Life almost came a full circle for Sachin Tendulkar on February 8, 2013, at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium in the Irani Cup, when the 39-year-old plundered the opposition bowling attack and saved face for his team. Tendulkar scored a spectacular 140 not out, laced with 18 rolls to the fence and two hits into the stands, as the rest of his teammates exchanged places at the other end. He was the lone survivor at the end, after having rescued his side from the embarrassment of following on in front of their home crowd.
November 7, 1989, 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar plundered the bowling attack and saved face for his team in the Irani Cup. He scored a spectacular 103 not out as the as the rest of his teammates exchanged places at the other end. He was the lone survivor at the end, as his team lost, but not after he gave it a snowflake’s chance in hell of making a match out of it.
More than 24 years have gone by. The only difference between then and now is the team he's playing for. While he was in Rest of India's ranks against Ranji champions Delhi back then, he is part of the championship-winning side Mumbai this time around. While all the 21 other players who took field at the Wankhede in that 1989 Irani Cup tie have long hung up their boots, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar remains the only constant and continues to plunder the opposition bowling attacks.
It’s amazing, the similarity between the two knocks. The 1989 Irani Cup tie was considered as a stepping stone for many players into the Indian team which was to tour Pakistan. Tendulkar, who was yet to make his debut for the national team, was one of the hopefuls. The 16-year-old prodigy would have debuted during an earlier West Indies tour, but for apprehensions among selectors about a boy that young being placed in front of the freight trains that were Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop. Tendulkar, in one of his earliest interviews, expressed no such concern.
So, the boy waited. The Irani Cup was the perfect pedestal to showcase his talent. Pakistan was by no means an easy tour, what with Imran Khan and the swing kings waiting to have a go at their cross-border neighbours. But Tendulkar was not missing this tour. No way, sir!
He played two innings of sheer class and maturity, something you wouldn’t associate with a 16-year-old. But then, this was no ordinary 16-year-old, of course. This writer was a toddler back then and couldn’t witness that match, but his editor, H Natarajan, was present in the Wankhede press box for the game. He wrote of the innings, “Tendulkar curbed his aggressive instinct, especially against the left-arm spinner Maninder Singh. But he was a delight against the fast bowlers. A bowler’s backdrive and a straight drive against Atul Wassan and a steer off Sanjeev Sharma — all for boundaries — reflected his class and control, as he essayed the strokes with plenty of time to spare.”
A week later to the day, Tendulkar was in Karachi facing Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, after silencing critics of his age.
Cut to the present tie and Tendulkar was silencing critics of his age yet again – the only difference being he was at the wrong end of the spectrum. At 39, with a glittering 23-year cricketing career behind him, Tendulkar is the elder statesman in Team India. With a testing home series against Australia coming up and the selection of the team taking place soon, the knock on Friday was vintage Tendulkar.
Walking in to bat at No 4, with his team at 161 for three chasing a mammoth first-innings total of 526, and with every single person of the 500-odd who had bunked work to watch him vociferously cheering his arrival at the crease, Tendulkar did not need to be briefed of the task ahead of him. The homeboy obliged his loyal fans by opening his account with a crisp hit through the covers for four.
He forged a vital 70-odd run partnership with India hopeful Ajinkya Rahane before the latter fell to a dubious leg-before call. Two more India probables, Rohit Sharma and Abhishek Nayar, did their chances of making the national squad no good as they squandered their wickets away to brashness and inexperience.
At 257 for six, with his team’s tail staring at him timidly, Tendulkar was in a position he had been in several times before. Joined by bowler-who-can-bat Ankeet Chavan in the middle, the veteran batsman employed a cautious approach, knowing that the tail follows. Mumbai were still 80-odd runs short of avoiding follow on and the little master knew he would have to carry the tail if the hosts were even going to think of a first-innings lead.
Chavan stuck around at the crease as Tendulkar led the way. On 66, the latter hit the first boundary of the third session, off Pragyan Ojha, through midwicket. He had been targeting the left-arm spinner all day and pounced on a loose delivery. The boundary opened the floodgates of sorts as Tendulkar and Chavan forged a vital partnership that parried Mumbai past the follow-on mark. Tendulkar took calculated risks and showcased his exquisite timing to race through to the nineties.
As he reached 95, S Sreesanth was brought into the attack. The duo had had a good contest in the first session. The Kerala pacer greeted the legend with a short delivery (He had bowled many similar deliveries to Tendulkar earlier and had defeated him on most occasions). Tendulkar ducked, but the ball hit his shoulder before carrying to first slip. It must have hurt, but the Little Master showed no signs of it. The very next ball was caressed through the covers for four in exquisite style to show that he was still the Master.
On 99 now, the Wankhede crowd, which had swelled by the minute after news of their hero batting spread, was on its feet. As Sreesanth drifted down the leg, Tendulkar shaped up to flick it off his hips. The ball went racing to the fine leg fence and brought up loud cheers, only for the umpire to signal leg-byes. Until the next over, then.
Sreesanth began his next over with another short one which zipped over Tendulkar's head. The following delivery was pitched short too, but straying down the leg. Tendulkar sensed the opportunity and worked it square of the wicket and took the single.
The helmet came off, the bat was raised and the head looked towards the sky, as the Wankhede erupted. It was First-Class ton No 81, which equaled the record of the other little master, Sunil Gavaskar. He needed four more to go past 25,000 First-Class runs and obliged in Sreesanth's next over with boundary straight down the ground.
To the dismay of Tendulkar and Mumbai, Chavan fell right after tea with the score on 360 for seven. Mumbai were still more than 160 runs behind the Rest and Tendulkar needed the tail to fend for their lives and give him strike. Unfortunately, the Mumbai lower order went for needless heroics and were bundled out for 409, leaving the maestro stranded on 140.
You could sense from Tendulkar's body language as he walked back to the pavilion that he wanted to stay out longer and get Mumbai that all-important first-innings lead. While at the crease, you could sense that thirst for runs is still there in the man who turns 40 in two months. You could sense the determination to see through a tough duel with an equally determined Sreesanth, while his younger teammates who are vying for a spot in Team India threw their wickets away.
Tendulkar might have had a poor run in international cricket in the last 18 months or so, but the knock at the Wankhede on Friday showed that he is still better than most cricketers that are being churned out of the Indian setup. Like in 1989, he proved his doubters wrong by essaying one of the finest innings in adversity. The machinery might be creaking after 24 years, but two centuries on the domestic circuit (one against Baroda in the Ranji Trophy) might just turn out to be the right oiling that Tendulkar needs to gag the writers of his eulogies prior to the challenging series against Michael Clarke's men.
(JaideepVaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn't fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )
First Published: February 9, 2013, 2:08 pm