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In 39 years and 2,961 games it was a feat that could not be achieved. But on February 24, 2010, Sachin Tendulkar became the first batsman to get to the elusive double hundred in One-Day Internationals. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the masterpiece at Gwalior against the South Africans.
It was reputed to be a young man’s game. And for close to four decades, none of the lads who struck the ball with their youthful vigour and scampered between the wickets on their energetic feet had been able to accomplish the feat. Saeed Anwar had battled heat and cramps to get within a stroke of two hundred in 1997. In 2009, Charles Coventry had feasted on a dismal Bangladesh attack to equal the effort. The top score in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) stood at 194.
It was left to a genius, two months shy of his 37th birthday, to reach the milestone.
In the previous match at Jaipur he had scored just four, but had brought off a spectacular save on the boundary line — running full steam and diving full length. The certain four had been cut down to two. In the end, India had triumphed by one run to take the lead in the series. The aging master had made the difference with the infectious school-boy verve that simmered in him as he patrolled the outfield.
The double century
Now, Sachin Tendulkar started his innings at Gwalior in imperious style. Wayne Parnell was driven to the cover boundary for his first runs. The following ball saw a flick through mid-wicket that went screaming and unchallenged to the fence.
The next boundary off Dale Steyn’s express offering announced the special act that had been set up for the day. The ball was on the off stump and was whipped through the gap between mid-wicket and square-leg.
Virender Sehwag did not last long, but it had little effect on the champion. When Steyn banged it short, it was pulled away with casual nonchalance and all the time in the world.
With the pitch playing true, there was ample time for the maestro to toy with a high quality bowling attack. Steyn was carved over point and this was followed by three glorious drives through the off-side off Parnell.
By the time Roelof van der Merwe was tried as the spin option, the Tendulkar magic was flowing fast and strong, leaving a trail of brilliance over the cricketing landscape. He turned the left-arm spinner past the short fine-leg to the fence to bring up his half century in 37 balls.
With his dominance established and the field spread, Tendulkar changed gears, merely caressing the deliveries for a while. It was exemplary timing and placement, rarely a brutal hit. But when Charl Langeveldt pitched up, he took a break to blast him over mid-on for four.
At the other end, van der Merwe was toiling along, but he found the rampaging Tendulkar a bit too much too handle. Twice he was hit inside out over the covers with hardly an effort. The bowler was forced to float it further down the leg side, and then was quietly glanced past the short fine-leg for another boundary.
The master got to his century with a cut off Jean-Paul Duminy. The 46th hundred of his career had taken 90 balls, and contained 13 boundaries.
With Dinesh Karthik enjoying himself at the other end, Tendulkar celebrated the milestone with a pull to the boundary off Jacques Kallis before lofting him back over his head.
The first six came off Dumini, a huge hit with the turn over widish mid-wicket. Karthik departed for 79, having put on 194 for the second wicket, but Tendulkar took it in his stride. With Yusuf Pathan proving to be another able ally, he caressed Steyn to the leg boundary twice in a row, each time with a delicate step towards the off-stump.
The boundaries began to flow. Parnell was struck over the covers and Steyn was disdainfully dispatched with a flick of the wrist and then majestically creamed through the covers.
He brought up his 150 with a lofted on-drive off Parnell. It had taken him just 118 balls. The master celebrated it with a square-driven boundary and a pulled four off Langeveldt. And when Langeveldt pitched short again, he was smashed him flat batted into the crowd — a shade of the savage mingling with the otherwise masterly display of effortless timing and placement.
With Pathan dismissed for a handy 36, Mahendra Singh Dhoni joined Tendulkar in the middle. The running between the wickets became more frantic, and even towards the last stages of this long innings, Tendulkar was scampering across as he would have done two decades earlier.
Soon Dhoni was hammering the last few nails into the South African coffin, so perfectly laid out by this mammoth knock by Tendulkar. However, even as the captain bludgeoned fours and sixes at will, the runs flowed from the other end as well. Van der Merwe came on for the last bit of his spell and was lofted over his head for four before being sent to the stands over long off.
With a nudge behind the short fine leg off Parnell, Tendulkar went past the existing record of 194. The heat and exertions did result in some attacks of cramps, but he kept at it gamely.
Tendulkar moved to 199 early enough, in the 48th over. Yet, in the next over from Steyn, Dhoni clubbed two sixes and a boundary and managed a single off the last ball. The crowd, eager for the milestone, urged the skipper to take a single.
When Dhoni dispatched Langeveldt’s first ball of the final over into the stands beyond long-on, he was slightly bemused by the thorough booing that greeted his efforts. However, the second ball was carted to deep mid-wicket and the batsmen crossed for a single. As an entire nation stood still, Langeveldt ran in again. Tendulkar reached out and pushed him past point for the 200th run.
The first-ever double hundred in the history of ODIs had arrived on the shoulders of the great, running the last lap of his career. There was the standard heavenward look with hands reaching for the sky — the gesture of a champion who had conquered a peak that did not exist when he had started out on his journey.
What happened next?
India finished on 401 for three. The scorecard was a chronicle of brutality. Steyn had been taken for 89 runs off his 10 overs and Parnell for 95.
In response, AB de Villiers did score a rollicking hundred, but South Africa were never going to get close. In the end, the home team triumphed by a huge 153-run margin.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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