Twenty two years ago, as India stared at the face of defeat at Old Trafford, a 17-year old stood firm, scoring his first Test match hundred and saving the day. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the hundreds of Sachin Tendulkar, trying to determine the veracity of myths and fables associated with his batting.
The score read 109 for four. Four hours remained for India to somehow manage to survive on the last day of the Test on a fast-wearing pitch. Two big wickets had just fallen, both at 109. Sanjay Manjrekar was caught in the leg trap off Eddie Hemmings, and Dilip Vengsarkar shouldered arms to be bowled by Chris Lewis. For 17-year old Sachin Tendulkar, in his very first season, the questions asked as he walked to the wicket could not have been more demanding.
As he started to bat, things did not get easier. Skipper Mohammed Azharuddin left soon, pushing Hemmings into the hands of one of the many close in fieldsmen on the leg side. And with Graham Gooch crowding the bat with men, Kapil Dev jumped down the wicket, played all over one and was bowled. That made it 183 for six with more than two-and-a-half hours to go.
According to many present in the ground on that day, Tendulkar looked the embodiment of Sunil Gavaskar – the cricketing rebirth of a home-grown batting great, single-handedly delivering the country from peril. Indeed, the similarity was more pronounced because of the exact five, feet five inches of packaged genius, and the fact that he was wearing the pads of the original Little Master. With Manoj Prabhakar hanging on at the other end, the young man battled his way to an unbeaten 119 in 225 minutes, hitting 17 boundaries, many of them spellbinding drives through the off-side, played off the back foot.
When time ran out, the Indian score read 343 for six. In his ninth Test match, Tendulkar had scored his first Test hundred. Historically the moment can be documented for the opening of proverbial floodgates. There have been 50 more centuries since then, 99 in all international cricket.
Courage under fire
Yes, it was under severe pressure that the diamond sparkled for the first time. To be honest, Tendulkar could have hardly expected anything else.
As a 16-year old, he had walked in to bat for the first time in a Test match, against Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, with the score reading 41 for four. A few days later had saved the final Test at Sialkot after being hit on the nose by Waqar Younis, the score when he came in on this occasion being 38 for four.
Strange indeed, when one contrasts this to the popular consent that he generally fails under pressure. Going by that line of thought – if this sort of fallacious opinion can indeed be glorified with the abstract noun ‘thought’ – initially it must have been a different Sachin Tendulkar who used to look danger in the eye without flinching.
The touch of alchemy
Let us look at some of his centuries down the years, and try to determine if and when the batsman transformed into a compiler of what many now find it fashionable to term ‘meaningless’ runs.
Given below is a list of Test hundreds scored by the maestro that even the most obstinately critical would agree to be meaningful – scored when coming in with little on the board, while facing a huge deficit or playing a pivotal role in a win.
Trying to find out when exactly he gradually went being a man thriving under crisis to making easy, superfluous runs ... well, we hit a stumbling block.
This list contains 26 of his hundreds that have come in critical situations or have been pivotal in the victorious cause – which even the most demanding of his critics will agree to be ‘meaningful’.
This does not contain 11 more centuries that have come in wins, scored in comparatively easier circumstances – but should by no means qualify as meaningless. Also ignored are the several innings – some of them pivotal – which ultimately did not become centuries.
Somehow, this list of only demanding critical hundreds manages to smoothly trace his entire career, without reducing to a trickle mid-stream.
Be it as far back as Perth, 1992, Birmingham 1996, Cape Town 1997, Chennai 1998, Melbourne 1999 ... or as recent as Chennai 2009, Bangalore 2010, Cape Town 2011, Tendulkar is seen to have regularly walked in at little more than nothing for two against fire breathing bowlers and has regularly managed to get those hundreds.
Yet, there has been no statistical alchemy. It is data that stares at one – raw, unedited, and unmassaged – speaking eloquently for the great man. No matter how much we want to indulge in the popular criticism and manipulated media reports, the truth sticks out if we invest minimum effort by going through the scorecards.
So, then, when did this transformation take place from the man of crisis to the maker of easy runs?
Not on the cricket field.
It took place in the fertile pastures of public imagination, nurtured by the fertiliser of yellow reportage. Where nuggets of convenient facts are chosen for popular consumption and then are regurgitated and ruminated till it takes on the proportions of mangled, virtual truth.
The list of centuries which are ‘meaningful’ by the strictest definition
(Please bear in mind that this does not contain 11 more hundreds in winning causes, which can perhaps be categorised as runs made in easier circumstances. These 11 have come against South Africa, Sri Lanka and England as well as Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
Additionally, there have been other hundreds have been omitted because they have not been scored in very demanding circumstances – but it does not necessarily really make them meaningless.
In spite of the restrictions, this list contains 26 hundreds.)
Century No. 1 – 119 at Old Trafford 1990 – Came in at 109 for four on the fifth day, lost Azharuddin and Kapil Dev along the way, but saved the match for India.
No. 3 – 114 at Perth 1992 – Tendulkar came in on a fiery fast wicket with the score on 69 for two and played one of the best innings ever witnessed in Australia, as wickets fell all around him. The score read 159 for eight at one stage from where he guided the innings till he was ninth out for 240.
No. 4 – 111 at Johannesburg 1992 – Tendulkar entered with the score reading 27 for two. India gradually slumped to 127 for six. He was ninth out after giving a semblance of respectability to the total at 212.
No. 9 – 122 at Birmingham 1996 – Facing a huge first innings deficit, India were 17 for two when Tendulkar walked in. It was 68 for five when a limping Manjrekar joined him and put together a partnership. Tendulkar was eighth out with the score on 209.
No. 11 – 169 at Cape Town 1997 – Facing a gigantic first innings total of 529, it was 25 for three when he came in. It soon became 59 for five, after which Tendulkar shared a rollicking partnership with Azharuddin. He was the last out after saving the follow-on, having taken the score to 359.
No. 13 – 139 at Colombo – 1997 – India were nine for two when Tendulkar walked in, and had hauled themselves to 275 for five when he left, thus procuring the first innings lead.
No. 15 – 155* at Chennai vs Aus 1998 – This has entered the folklore of Indian cricket, but curiously disappears from fan-memory when match-winning capabilities are discussed. In his famous duel with Shane Warne, Tendulkar played this 191-ball gem after India faced a first innings deficit of 71 runs, and virtually turned the match, series and the position of India in world cricket on its head.
No. 17 – 113 at Wellington 1998 – Faced with a first innings deficit of 142 in seaming conditions, Tendulkar was the lone warrior who propelled India to 297 before being fifth out. Soon, the innings folded for 356.
No. 18 – 136 at Chennai vs Pak 1999 – Heartbreak that will last forever. Coming in at six for two, chasing 271 for victory, Tendulkar battled on a gruelling final day. Shepherding India from the 82 for five at one stage to 254 for six, he skied one to cover and the rest of the batting could manage just four more. As it can happen only in India, this was the innings that created the myth that Tendulkar was not a match winner.
No. 20 – 126* at Mohali vs New Zealand 1999 – Dismissed for 82 in the first innings, India saved the match due to a 144 by Rahul Dravid and this century by Tendulkar.
No. 22 – 116 at Melbourne 1999 – A gem that took India from a habitual 11 for two in response to 405, and propelled them to 212 when Tendulkar was ninth out.
No. 25 – 126 at Chennai against Australia 2001 – VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid did perform the miracle at Eden, but when it came to the decider, it was this Tendulkar innings which set up the win. Even after Matthew Hayden had almost done the star turn with a double hundred.
No. 26 – 155 at Blomfontein 2001 – He walked in at 43 for two, and India soon slumped to 68 for four, before Tendulkar, and debutant Virender Sehwag, launched a counter attack.
No. 27 – 103 against England at Ahmedabad 2001 – In response to 407, India were 64 for two, when Tendulkar came in. They were soon 93 for four. However, Tendulkar’s 103 and Laxman’s 75 took them to 291.
No. 29 – 117 at Port of Spain 2002 – Coming in at 38 for two, Tendulkar scored his first century in the West Indies and India managed a decent first innings score during their first win in the Caribbean after 26 years.
No. 30 – 193 at Headingley 2002 – The famous win at Leeds, the first in England in 16 years, enabling India to square the series. The final part of the innings came in virtual darkness.
No. 31 – 176 against West Indies in Kolkata 2002– Trailing by 139 runs in the first innings, India were 11 for two when Tendulkar came in and were later tottering at 87 for four. Tendulkar and Laxman added 214 to save the match.
No. 33 – 194* against Pakistan at Multan 2004 – Remembered as India’s first victory in Pakistan and Sehwag’s 309. We also tend to remember Tendulkar’s ‘slow progress’ when approaching double hundred and petulance at declaration. As usual, we like to believe in colourful reports and data is not really what we want to look at. So, it has passed virtually without notice that in the final half an hour, Tendulkar had scored 26 off 33 balls – not breathtakingly fast, but by no means slow, while Yuvraj Singh was going hammer and tongs at the other end, scoring 41 off 36 during the same period. In any case, 74 runs off the last 11 overs is not exactly snail’s pace.
There was an unfortunate communication error and the reaction displayed was not desirable, but the fable that Tendulkar was batting slowly for his 200, is a figment of wishful spite.
No. 34 – 248 at Dhaka 2004 – True, his highest score is against Bangladesh, but it did not take away the fact that the score when he came into bat was a very familiar 24 for two.
No. 38 – 154* at Sydney 2008 – The infamous Sydney Test. Faced with a total of 463, it was Tendulkar’s excellent innings that enabled India to take the first innings lead.
No. 40 – 109 against Australia at Nagpur 2008 – Instrumental in setting up a first innings total of 441, it ultimately won India the match and the series.
No. 41 – 103* against England at Chennai 2008 – Set 387 to win in the fourth innings on a turning track, Tendulkar took India home by “batting out of his skin.” However, if he had thought the ghosts of Chennai 1998 would be erased, he had underestimated public memory – especially in India.
No. 42 - 160 at Hamilton 2009 – Set up India’s big victory in New Zealand, the first time they won in the country since 1976.
No. 46 – 100 against South Africa at Nagpur – Again a trademark 24 for two facing innings defeat when he came into bat, Tendulkar was the only one who scored runs and gave the total a look of respectability.
No. 49 – 214 against Australia at Bangalore – In reply to 478, India was 38 for two, when Tendulkar propelled the innings ahead to achieve a slim first innings lead. In the second innings he scored 53 not out to seal a victory.
No. 51 – 146 at Cape Town – Another pace attack on a fast pitch, with fire breathing Dale Steyn aided by the quick Morne Morkel. Another humdinger of a situation with the series tied and South Africa having scored 362 in the first innings. Another quick brace of wickets lost, sending Tendulkar out in the middle with the scoreboard showing 28 for two. And another impeccable century, holding the innings together and departing – the eighth out – with the score on 341. The last century of the master so far – 21 years after his first – and still wading through crisis situations.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)