It's taken Sachin Tendulkar nearly one year to go from equalling Sunil Gavaskar to surpassing him as Test cricket's most prolific century maker. Almost exactly a year ago - on December 11, 2004 - Tendulkar scored his 34th hundred, which went on to become a monumental unbeaten 248, his highest Test score, against Bangladesh. Since then, his elbow problem restricted his Test appearances to just six, during which time he managed three half-centuries - once even going as far as 94 runs against Pakistan at Mohali - but the three-figure mark remained elusive till his knock here at the Feroz Shah Kotla, at the venue where Gavaskar had scored his 29th century to level with Don Bradman.
A comparison between the progressions of Gavaskar and Tendulkar tells an interesting story. After 60 Tests, Gavaskar was a runaway leader with 22 compared to Tendulkar's 15, but after the next 20 matches the gap reduced dramatically to one. They both recorded their 28th centuries in their 88th Tests - Gavaskar against West Indies at Georgetown in 1982-83, Tendulkar versus England at Ahmedabad in 2001-02. Since then, Tendulkar has kept pace with Gavaskar - both got their 30th hundreds in their 99th Tests, and their 34th in the 119th. (Gavaskar's last century was a 176 against Sri Lanka at Kanpur.)
Looking at the table below, it isn't surprising that Tendulkar finally brought up his 35th against Sri Lanka: it's the team against whom he has the best rate of scoring hundreds - this is only his 15th match against them, and he has already racked up seven centuries. The numbers are more disappointing against arch-rivals Pakistan - only two in 13 - but with a tour coming up early next year, Tendulkar has an opportunity to set that record straight as well.
*including the ongoing Test
Tendulkar has been more prolific in victories than Gavaskar, but Gavaskar has much better stats in matches when India lost the toss, when, surprisingly, he averages almost 14 more than in games when the toss was won.
Like Gavaskar, Tendulkar has produced the goods both at home and abroad. An average of 56 overseas, and 54 in Australia, is just another illustration of Tendulkar's ability to perform against the best over a sustained period of time. Apart from the South Africans, who have kept him down to 37 runs per innings, none of the other teams have managed to restrict him to an average of less than 42.
While Tendulkar has struggled for consistency in the last couple of years, there's little doubt that he has made his starts count much more than he used to. His last five centuries - before this one - read like this: 193, 176, 241 not out, 194 not out, 248 not out. In contrast, only three of his first 14 centuries were 150-plus scores. With plenty of batting still to follow for India, Tendulkar will be setting his eyes on another substantial century when play resumes on the second day.