"He has scored 16,000 runs. I haven't even played 16,000 balls." That was the pithy comment from Mahendra Singh Dhoni when asked, halfway through this CB Series, whether he was bothered by his senior-most batsman failing to make big runs. After topping the run-charts in the Tests, Sachin Tendulkar seemed to have lost his rhythm - until Sunday, when he played the perfect innings in the perfect chase when it mattered most.
Perhaps the signs were there on Saturday, when he followed up the regular outdoor nets with a session indoors for another 45 minutes. The evidence of his extra preparation was seen early enough; he saw off Brett Lee's short ones with respect but stole tight singles by dropping the ball with the softest of hands. Last year he withstood some of the best swing bowling in England; today he took on sheer pace. Anything full on the leg was dispatched with that eye-catching turn of the wrist, the ball reaching the boundary almost as soon as it came in contact with his heavy blade.
Spin wasn't spared either; he stepped out to Brad Hogg, whom he has often dominated, and hit him over extra cover. He drew on all his experience to upset the bowlers, especially when they tried something different. Mitchell Johnson came round the wicket and pitched it short into his body but Tendulkar simply arched back to shoulder the ball over the empty slip region - just enough to beat third man.
His batting was glorious in itself; even better, though, was the way he shepherded his partners, some of whom were toddlers when Tendulkar first played for India. He opened with Robin Uthappa and they played confidently; the lack of a good start, and the subsequent pressure on the middle order, had hindered India in earlier matches but today the openers never gave the opposition attack any room to capitalise.
That helped, and also the fact that Tendulkar was around when a couple of wickets fell in quick succession. India needed another partnership and Rohit Sharma, who has shown on this tour a maturity and wisdom beyond his age, was perhaps the best person to join Tendulkar.
|On Saturday, Tendulkar was taken to the cricket museum of the SCG Trust and was handed the bat used by Don Bradman. "It was an experience, a special moment, to hold Sir Don's bat, the one that he actually played with. Nice to follow that up with a hundred."|
Tendulkar, understanding the fluidity of the situation, guided his junior team-mate expertly. As the ball got old in the middle overs, the priority was on preserving wickets and so a drop in the run-rate didn't matter. Instead, the batsmen found the gaps and rotated the strike and, by the time Rohit was out, their fourth-wicket stand of 123 had all but sealed the win.
Later, Tendulkar spoke about Rohit. "I've played a few games with him but this was the first time we had a long stand. He is extremely calm and composed and that's his strength. He showed terrific character and has a wide range of shots. What's more his shot selection was also very good."
All the while, plagued by a groin niggle, he was compiling his first ODI century in Australia. On 98 he pushed one down to fine-leg and ran for a single; at the last moment, he turned back for the second but better sense prevailed and he stopped just in time. He stuck out his tongue and presented his shy smile. He didn't need to wait much longer.
On Saturday, after that practice session, Tendulkar did an interview with Channel Nine. He was taken to the cricket museum of the SCG Trust and was handed the bat used by Don Bradman. "It was an experience, a special moment, to hold Sir Don's bat, the one that he actually played with. Nice to follow that up with a hundred."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo