Through a 23-year career, Sachin Tendulkar’s willow has blazed spectacular trails across cricket grounds around the world.
The strokes of his genius echo as eloquently from the stands and scoreboards of the Sydney Cricket Ground as they do in Newlands, Cape Town, across venues as diverse as Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo, and Queens Park Oval, Trinidad.
When it comes to the home grounds, fond memories stretch across time and space covering two decades and every arena. As with everything related to the great man, the numbers are tottering. He has 679 runs at 97.00 at Vidarbha CA ground, Nagpur; 869 at 62.07 at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore; slightly more mortal averages, but some equally memorable innings etched across Wankhede, Eden Gardens, Feroz Shah Kotla — virtually on every stage he has appeared in.
However, the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai can perhaps claim to have seen the master at his magnificent best — across the various facets of his genius at different phases of his long and unparalleled career. Chepauk, where Tendulkar will take on the Australians yet again in a day’s time, has seen him score 876 runs at 87.60 in nine Test matches, with five hundreds — the most by the maestro in any ground.
Let us look back and savour the brilliance of each of these five innings.
165 vs England, 1992-93
Sachin Tendulkar’s fifth Test hundred and his first at home.
The Englishmen played a couple of spinners — Phil Tufnell and Ian Salisbury — and boasted Devon Malcolm among their ranks, but they made little impression on the strong Indian line-up. The platform was set up by Navjot Singh Sidhu and Vinod Kambli, and Tendulkar blazed away to 70 by the end of the first day. The hundred was an audacious work of art, full of extravagant drives and ferocious cuts and pulls. Capitalising on the excellent start, the 19-year-old raced to three figures in just 140 deliveries, with as many as 18 hits to the fence.
However, at that stage of his career he was not used to playing huge knocks. With his forearms tiring, he slowed down considerably after his hundred and the next 65 runs took as many as 156 balls. After batting six hours, and having posted his then highest score in Tests, Tendulkar attempted quick runs and skied a return catch off the friendly leg-spin of Salisbury. India declared at 560.
The Englishmen had done themselves little favour by having an extra plate of prawns on the eve of the match. With several members of the team battling food poisoning, and facing three quality spinners with heavy, immobile feet and negligible technique, the visitors slumped to an innings defeat.
155* vs Australia, 1997-98
It was the sublime peak of that young Tendulkar who dominated bowlers around the world. This innings was perhaps one of the very best he ever played — even considering the many, many sterling gems that glitter across his career.
For India to compete with the all-conquering Australians, the threat of Shane Warne needed to be overcome — especially when the pitch wore down and the rough outside the leg-stump turned him into a deadly, unplayable proposition. In the first Indian innings, the leg-spinner had dismissed the Indian great for four and had picked up four wickets as the home team had struggled to an unimpressive 257.
The tourists, with the help of some excellent late order resistance, had taken a 71-run lead. Tendulkar walked out to bat on the fourth afternoon, with India having erased the deficit.
Before the Test, Tendulkar had spent four days at the nets with former leg-spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan bowling round the wicket, pitching the ball into a deliberately tampered area outside the leg-stump. It had been the master’s way of preparing for the artillery of Warne.
Now, as Warne came round the wicket during the afternoon session of the fourth day, Tendulkar knelt down and pummelled him over the widish mid-wicket. By the time the scoreboard pranced ahead with a couple of sixes, he had won his battle. At the other end Gavin Robertson was mercilessly slaughtered. When Mark Taylor went back to pace, Michael Kasprowicz was pulled with panache when he bowled short and nonchalantly hoisted over the in-field if he pitched up. The session produced 112 runs and turned the match on its head.
Warne’s figures read one for 122 from 30 overs, and never again would he bowl in the country with confidence. Tendulkar finished on an unbeaten 155 from 196 balls, with 14 fours and four sixes. Not only had he helped India build a big enough lead to declare, he had got his runs quickly, allowing plenty of time to bowl the Australians out. By the end of the fourth day, Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble had sent back three top order batsmen for 31, and the match was sealed with little trouble before Tea on the following day.
