After the one-off Test match against Sri Lanka at home in November 1990, India’s next Test was held more than a year later – at the Gabba in Brisbane on November 29, 1991.
The bouncy wickets of Australia would throw up a new challenge, but Sachin Tendulkar couldn’t wait to get cracking. The first high point of the 1991-92 tour of Australia came in the third Test at Sydney, the only Test which Mohd Azharuddin’s Indians did not lose in the five-match series.
India had replied strongly to Australia’s 313 and in the course of the 196-run partnership between double centurion Ravi Shastri and Tendulkar, the senior partner copped some lip service from the feisty Australians. While Shastri was more than capable of paying his opponents back in the same coin, Tendulkar offered to help him. “I too will give them back,” he apparently told Shastri.
He was told to just concentrate on his batting and that’s what he did to stay unbeaten on 148, an innings which Richie Benaud rates as one of the finest played at the historic ground. Three months before his 19th birthday, the little Indian became the youngest (18 years, 236 days) to score a Test ton in Australia.
Neil Harvey, the previous record holder (19 years, 121 days) witnessed Tendulkar’s hundred and was happy to be pictured with the young champion. “I remember that knock (148 not out). Being so young, he had no fear in those days. He just played all the shots that he had available to him and annihilated our attack,” Harvey told this newspaper before the 2012 Sydney Test which he went to witness.
“He’s probably been the best player since Bradman. Good luck to him,” Harvey added. At Sydney, Tendulkar may have found the pacy Craig McDermott the most challenging of the three Aussie quicks. The Australians at one point of time were forced on the defensive in terms of field placements. He square drove with élan, pulled ferociously and played the late cut like an artist off debutant Shane Warne to get to 98.
The hundred came off a fine flick off McDermott and some quick running between wickets with partner Manoj Prabhakar, the same man who was at the other end when Tendulkar scored his first Test hundred on the 1990 tour of England. The century in the fifth Test at Perth came under different circumstances – in the throes of adversity.
For long now Tendulkar has considered the 114 at the WACA his finest hundred, made against Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Paul Reiffel and Mike Whitney. Kiran More, who put on 81 runs for the ninth wicket with him, recalled: “To see him hitting the Aussie quicks on the up through the covers was exhilarating.
Not only for me, but also for those in the slip cordon. On more than one occasion I think I heard tough nuts like Allan Border, Dean Jones and Mark Taylor say, “Jesus, this is something special.” Indeed, it was!