The best of India in Australia: Sachin Tendulkar dazzles SCG with epic double
Sachin Tendulkar scored a double century of epic proportions in Sydney 2004. (Getty Image)

Not often has Sachin Tendulkar been the last to come to the party. For a batsman with 51 Test centuries, it is almost unthinkable. But like all great batsmen, even the great Tendulkar had his fair share of slump in batting form.

The year was 2003, where despite being named Player of the Tournament during India s run to the World Cup final in South Africa, Tendulkar was enduring a torrid time in Tests. In nine innings, Tendulkar had scored 153 runs at a mediocre average of 17 with only one half-century, and as the testing tour of Australia beckoned, Tendulkar needed to banish the demons of a forgettable year in Tests.

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But it did not happen. In the first three Tests of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Tendulkar had just 82 runs from five innings. Every Indian top-order batsman barring him had made significant contributions. Sourav Ganguly, the captain had scored a scintillating century in the first Test to help draw the Test. Rahul Dravid had scored a match-winning double century in the second Test at Adelaide to give India a lead. In the same innings, VVS Laxman had partnered Dravid in a 303-run stand, 148 of which belonged to him, and in the third Test at the MCG, Virender Sehwag had struck a riveting 195, even though India ended up on the losing end.

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With the series levelled at 1-1, the final game was played in Sydney, Tendulkar s favourite venue. With a disappointing 2003 form behind him, the batting maestro conjured an innings that is rated among the greatest knocks of all time. Batting with great composure and a relentless meditative restraint, Tendulkar scored his third double century and remained unbeaten on 241, taking India to a collosal 705/7 declared, and partnering Laxman in a 353-run stand.

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Throughout the tour, there was a pattern to Tendulkar s dismissal, the cover drive. He had shown signs of getting back into the grove in the second innings of the third Test scoring 44 before falling to the cover drive by nicking Brad Williams to Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps. One Test later, with Brett Lee, back in the Australia s attack, Tendulkar curbed himself from playing the cover drive. In fact, he did not play it once during 436-ball stay and scored most of his runs on the leg side in an innings spanning over 10 hours.

Sachin Tendulkar cut down on his strokes on the off side and scored 218 of his 241 runs on the leg. (Getty Image)
Sachin Tendulkar cut down on his strokes on the off side and scored 218 of his 241 runs on the leg. (Getty Image)

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Tendulkar walked in about 20 minutes after lunch with India losing their openers in quick succession. At 128 for 2, Tendulkar started with a trademark straight drive off Lee and flicked Nathan Bracken towards the midwicket boundary. Australia tried to tempt him outside off stump, bowling half-volleys, but a monk-like Tendulkar restricted himself. Everytime they changed the line to middle and off, Tendulkar s wrists would come into play. Except the drive, Tendulkar collected 33 boundaries, not one hit through covers. The genius of the man can be estimated by the fact that of his 241, only 23 runs came on the off-side.

“I had got out a couple of times to balls bowled outside the off stump. So, I decided not to play the cover-drive. They were bowling consistently outside the off stump, and I decided to leave all those balls. Then they had to bowl to me and I used the pace of the ball,” Tendulkar had later explained.

“I would put this innings right at the top of my hundreds. I had a plan and I am happy I could execute it well. I am happy that I was able to maintain the discipline throughout the innings. Things had gone wrong a couple of times with my shot selection, and I knew I had to cut out a few strokes.”

Tendulkar scored 60 in the second innings to help India post a target of 443 runs. But Australia managed to force a draw thanks to Steve Waugh, who was playing the final Test of his career.