their responsibilities. History shows how many players can stand up to a 20 yr grind and that too with consistent performance. The team understands what it takes to perform at the highest level and that matters not some fence sitter doling out free & useless analysis.

  • sailesh on December 17, 2008, 8:23 GMT

    no absolutely not, the inning he played against Pakistan in same venue was the greatest. It feels greatest inning as it contributed in win, even mediocre innings than this would look great in future as team is well balanced with match winning bowlers to back up his run scoring capacity.

  • sailesh on December 17, 2008, 8:09 GMT

    lots of interesting comments are posted but i feel at loss when i see somebody saying something critical about Sachin's technique and attitude towards game. Some do not consider his as greatest but just look at the time when he started playing, how may bowler did he have in his team who could win test matches for the team? He had played part in the win of the team playing in India more than abroad that was just because of few class spinners in the team. When batsman score run bower must compliment in getting opposition out twice in a match to win the test, when team wins contribution of the batsman looks great.Put all the batting greats in position Tendulkar was and judge for yourself who is greatest. Nobody would come near him in oneday, have not seen anybody greatest in test,just wait there are capable bowlers in the team which makes may of his mediore innings to come in future would look better than greatest innings he had played in past. After all history is written by winners

  • Yogesh on December 17, 2008, 5:50 GMT

    The comment posted by shvesharma on December 17 2008, i feel due to people like him in the country our country cannot prosper to what it actually deserves.I have not seen any player in the history who doesnt play for himself, after all even if he is playing for himself. he is part of country. i mean if sachin playing for himself its fine till the time sachin is part of country name "INDIA". Dada also slow down remarkably in 90s but thats fine till the time he can win the match for our country. Sachin 100 also doesnt matter how slow it is but its good if he can help the team to win the biggest chase on indian soil.people like shvesharma always try to find critic in the best of the stuff then its their attitude problem nothing else. there are still few people in mumbai who critcize mumbai police for terror attack, but there are others who stand up and salute them. i belong to second one and i believe who believe in the 1st one are biggest threat to our country progress.he is one ofthem

  • Karan on December 17, 2008, 2:59 GMT

    Xolile, even non-indians would put that on their list. How can you ignore the most profitible run getter ever, with almost 90 centuries under his belt? I agree, he isn't a god, he's not even the best, but to ignore him from the all time XI would be a slap in the face. He has endured so many losses over his career, he's been in the limelight when it comes to critisism more often than not, but he still plays as if he were 19. He has been in this business for well over 20 years. Yes, he might not be brilliant, but if Gilchrist is in your list, then Sachin Tendulkar is in it too.

  • Muthu on December 17, 2008, 2:24 GMT

    Hey Xolile,I liked how U presented stats about Sachin to say he ain't great,it was thought-provoking...But to say he won't find a place in the all-time XI is BS - and even if he doesn't, that doesn't say anything...To say that there can only be 6 all-time batting greats sounds ridiculous...Sachin shud be termed great because he has a really good average,has lots of runs,lots of hundreds,a decent strike rate and can play every shot in the book and some of his own,can score on pitches of any kind and play bowlers of any type with relative ease...Please name one player today who would fit this description...Kallis & Ponting somehow don't...The four batsmen according to me would be Graeme Pollock, Sachin, Lara and Viv Richards...

  • shve on December 17, 2008, 1:55 GMT

    Due to quite a few responses to my post I am replying back. I don't know how many people are getting my point there. I don't need explanation on what Sachin did. I know he played in the last innings and won the match for India. I did not say that what he did was not good. But I want to make point for 'obsessed' fans of Tendulkar. Game (or for matter of fact anything else in life) is not only won on your skill level (which I belive Sachin is best at -- his skill level). It's won on your attitude. I don't know at how many times I have seen Sachin trying to save his wicket and not thinking as much about the country as much he think about himself. That put a lot of runs on board for him but country still looses. If there are critics -- it's for a reason. People who can't accept this truth are the ones who love Sachin too much due to his perfection of the game. But being a perfectionist does not necessarly means that you are the best player that a team needs. Plz rply with 'sensible' comnts

  • George on December 17, 2008, 1:49 GMT

    Tendulkar has made so many people in India and around the world happy on so many different occasions. I like to think of him as "little Krishna" he is truly a special person.

    In all their sorrow, he has given the people of Bombay some thing to smile about.

    Way to go "little Krishna".

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