By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Sachin Tendulkar smashed his way to a 79th First-class century while playing for Mumbai against the Railways in the Ranji Trophy 2012. Following months of struggle and questions over his form, this hundred would certainly be a huge confidence booster and his fans would breathe a huge sigh of relief. Despite having almost all the batting records to his name, Tendulkar still has the fire to play the game and bring laurels to the country. The very fact that he turned up for Mumbai ahead of the big Test series against England speaks volumes of burning desire to succeed even after 23 years of grind at the top.
This was just the kind of knock Tendulkar needed to get back into full flow and regain the confidence. Since the end of the 2011 World Cup, he has gone through a tough phase. Immediately after India’s victory, there was this unparalleled anticipation for his 100th international hundred. The whole quest for that one century was painstaking as he raised hopes of scaling the summit a number of times, only to fall within striking distance. Almost every game was built up as the potential occasion. The wait finally came to an end in March this year during the Asia Cup.
It wasn’t that Tendulkar had struggled in that interval; in fact, he looked in good touch and was hitting the ball well. However, his knocks often ended against the run of play. It increasingly seemed as if he was no longer destiny’s favourite child. During the Test series against New Zealand, he was bowled on three consecutive occasions to find the alarmists raising their decibel level against him. The struggle continued into the Champions League T20 as he didn’t look up to task in the “young man’s” format.
While Indian fans and the team management would welcome his latest knock, it is imperative that one mustn’t get carried away by it. As Shishir Hattangadi, the former Mumbai captain and Tendulkar’s ex-teammate tweeted immediately after the ton, “At Tendulkar’s level, runs in domestic cricket is not a "form" thing; it’s about rhythm. Flow and practice, balance - just a feel good state of mind.” For a player of Tendulkar’s calibre domestic cricket has been all too easy at times.
If one is to count the ongoing game between Mumbai and the Railways, Tendulkar has played four Ranji Trophy games since 2001. He has scored three hundreds in those four encounters. In fact, the hundred he scored during the 2006-07 final came at a time when he wasn’t at his peak. It is like a colossus returning to his roots, knowing the routes at the back of his hand. The task certainly isn’t as challenging as it is at the highest level and for a player like him it is a cinch – even during the tough times.
Nevertheless, it is certainly an important knock from a psychological point of view. Perhaps the three dismissals may have got to him a touch and disturbed his frame of mind. During the last innings against New Zealand, he was getting back into his groove, but one delivery found its way through the gate. An uncharacteristically livid Tendulkar waved his bat in anger – almost as if he was going to strike the stumps. Hattangadi is right when he pointed out that that his latest hundred is more about rhythm and a good state of mind.
It isn’t just the number of runs he scored, but the manner in which he scored that would help Tendulkar find his touch. He was fluent throughout and maintained a good strike-rate. However, on 74, he decided to give it a go and reached the three figure mark with an array of big shots. He moved from 74 to 100 in only seven balls, smashing three fours and two sixes.
This indicates serious intent on Tendulkar’s part to get back to his cracking best. A batsman may have thought, “Well, I have reached the 70s. Let’s me take the risk-free route to the hundred.” However, the champion knew that a quick surge would set things in motion and make him feel even better about himself.
While the world talks about Tendulkar’s hundred, Ajinkya Rahane’s ton at the other end has been pushed into oblivion. That too is a crucial knock as far as Team India is concerned as Rahane looks set to retain his spot as the backup opener in the Test squad. He has followed up his knock of 54 for India A against England with this century and the selectors certainly cannot ignore him now.
However, the interest in the Mumbai-Railways game wouldn’t diminish as Zaheer Khan is yet to do his bit. Like Tendulkar, he too needs that one performance to get back into rhythm ahead of the England series. If he gets manages to bowl a good spell, Mahendra Singh Dhoni can mark a few ticks in the boxes.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site's YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)