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By Partab Ramchand
For a cricketer like Sachin Tendulkar who is hailed as one of the all time greats, who has played 181 Tests, 453 ODIs and has run up the kind of eye rubbing and mind boggling record that is sure to stand the test of time to remember so clearly the events of a Ranji Trophy game played 11-1/2 years ago speaks volumes of the man’s memory. It also underscores the fact that many of the greatest innings in the game have been played at the first class level and a player’s best need not always be in a Test.
Nearly half a century ago when I first read Ralph Barker’s unputdownable book ``Ten Great Innings’’ I was surprised that he had included three knocks played in first class matches. But then his descriptions were so vivid that I could appreciate why they had been included. The three were certainly not out of place in a book that included seven knocks played in Tests and indeed the one account that stands out is Harold Gimblett’s century on debut for Somerset against Essex at Frome in 1935. Gimblett, a country lad of 20 had been included at the last moment after being told to pack his bags following an unsuccessful trial.
One of Barker’s ten picks was Don Bradman’s 160 for Australians against Middlesex at Lord’s in 1934. His choice received a sort of endorsement when Bradman in ``Farewell To Cricket’’ makes special mention of this knock. He writes: ``I played an innings against Middlesex which probably ranks as the most attractive of my career from a spectator’s point of view.’’ Bradman then proceeds to give William Pollock’s description of the century which the writer describes as ``He has played the great innings of the season. If there is anything better to come from him or anyone else may I be there to see and share.’’
In a way perhaps it is not surprising that Tendulkar remembers fondly and in some detail his double century for Mumbai against Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy semifinal at the Wankhede stadium in April 2000. Even by Tendulkar’s lofty standards it was something special. Tamil Nadu led off with 485 and then the bowlers kept chipping away at the Mumbai batting. They were 127 for four before Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli (75) added 139 runs for the fifth wicket. A sixth wicket partnership of 125 runs between Tendulkar and Amol Muzumdar (47) kept Mumbai in the hunt but then Tamil Nadu got among the wickets and moved into the favourites circle when the hosts were 449 for eight. Tendulkar was still around nearing his double century but for support he had only tail enders who were not known for contributing with the bat – the two medium pacers A Kuruvilla and S Saxena.
Now commenced the most glorious phase of Tendulkar’s innings. He not only got runs but also farmed the strike so admirably that Kuruvilla and Saxena had to negotiate only a few deliveries. Forty one runs were notched up for the last two wickets and Mumbai edged ahead before they were all out for 490 after the ninth wicket had fallen at 472. And the amazing aspect was that Tendulkar scored all the 41 runs while Kuruvilla and Saxena were both out for zero. As he now recalls ``the competition was so fierce and intense I didn’t realize that both batsmen hadn’t scored a single run.’’ For the record Tendulkar who batted almost 9-1/2 hours remained unbeaten with 233 off 334 balls with 21 fours and five sixes. A rather dispirited Tamil Nadu side were all out for 171 in their second innings and to complete the story book ending Tendulkar (13 not out) got the winning runs with Mumbai winning by eight wickets.
It was only later that the story broke out that the Mumbai coach Ashok Mankad was a worried man because the match appeared to be going Tamil Nadu’s way. He had serious doubts whether Mumbai would clinch the tie but Tendulkar in the course of his innings assured Mankad that he would win it for Mumbai. That speaks volumes of the great man’s confidence.