(Published on June 09, 1996)
Sachin Tendulkar’s ninth Test century (122 runs, 263 minutes, 177 balls, 19x4, 1x6) made on Saturday in a vain and forlorn battle to preserve India’s hope in the first Test raised a couple of interesting queries. Was this his best innings ever? Would Don Bradman have done better in similar circumstances? International cricket can be terribly harsh, even to a genius in full flow and at the height of his prowess.
By the time the third day of the Test had been completed, England were cruising to a seemingly comfortable victory that may never have truly revealed the character or calibre of Tendulkar’s innings. Scorecards, after all, can lie. But consider this.
Tendulkar came in to bat when India had lost two wickets for 17 runs by the 12th over. By the 17th over, when India lost their fourth wicket at 36 — skipper Mohammed Azharuddin unedifyingly bowled round his legs by Alan Mullally for a blob — an innings defeat looked imminent. Four hours later, England were compelled to chase an irksome 121 for victory by Tendulkar who had made an outstanding 122.
The next best score after his 100 was injury-hit Sanjay Manjrekar’s patient 18. Two other batsmen got 15 runs apiece, and those were number 8 and 10. Tendulkar made 122 out of 191 runs when he was in the middle, and with better support from a couple, even one frontline batsman, could have possibly turned this game on its head. Only Rathore, who got a terrible decision, could claim clemency. But it was the manner in which he batted that proclaimed Tendulkar as the game’s finest batsman.
On a wicket of uneven bounce, where the ball seamed alarmingly and made survival, leave aside stroke play worrisome, Tendulkar charted out an unblemished hundred which showed high technical aptitude and an astonishing array of shots. Spurred on by the grim challenge of the situation, Tendulkar began circumspectly, and settled quickly into a rhythm which produced a dazzling array of strokes that quickly dispersed the field and England’s smugness, and finally finished with what could only be described as a tour de force.
With Anil Kumble showing more spunk than five of the first six batsmen, Tendulkar saw the usefulness of keeping England for greater time in the middle, though he could not resist reaching his 100 with an enormous straight six off left-arm spinner Min Patel. There is a showman in him somewhere. Kumble’s run out, following a terrible mix up, broke the rhythm of India’s fight back. A little Srinath departed, leg before to a vicious breakback from Chris Lewis, and then Tendulkar mishooked England’s best bowler to midwicket to signal India’s demise.
Meanwhile, back to the interesting queries. Was this his best innings ever? His third century, at Perth in 1992 on a flier and with only the tailenders for company, was a brilliant effort. But that was made in the first innings when the wicket had not cracked. Here, he was caught on a bad wicket. Would Bradman have done better in similar circumstances? Suffice to say, that Tendulkar has instigated a stimulating debate. Perhaps the answer may come from the great Australian himself, some day.