February 12, 1990. It was on this day Sachin Tendulkar came within 12 runs of becoming the youngest ever Test centurion at the age of 16 years and 294 days. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the 88 runs he scored at Napier against Richard Hadlee and Danny Morrison.
The world had heard the echoes of the bat that had stroked its way into the cricketing folklore in Pakistan. The 16-year old did not really blaze away in the Tests matches, but his two half centuries – especially the gutsy Sialkot effort after being hit by Waqar Younis – had made enough rounds to fill the air with expectation. And then there were the tales of that famous unofficial One Day International (ODI) – in which Sachin Tendulkar had hit Abdul Qadir for those towering sixes.
Even as the crowd flocked to watch the child prodigy, Tendulkar’s first innings in New Zealand was not auspicious. Danny Morrison got him first ball in Christchurch. The second innings looked promising, but a snick off John Bracewell cut it short at 24. With the batting in shambles, India was trounced by 10 wickets.
The second Test at Napier was a wet, drenched affair. No play was possible on the first day as the outfield remained soggy. India batted first and only 52 overs were possible on the second day. They started poorly once again, WV Raman dismissed for a duck by Richard Hadlee off the first ball. But, makeshift opener Manoj Prabhakar batted solidly with Sanjay Manjrekar to put on 92 for the second wicket. India ended the day at 126 for two.
On a third morning, on a slow, grassless pitch, Mohammad Azharuddin struggled for one and a half hours before being castled by Morrison for 33. Dilip Vengsarkar, flown in as a replacement for the indisposed Navjot Sidhu, was caught behind off the second ball he faced. At 152 for four, Tendulkar walked in, with the innings once again tottering towards disaster.
An assurance far beyond his years
He began with a cut off Morisson and a steer off Hadlee, both of which sped to the fence. As his youthful heart adjusted its throbbing beats to the rhythm of the wicket and occasion, delightful drives and well placed pushes were essayed with an assurance far beyond his years.
After some rebuilding, two quick wickets fell. Having demonstrated superb application for six hours and twenty two minutes, Prabhakar edged Hadlee for 95. Kapil Dev lasted just 10 balls before playing down the wrong line, and was leg before to the same bowler, the other great all-rounder featuring in the match.
However, Tendulkar was not affected by the dismissals. And at the other end, Kiran More stuck around displaying a flashy, aggressive streak.
The young lad was circumspect, watchful and patient – showing remarkable restraint in curbing his transcendental stroke making ability. More, however, took his chances. The other Indian batsmen between them managed just seven boundaries in the day, and the diminutive wicketkeeper, often with a grammatically objectionable oblique bat, hammered eleven.
By the time Martin Snedden got rid of him just before the end of the third day, More had notched up his career best score of 73. In just over three hours, Tendulkar and More had added a record 128 for the seventh wicket.
Tendulkar ended the day on a pleasing 80, made from 258 balls. He had been rock-solid, his only moment of indiscretion being an impulsive hook off Hadlee which was grassed at long-leg.
So near yet so far
In February 1961, Mushtaq Mohammad had scored 101 at Delhi at the age of 17 years and 78 days. On February 12, 1990, at the age of 16 years and 294 days, Tendulkar walked out on the verge of becoming the youngest centurion in Test cricket.
He could not have had a better start. Morrison was imperiously played through the covers for four. This was followed by a superb straight drive resulting in an all-run four. And in the following over, he drove Morrison a bit too early and looked on in disbelief as New Zealand captain John Wright pouched the ball at mid-off. A dejected young man made his way to the pavilion.
According to his own admission, all the way back to the pavilion, the 16-year old Tendulkar had to keep telling himself that he should not cry on the field. On reaching the dressing room, he rushed to the bathroom to wash his face, and the gushing tears along with it.
The match ended in a draw, with barely one and half innings completed in the rain curtailed five days.
Tendulkar had to wait six more months before he finally got to three figures. By then he was 29 days older than Mushtaq Mohammad had been when scoring his first ton.
In September 2001, Mohammad Ashraful scored his first century at Colombo, at the age of 17 years and 61 days, pipping Mushtaq by 17 days.
The master has gone on to score 51 Test hundreds. One can’t help but wonder whether he would willingly exchange at least one of them for the 12 runs that remained to be scored at Napier.
(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)