Tendulkar focussed amid the frenzy
He was in a foreign land. At least a land that has stayed the most foreign to India even after their resurgence away from home. They started chanting "Sachin, Sachin" from the time he guided one past short third man to move to 88. There were whites, there were blacks, there were browns at the grass banks of SuperSport Park, and all they wanted was for Sachin Tendulkar's 50th Test hundred to come in front of them.
It was difficult to not let that affect you, but Tendulkar was in a different sphere. He was trying to save a game, trying to kill time, trying to run through the deficit. He took his time to get to 89, and South Africa tried to cut out boundary-scoring areas. A forward short leg came in, Morne Morkel bowled bouncers - around the helmet area, and into the ribs. Tendulkar kept ducking, the lower ones he kept keeping out; if he was nervous, he wasn't showing it. Against Paul Harris, who has somehow managed to be India's nemesis, he hit a straight six to send the crowd into frenzy again.
The chants started again. When at 97, he faced another flurry of bouncers. One of them went for five wides. Ten deliveries he spent on 97. Then came Dale Steyn. He got an inside-edge past midwicket to move to 99. Then he squirted one between cover and extra cover, celebrating as he ran the 100th run. Not extravagantly. The helmet came off, the back arched a bit, and he looked up to the skies.
Tendulkar later spoke of the moment when he reached the milestone. "The first thing obviously I thought of was my father because I wanted to do it for him," he said. "Yesterday was his birthday, and I would like to dedicate this to him."
Tendulkar didn't know what to make of the landmark. Perhaps the match situation - India are on the verge of a defeat despite his and MS Dhoni's effort - had something to do with it. Perhaps it is taking time to sink in. "I don't know. I am okay. It's just another number for me. It's nice. Obviously I can't say I am not happy, I am happy. But I don't know how to express this. It's good that it has come. Hopefully it doesn't stop, it continues."
Tendulkar remembered his first Test that was played against an attack that comprised three greats. He was quick to remind the reporters of Abdul Qadir's presence too, to go with Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Imran Khan. "It was challenging," he said. "I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned a lot on that tour and whenever I have played them. It's been a fantastic contest."
Tendulkar has had a bumper 2010, this being his seventh Test century to go with the only double-century in the history of ODIs. Of his remarkable form, he said: "Just been batting and enjoying. Sometime you are striking the ball really well and that is when you need to cash in as much as possible. I only try to do that. I felt that the last couple of years I have been moving well. Also the frame of mind. It's a habit, and once you build that habit, it's a good habit to carry on tours and back home in India as well."
Tendulkar also reiterated that records have just happened to come his way while he has been doing what he loves the most. "I am playing for the love of it," he said. "If I was chasing records, I wouldn't have missed those one-day matches in between. I have had to pace myself. I thought I was not in top physical condition, and I needed some break and requested the board for the rest so I stay fresh. If I were chasing records, I wouldn't have done that. Its about producing quality cricket, and that's what I want to do."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo