Clayton Murzello: WACA, WACA before Sachin, Sachin!
It'll be 25 years tomorrow since then 18-year-old Tendulkar's brave innings of 114 at Perth in 1992, when India ended up losing 0-4 to Oz
Sachin Tendulkar acknowledges the cheers after reaching his century against Australia at the WACA ground in Perth on February 3, 1992. Pic/AFP
The Indians, for obvious geographical reasons, can't say it like the Aussies used to spell it out in television promos for home cricket series a few decades ago — "We'll give you thunder Down Under."
But Virat Kohli & Co will be licking their fingers in anticipation of the four-Test home series, never mind if Mitchell Starc can bowl a mean spell, David Warner can change the course of a Test in a session with his punitive blade or if captain Steve Smith can, on his day, be the finest player against the turning ball.
Twenty-five years ago, India did not have the wood on Australia, but they had an 18-year-old batsman who got the world to sit up and take notice of his rasping drives, fierce cut shots and sage-like temperament that made the Australian fielders utter, "Jesus, this is something special" at Perth on February 3, 1992.
Many pundits reckon Tendulkar's 114 at the Western Australia Cricket Association (WACA) ground against Allan Border's Australians was the finest of his 51 Test centuries he carved out in his career. The man himself rates the effort very highly — an innings that provided him the assurance that he could get runs anywhere and against anyone.
Kiran More, who put on 81 for the ninth wicket with Tendulkar in that first innings, not only recalled Border's four-prong pace attack of Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Mike Whitney and Paul Reiffel, but also the cracks on the WACA pitch. The short-statured duo decided to try and turn a blind eye to the pitch indentations as even good deliveries were punched away off Tendulkar's back foot.
Pravin Amre, India's 12th man for that game, told me that he had not seen such decisive back-foot play before and since. "When I went out with the drinks, I could see that Sachin was in his zone. I was scared looking at those cracks, but he seemed to have ignored them. It was batting at its unbelievable best. This was the last Test of a lost series. Yet, Sachin kept himself motivated," said Amre, who notched up a Test debut hundred nine months later — vs South Africa at Kingsmead in Durban — another difficult pitch to get runs on.
The WACA ground was truly a haven for pace bowlers then and for an 18-year-old to produce the kind of innings that Tendulkar did on the fastest pitch in the world, deserved the highest praise. One such accolade was dished out in the press box even before the agency writers had dispatched their reports on Tendulkar's third Test century. Englishman John Woodcock, the doyen of cricket writers, stood up, clapped a bit and is believed to have said, "This boy is as good as, if not better than, Don Bradman. And unlike many of you, I've seen Bradman bat!"
Among the many shots Tendulkar played that day in his 16-boundary, 161-ball innings, the one that stood out for Somerset captain-turned-writer Peter Roebuck was an on-drive off left-arm pacer Whitney. For the late Roebuck, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, it was, "a shot demanding extraordinary timing, a shot of the highest pedigree." He further wrote, "Since time began, few players can have conceived, let alone executed, a stroke such as this, let alone in a Test match and with his team in trouble."
Ian and Greg Chappell were mesmerised in the commentary box and Richie Benaud, the greatest television caller of them all, felt privileged to be at the WACA ground to witness a special counter-attacking innings. "It was a remarkable knock for a player of great experience, but for an 18-year-old… it was incredible," said Ian on ESPN Cricinfo many years later. When Tendulkar reached his hundred by beating the mid-on fielder off Craig McDermott, Benaud said, "A splendid ovation from a small crowd, the sort of innings that deserves a crowd of a hundred thousand."
Later in the day, in the first over after tea, Kapil Dev trapped Mark Taylor leg before wicket for his 400th Test wicket, a heavyweight of a cricketing achievement. It would be cruel not to also celebrate the silver jubilee of Kapil's feat. After all, only Richard Hadlee had crossed the 400-wicket mark before the great Indian. Tendulkar's reputation grew thanks to his Perth exploits. Bowlers feared his aggressive shots, a bit like what they felt while bowling to Viv Richards, who had bid international cricket goodbye the previous year.
As Border writes in his last book, Cricket As I See It: "He (Tendulkar) was only 18 years old, but he'd already made his name as a wunderkind with runs against other countries — and then we got to see how good he was." Australia would be hoping to launch a young batting spectacle in India. We'll wait and see if they can produce some thunder to plunder the opposition in the land of spin.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org