136 vs Pakistan, 1998-99
The tale of blood and tears.
India required 271 to win. Tendulkar came in at six for two. He battled the incisive reverse swing of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and the diabolical variations of Saqlain Mushtaq — all alone, carrying the innings along as the top order batsmen fell around him.
Nayan Mongia joined hands at 82 for five and scored a fighting half-century before hitting an atrocious flat-batted skier off Akram. Tendulkar used the paddle-sweep to great effect and brought off thrilling pulls, cuts and drives when once in a rare while the bowlers erred in length.
Seventeen runs remained to win, four wickets in hand when Tendulkar, on 136 and battling a painful back, tried to go over the top off Saqlain. Akram ran back to hold the catch and the dejected little man walked back with the job all but done. The last three wickets could manage just four between them.
Six runs had been scored before he had come in. Four after he had trudged back. In between, he had carried the total to 254. His teammates could not finish it. India lost by 12 runs. One of the very best innings played in history.
126 vs Australia, 2001
After Australia had gone one up in the series at Wankhede, VVS Laxman had brought India back with his miracle in Kolkata. Now the sides met for the decider at Chepauk.
When Australia reached 326 for three at the end of the first day, with Matthew Hayden continuing his dream run, it looked like an uphill struggle ahead of the home team. However, Harbhajan Singh took seven wickets and the final score of 391 was imposing, but manageable.
Tendulkar walked out at 211 for two with the series hanging in balance. With Laxman and Rahul Dravid growing in stature, this was perhaps his first foray into the role of the accumulator. No longer did he have to get all the runs alone, as was the case against Pakistan two years ago. The master ease into the new role. There was a slight wobble in the innings, but that immortal duo of Dravid and Tendulkar added 159. It was a superbly paced innings — the fifty came off 109 balls, with six fours and a six; the hundred from 197, with ten boundaries and two sixes. By the time he was dismissed after almost six hours at the wicket, a sizeable lead had been obtained.
India did make heavy weather of a small target in the fourth innings, squeezing home by two wickets, but the foundation of the triumph had been laid once again by the little champion.
103* vs England, 2008
An emotional match for all Indians, hastily organised after the terrorist strike at Mumbai, had almost resulted in the cancellation of the series. Sachin Tendulkar exorcised the ghosts of 1998 as he played out of his skin to score a hundred and carry India to a fascinating win.
Set 387 to win in the final innings, with the ball often turning square when sent down by Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, India were given a rousing start by Virender Sehwag’s 68-ball 83. From 141 for two, Tendulkar shepherded the innings expertly, hardly raising a sweat. Chepauk, the ground which had witnessed all the facets of the master, including a painful period of tennis elbow affliction, now saw him at the crest of his second wind — the halcyon period during which he had become an indestructible run-machine. On that day, he could do no wrong. He was determined to win, and when Yuvraj Singh lofted one that landed between short mid-wicket and widish mid-on, Tendulkar walked up to him and said, “Wait till the last run is scored. We need to make sure that both of us complete the runs.”
Sachin Tendulkar had learnt his lesson. He wanted to be there to ensure that the match was secure, sealed and wrapped up. He got to his hundred with the winning stroke.
The numerically challenged boneheads, who spend their time clamouring that his hundreds result in losses, were silenced for at least a few hours in the aftermath of this momentous innings.
In fact, four of the five hundreds at Chennai came in victories. The fifth, perhaps the best of the lot, almost single-handedly gave India a near-impossible win — facts that again underline the moronic asininity of the myth.
But then, as many as 20 of his 51 hundreds in Test matches came in wins, as opposed to 11 in losses; 33 of his 49 in One Day Internationals were in victorious causes, in contrast to 14 in defeats.So, there is no point taking irrationality head on — people will always believe what they want to.
Tendulkar returns to Chennai after five years. He will be playing a side against whom he has enjoyed his happiest moments.Will we see the old spark come alive again on that favoured stage of his mesmerising magical acts?
(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)
First Published: February 21, 2013, 11:01 am