Sachin Tendulkar scorned his critics with a fine hundred © AFP

It was Emerson that wrote: "Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect", and after an enthralling day at the Arbab Niaz Stadium in Peshawar, one can only speculate as to what difference a couple of inches might have made. When Rana Naved-ul-Hasan came up with a near-perfect delivery that arced into the pads before thudding into off stump, Sachin Tendulkar had made only a hesitant 20. Unfortunately for Rana and Pakistan, he had fallen prey to an affliction that has troubled the team consistently for as long as most of us can remember - the no-ball.

Had his foot been a few more millimeters behind the white chalk, Tendulkar - who had already started the trudge back before he saw the signal - would have failed again, and the premature crucifixion campaigns back home would have gathered even more momentum. As it was, headlines like "Endulkar" will be looked back on with the scorn and contempt that they deserve after one of the game's modern masters produced an innings that he will savour for a long time, despite it being to no avail in a match that finished in twilight rather than floodlight.

If anyone was looking for the Tendulkar of the halcyon years, they wouldn't have spotted him. In fact, he was almost anonymous in the opening exchanges, troubled by the pace and movement of Rana and the brilliant Mohammad Asif, a colossus among pygmies on a batsmen-friendly pitch. By the time Rana had his moment to regret, Tendulkar had played out 31 balls, and watched Irfan Pathan come and go after a thrilling run-a-ball 65. The partnership with the effervescent Mahendra Singh Dhoni was also one in which he was more than content to play second fiddle. With Dhoni running riot and spanking 68 from just 53 balls, few noticed how stealthily the senior man had turned it on to add 54 from the 55 deliveries that he had faced.

The initial circumspection was understandable given the criticism that has come his way following the Karachi debacle. His recent numbers had come under intense scrutiny and a return of 568 runs at 29.89 from his last 20 ODIs was patently not good enough for someone of that class and experience. But as Inzamam-ul-Haq - who was dropped, seemingly for good, after an 18-run World Cup in 2003 - could tell you, such fallow runs can affect the very best. The determination with which Tendulkar set about his innings was as heartening as the manner in which everyone else batted around him, taking the pressure off his shoulders with telling smites of their own.

Unlike Salman Butt's match-winning effort later in the afternoon, Tendulkar's wasn't a fluid glide to a century. He struck only ten fours, and one massive six off Arshad Khan, scampering the ones and twos with a desperation and intensity that mocked those who have recently doubted his hunger for the challenge. After the first 50 was ground out in 65 balls, he batted with far greater freedom, getting to 100 in a further 47 balls. But for being mistakenly given out - to be fair, Asad Rauf had no way of knowing that he had gloved the reverse-sweep onto the pad - he may well have catapulted India beyond 350, and out of sight. That will be the one lingering regret for this strongest of men.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo