Arise, Lord’s “¦ Sachin Tendulkar gets a standing ovation as he steps out to bat on the third day of the first India-England Test at Lord’s on Saturday.
Arise, Lord’s “¦ Sachin Tendulkar gets a standing ovation as he steps out to bat on the third day of the first India-England Test at Lord’s on Saturday.

 

By H Natarajan

 

The term “fever pitch” acquired a new meaning when Sachin Tendulkar walked out to a standing ovation from the gathering at the hallowed Lord’s with running a temperature. His eyes were smoldering; it was intense and piercing – partly due to the internal condition and partly due to external factors. For months together, Indian cricket was awash with talks of his 100th international century. And what better theatre and occasion than the 2000th Test at history-laden Lord’s!

 

Tendulkar is aware to the fact that the players’ dressing room at Lord’s has a scroll of honour which lists the names of batsmen who have scored a hundred at this venue. Names sparkling in this illustrious list include legends of the game like Sir Don Bradman, Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Len Hutton, Sir Clyde Walcott, Sir Colin Cowdrey, Sir Gary Sobers and Sir Vivian Richards. The list also includes eight Indians: Vinoo Mankad, Gundappa Viswanath, Dilip Vengsarkar (the only overseas batsman to score three hundreds at Lord’s), Ravi Shastri, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and even Ajit Agarkar.

 

There is one conspicuous and shocking miss in the famed list: Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar – a batsman widely acknowledge as the greatest in the game after The Don. Tendulkar is a man with immense pride and passion in whatever he does – a quality that has enabled him to sustain his rare brilliance well over two decades. There’s hardly any meaningful batting achievement that he has left unconquered. He has truly been the Napoleon of cricket – a fear-invoking, short-statured warrior who conquests boggle the mind.

 

The man was now on a mission. There was unfinished business to be attended to at Lord’s. On four earlier expeditions to England – in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2007 – his scores at Lord’s were 10, 27, 31, 16, 12, 37 and 16. His Test match wars took him to six battle grounds in England. Five of the six grounds have been witness to genius: Headingley 193, Trent Bridge 177, Edgbaston 122, Old Trafford 119* and The Oval 82. Lord’s has been the Waterloo – so far.

 

Tendulkar is in the twilight years, though – arguably – the halo of invincibility is blindly brighter than at any other time in his career. The fans weren’t unaware that he was battling a three-figure temperature; for them, every run was count up to the three-figure they wanted to see against his name. Approaching milestones can be like millstones around the neck, and nobody knows that better than Tendulkar – carrying the weight of expectations of a billion plus Indians the world over.

 

Out there, it was like a World Chess Championship final – Grandmaster Sachin Tendulkar on one side and the combined might of England opposite him. It was a fascinating and cerebral mind game. The Englishmen were not going to lose the opportunity to prey on his mind. The intense pressure on Tendulkar will never be known to anybody other than the great man himself; it was a boiling cauldron in his own private space.

 

The fierceness in his eyes was reminiscent of the time he blew away Australia during his epic innings of 143 in 1998. A sandstorm in the desert brought a temporary halt to the proceedings in the middle, but while other players were seen relaxed in the dressing room, the TV camera caught Tendulkar – waiting like angry lion whose ravenous feast was unexpectedly interrupted. The protective gear was well in its place and through the helmet grill one could see Tendulkar, bat in hand, peering intensely and intently at the middle. While others were seeing storm in the middle, he was seeing something else – probably, capturing in his mind the pure annihilation that he was to create till India went on to win the Coca-Cola Cup.

 

On Saturday, one could sense a similar predatory determination. It helped that the man at the other end was another colossus of Indian cricket – “Ice Man” Rahul Dravid. England were facing the combined might of two men who had collectively produced over 27,000 runs, 84 centuries, 119 fifties in 332 Tests spanning 37 years. It can’t get tougher for bowlers!

 

Hot-spot visuals showed that the ball was coming from the meat of Tendulkar’s weighty willow. And the runs were also coming at a fair clip. And the two men in the middle were in absolute control of every move that Andrew Strauss made.

 

For 90 minutes, Tendulkar had shown no signs of discomfiture – either because of his physical condition or to the probing of the English bowlers.

 

Then came the 44th hour. Stuart Broad replaced Chris Tremlett. It was apparent that Broad was baiting Tendulkar into the drive by seaming the ball out, shade away from the off stump. But Broad did not get his line right with his first three deliveries. But the fourth delivery was spot on the length, moving away just that wee bit to trap the master on the drive and low into the hands of second slip. Lord’s was stunned. Yet again, the master had failed to get past the 40s at the venue. The crowd that had given him a standing ovation when he walked in were now standing up again to applaud him back – probably unsure if they will ever get to see him bat gain at Lord’s.

 

Tendulkar reached the pavilion and headed straight back to his hotel room to recuperate. Unless weather interferes, India should bat again in this Test. That means another opportunity for Tendulkar to resume his unfinished business.

 

Napoleon’s greatness as a conqueror is not shorn by what happened at Waterloo. Sachin Tendulkar, likewise, will be known for his many-splendored achievements the world over than for his failures at Lord’s. His place among the pantheons of greats is assured, even if his name does not appear on the Roll of Honour listing the centurions at Lord’s.

 

(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at twitter/hnatarajan)