On February 3, 1992, Sachin Tendulkar hit a magnificent hundred at Perth to stamp his eternal class on the history of the game. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the fantastic hundred as, older and mightier names of the era collapsed around him.
The beleaguered Indians were battered and beaten. India came into the fifth Test at Perth 0-3 down and with the daunting task of facing four quality Australian fast bowlers in their prime on a track of tarpaulin bounce.
When Krishnamachari Srikkanth tried an almost comical pull off Craig McDermott and the ball went spiralling to a great height over David Boon at short-leg, the Indian scorecard read 69 for two. The Australians had scored 333 – not a huge score but decent enough given the nature of the wicket. It seemed only a matter of time before the Indians collapsed in a heap.
The aging Dilip Vengsarkar had batted at No 4 in the series till the first innings of the fourth Test at Adelaide. But as runs dried up and refused to flow from the blade of the stalwart, he was pushed down the order. The 18-year old Sachin Tendulkar walked out in that position of the batting order which would be his own for years to come – a man-child standing five feet five inches in his cricket boots, striding out to face perils of Perth.
Even as the world winced at the thunderbolts that buzzed around his young head, Tendulkar took it in his stride. The first boundary came off a neat steer between slips and gully. A near perfect exhibition of batting on bouncy wickets followed. Theones rearing for the head were left well alone, the short ones with the slightest width were cut to ribbons and when the bowlers over-pitched, splendid drives flowed down the ground.
The ship had been steadied, with Tendulkar growing in confidence, and Sanjay Manjrekar hanging in there. The score soon looked a respectable 100 for two. But, it proved to be a deluding illusion of stability.
Merv Hughes ran in and made it swing away after pitching around the leg stump. Manjrekar, with his penchant for onside strokes, tried to force it away past mid-on. The outside sent it flying and Dean Jones, standing somewhere between third and fourth slip, flung himself horizontally to the left to grab it.
Two overs later, Vengsarkar followed in almost identical manner, the attempted on drive coming off almost the back of the bat and travelling fast and low to Mark Taylor at first slip.
At the other end, as great names tumbled around him, the boy remained unfazed in the game of grown men. Hughes pitched short and was sent to the point boundary with a rasping square cut. And when McDermott probed just short of good length in the corridor of uncertainty, a sensational square drive dispatched the ball to the fence.
Wickets continued to fall. With the end of the day in sight, captain Mohammad Azharuddin played an atrocious stroke to a harmless bouncer to make it 130 for five. The second day ended with India on 135 with half the side back in the pavilion, Tendulkar on 31.
The lone crusader
The following morning, night-watchman Venkatapathy Raju went without addition to the score. Tendulkar responded with another fierce cut off Hughes and reached his half century with a flick off his pads.
As youth rallied, experience continued along the path of irresponsibility. At 159, Kapil Dev went for a hook off Whitney and sent it down the throat of long leg. And two balls later, Manoj Prabhakar slashed straight to gully.
As Kiran More joined Tendulkar at the wicket, Allan Border crowded him with slips, gully, short leg and leg-gully. The end seemed to be in sight, but the diminutive Indian wicketkeeper dug in.
All the while, Tendulkar was batting as if in a different game. Whitney was peerlessly straight driven for four, Hughes tickled fine to the leg side fence and Paul Reiffel subjected to yet another glorious square drive.
The fifty of the partnership came up just after lunch, off just 53 minutes, and only ten of them were scored by More. Tendulkar was pushing things along. The only blemish in his innings was a half chance to Boon close in on the leg side at 73. It was struck firmly and did not stick as the Tasmanian stuck his handout attempting another of his outrageous catches.
Tendulkar now turned Reiffel for two and followed it up by straight driving him for three to move on to 96. And off the first ball of McDermott’s next over, he essayed another gorgeous straight drive to bring up his hundred. The crowd erupted in rousing cheers as the helmet was taken off to once again reveal his extreme youth. The boy had played one of the most fascinating innings ever witnessed on that WACA wicket.
Hundred completed, Tendulkar lashed out to get some more quick runs while the wickets lasted. After a couple of strokes over the slips, Whitney produced a ball that rose sharply from good length and the resulting fend went into the huge hands of Tom Moody at second slip.
Tendulkar walked back after 228 minutes of sparkling brilliance, etched with 16 boundaries. His 114 had come off 161 balls. From 159 for eight, he had taken India to 240, adding a record 81 runs with Kiran More for the ninth wicket. But, the young man seemed inconsolable at losing his wicket. As the crowd rose to applaud him back to the dressing room, he struck the ground with his bat in disappointment.
India ended their innings at 272, after More had stroked his way to 43. However, Australia piled on runs in the second innings to leave them with four sessions to bat out. The Indians surrendered against some excellent left arm-pace by Whitney to lose by 300 runs.
Australia won the series 4-0, but India had discovered the man who would steer their destiny for the next two decades.
(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)