November 13, 2011

Enough about the wait for the hundredth

It's just another statistic in a career full of them. And worrying about it won't make it come any sooner

All right, everyone, he's not having fun himself, you know.

It's bloody 2005 all over again. When room service carries in his dinner or housekeeping changes the sheets and towels, they all give him sheepish, respectful smiles and mention just one thing. Hello, sir, wishing you the best, sir, to get "it". Please, sir, soon. Then there's the liftman, the receptionist, the bus driver, the gateman, the dressing-room attendant. Then you, me, the boss, the rookie, mummy, daddy, uncle, auntie, grandparents, gym instructor, chaiwallah, all asking him to deliver the hundred as if it were a pizza that could reach your door in 30 minutes.

Now you know why he wears those giant headphones.

In 2005, it was about the 35th Test century. When it was done, he said he had been "glad and relieved… I could then start enjoying the game again". Until then, the same old room-service-housekeeping-liftman-general-public-entreaty. From No. 34, it took five Tests and seven innings to get to 35.

Only five Tests, you're thinking. Only seven innings. What about this excruciating torture now, which doesn't seems to end? It's been 14 innings, 14 , nine matches - ODIs, Tests, World Cup, England tour, Kotla, the whole fruit basket. Still we wait. And we will begin all over again in Kolkata. Best now to think of Master Shifu and find inner peace.

Waiting for the 35th took a whole year. That is how they stretched out five Tests in the pre-IPL days. So zip it. Be patient. It has only been eight months since No. 99. Be grateful that he can get this in either of two formats. Remember, he was so spent after 35 that it took 17 months, 17 innings and 10 Tests to get to No. 36, which doesn't seem like such a big deal now. It is the longest he's ever been without the reassurance of a century since he started playing for India. Once he got to No. 36, he raced away; between then and now, 15 centuries in Test, seven in ODIs, 7500-plus runs in both forms, the world's first one-day 200, a World Cup finally won.

He knows how this hundred business is done, okay? He's just approaching middle age, you know, when we all begin to creak a little. Everything takes time these days. Now stop fretting, go study, pay attention to office mundanities, spend time with the family. Take the damn hundred off your mind. He's not thinking about you, anyway. Who knows, maybe he's even not thinking about his 90s. Twenty-seven in 743 innings for India, after just five in the first 10 years of his career.

To closely study the effects of the 100th on crowd behaviour, psychologists should have gone out to all the grounds where he has played since March 13. They would have come across classic case studies in these key categories: worshippers, worriers, theoreticians, tall-poppy trimmers, poets, even, sitting next to each other, hearts beating, minds racing.

Please, God, this time, this one. I promise you I won't ever call him God again. Please, please, please.

Suppose he gets out again? Suppose he can't do it? The sun won't rise, I won't able to live.

Cross-bat? On a wicket that kept low? Refusing a single? Farming strike? Clearly the sight of that 100 caused a brain-freeze.

Serves him right, let him stew; obsessing about records. He's old, he should retire. The team comes first.

Ninety nine, no more.
O, Bradman. Incomplete.
Yet rounded off.

Now, as if we control it, like a choice between margherita or quattro formaggi, we think, what would be better - Kolkata or Mumbai?

The 100th isn't just about the score anymore; ideally it must involve a suitable, noble occasion. Which is why the Oval innings made some sweat; as if he would have gone around the ground in a lap of honour. Versus West Indies at the Kotla, it was said he had "missed" another chance - narrowly by 93 runs. The second innings 24-run "miss" had effectively controlled India's third-highest successful chase, before the 100th got in its way. Now, as if we control it, like a choice between margherita or quattro formaggi, we think, what would be better - Kolkata or Mumbai? Kolkata didn't get an India World Cup game; November 15 is the day his first Test began 22 years ago. But surely, Mumbai, his hometown.

To generate real suspense, Hitchcock believed, "you must let the audience have the information". What would he have made of this? The information here is available not only to the audience but to the central character as well. The suspense, all the same, is killing. Eden Gardens begins on Monday.

We'll let you in on a secret. When the moment comes - and it will, it will - everyone will stand up and applaud, dignified, teary, joyful. Including us, undearly unbeloved journalists. We will not, though, be scrambling.

While you were chewing fingernails and hiding behind the sofa, the media, dear reader, was getting ready. Newspapers, magazines, erm, websites, television channels. Reams have already been written about the 100th, pages designed, programme packages prepared, footage edited, voiceovers recorded, even quotes obtained. Like everyone, they are waiting too, pulled in by the allure of the 100th. This is tribute, not deceit.

At the end of the day, what's marvellously monumental about a 100th international hundred, is equally so at 99. Qualitatively the difference of that one more is really, just a number.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo