Sachin evokes his prime
Bring back Shane Warne, Shaun Pollock and Wasim Akram because we have a conundrum here that only they can solve. The way Sachin Tendulkar has batted on this tour, and in the matches leading up to it, it seems he has hit the kind of patch he did in the mid-90s. One can't be sure if it is due to the deteriorated standards of bowling, but in some ways Tendulkar might even have got better, which the bowlers of the 90s might think of as a ludicrous proposition.
Tendulkar was not completely authoritative when he took guard at Seddon Park yesterday, which is also a credit to the pitch that has kept the good bowlers in the game. But once he was given the reprieve, dropped on 13, he turned it into a helpless situation for the bowlers.
With a young Tendulkar at the crease, the bowlers might have stayed interested because there was an element of risk to his batting. In this innings it was a no-win situation for them. He didn't even have to try to be dominant to beat the bowlers mentally. Apart from that, we saw the Tendulkar of old at Seddon Park today.
All along, the runs kept coming, through cannily placed singles and gorgeous boundaries alike. Once the new ball was taken late yesterday, with New Zealand looking to cash in on some tight bowling over the 81 previous overs, Tendulkar raised his game too.
It continued today, when he took the attack to the bowlers under overcast skies early in the morning. The cuts, the glances, the straight-drives, the cover-drives, no longer inspire that awe, but the feeling of 'Yes we know them and the bowlers still can't do anything about it'.
What he might have lost in pure instinct and brute strength he has gained in experience and wisdom. It shows in the way he assesses match situations, be it any form of the game. He doesn't get bogged down now, as was the case in 2005 and 2006. There is a certain relaxed manner to which he approaches batting. Perhaps it has to do with the feeling that this is the best batting line-up he has been a part of, something he acknowledges too.
Tendulkar may not say it, and thereby put undue pressure on himself, but 100 international hundreds are more than just a hope now. They are increasingly becoming a reasonable possibility. His last two innings have been imperious centuries, he has scored three centuries in his last four Tests, and after today's exhibition Tendulkar is eight shy of reaching the 50-mark in Tests.
Cricket can throw up some meaningless statistics, but 100 hundreds can't be one of them. It is perhaps too early to think and talk of it, but the way Tendulkar has been batting it is a tempting thought.
There are no indications to the effect, but from the way Tendulkar is enjoying himself, it seems his hunger won't die until he has had another crack at the World Cup, which is still two years away. It is not impossible to score 15 centuries in the next two years. Between March 25, 1998 and December 26, 1999, he hit 20 centuries. Between February 18, 1996 and December 3, 1997, he managed 14. He is not the same batsman as he was in the mid-90s, but the effect he is having is quite the same.
He has scored eight international centuries since May 2007, and has been dismissed seven times in the 90s. The umpires, and once even a diving Kamran Akmal (now that's unfortunate) have had a role to play in that. Regardless, he has put behind him the lacklustre 2005 and 2006 - when he managed only four international centuries - to get to playing as well as he has, albeit in a different manner.
It seems, after 2006, he has started ageing backwards. But obviously he hasn't. With form on his side, his big enemy is his body. He has attracted more cramps and niggles in the last two years than he perhaps did through his career. It is impossible for an outsider to understand what his body must be going through after 19 years of international cricket. The niggles stay with him for longer than they ever did, which showed in the resurfacing of the rib trouble during the Christchurch ODI.
He has started picking and choosing what matches he plays. But the heart wants to stay involved. When asked whether New Zealand was becoming his favourite place, what with back-to-back international hundreds, he said, "I'm a bit superstitious. I'll let the others count the hundreds, and let me go and bat." Don't worry, we'll do the counting, and will stay pretty busy if he bats the way he did today.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo