Being there

Years from now, if you're an Indian cricket aficionado, they might ask you where you were at 4:45pm on a wintry December evening at the Ferozshah Kotla. With the light fading rapidly, and the buzz from the crowd reaching a crescendo, Sachin Tendulkar tapped a ball off his hips to reach another cherished milestone. Sunil Gavaskar's tally of 34 centuries was the benchmark for almost 19 years, but the target that Tendulkar eventually sets may prove beyond most mortals, even in an era of bloated schedules.

This wasn't an innings fit to rank alongside the 114 in Perth all those years ago, but there was a mature mastery at work which made it fascinating viewing. Having survived two vociferous appeals - one each from Muttiah Muralitharan and Dilhara Fernando - on his way to 30, he then retreated into a shell of his own making, content to ignore Fernando's off-stump line, and determined to see off the Murali threat that had extinguished a fabulous innings from VVS Laxman.

There had been ominous glimpses early in the innings, with a clip for four off Fernando and a sublime cut off Murali eliciting oohs and aahs from those watching, but it was the surety with which he middled almost everything that came his way that suggested that the big one was there for the taking. Sri Lanka managed to choke him between lunch and tea, but apart from a moment when a pink kite drifted on to the field, he never appeared flustered.

With Murali's variations as beguiling as ever, this was never going to be a milestone reached at a canter. The tussle between the two was as good as Test cricket gets, but Tendulkar had the last word today with three emphatic off-driven boundaries. By the end, passion nearly spent and limbs weary, Murali was reduced to hopeful shouts that betrayed nothing but frustration.

By that stage, Tendulkar was well into his stride, and the last lingering cobwebs of doubt swept away. Malinga Bandara was nonchalantly driven into the stands at long-on, and when Marvan Atapattu called upon Chaminda Vaas to work his magic, Tendulkar showed sleight of hand of his own by twice glancing him off the hips for fours.

The punch in the air and the wistful look at the skies as he ran the to-be-captured-in-sepia single spoke volumes about the conflicting emotions at work - elation at crossing the threshold tempered by the knowledge that his father Ramesh wasn't there to see it. It was just over 22 years ago that Gavaskar drew abreast of Sir Donald Bradman on this very ground, with a coruscating 90-ball century against West Indies, and the finest bowling line-up in history. How wonderfully piquant then that Tendulkar should eclipse one of the guiding lights of his youth with an innings that he would have been proud to call his own.