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The Brilliant Mr. Tendulkar
by Partab Ramchand
Oct 11, 2007
He has just played his 400th one day international only the second player to figure in this many games after Sanath Jayasuriya who crossed the landmark last week. He is way ahead at the top – most runs, centuries and half centuries - and takes his place as arguably the greatest batsman in ODI history. And to think that Sachin Tendulkar’s sparkling career started with two ducks!

Yes, the first was his debut game at a nondescript venue – the Municipal stadium in Gujranwala way back in December 1989. A sixteen-year-old Tendulkar was a member of the Indian team touring Pakistan. He made his debut in the first Test and played throughout the four-match series impressing with his precocious talent, mental strength and batting skills. But now it was time for him to display his wares in the shorter version of the game. All he could do was to get a second ball duck. About 2-1/2 months later Tendulkar played in his second ODI this time against New Zealand at Dunedin. And what did he do but get a second ball duck again. It wasn’t until his third game against New Zealand at Wellington a few days later that Tendulkar scored his first runs in ODIs. He finished with a modest 36 and was on his way.

It’s been a long journey these past 18 years marked by glittering moments and very few troughs. Initially Tendulkar firmly slotted in the middle order played an array of brilliant knocks for a little over four years. By this time he was freely acknowledged as the best batsman in the game and his stature grew in the early 90s so did the run getting. And yet after 77 matches he did not have a single century against his name. This aberration stood out like a sore thumb. At the Premadasa stadium in Colombo on September 9 1994 during a Singer Cup match he finally broke through that barrier scoring 110 from 130 balls against an Australian attack that included Craig McDermott, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

That jinx breaking knock was made at the top of the order and there is a little story as to how Tendulkar came to open the innings. When the Indians made a short tour of New Zealand early in 1994 Tendulkar was as usual slotted in the middle order. But with regular opener Navjot Sidhu suffering from a neck strain Tendulkar offered to open the innings in the second ODI at Auckland. Such was his brilliance that India reached their modest target of 143 in the 24th over. Tendulkar just sailed into an attack that included Danny Morrison, Gavin Larsen, Chris Harris and Chris Pringle and hit 82 off just 49 balls. He put on 61 runs with Ajay Jadeja in nine overs and 56 in six overs with Vinod Kambli. He smashed three fours and a six off Larsen’s first over and by the time he was second out at 117 the match was as good as over.

That match at Auckland certainly deserves a footnote in ODI history for Tendulkar has stayed at the top of the order and gone from strength to strength. Only for very brief periods thereafter has he gone lower down the order and after taking 78 games for his first hundred Tendulkar made up for lost time. Centuries were notched up at regular intervals and the larger the stage the better he performed. He was the leading run getter in the 1996 and 2003 World Cup tournaments and in the 1999 competition in England he set the stage for one of the most emotional scenes at a cricket match. India’s campaign had just got underway when his father passed away in Bombay. Tendulkar rushed back for the funeral and even as speculation was rife as to whether he would play again in the World Cup Tendulkar after missing one match was back for the next game against Kenya. Here is what Wisden has recorded: ``A passionate, awe inspiring display by Tendulkar kept India in the hunt for the Super Six. He had returned from his father’s funeral the day before and when he came in at 92 for two Bristol heard a roar from the crowd that probably startled the lions in the zoo.’’ Tendulkar notched up his then highest World Cup score of 140 not out and dedicated it to his father’s memory.

The fact that Tendulkar has hit seven centuries against Australia is testimony of his ability to pulverize even the best attacks. The apotheosis certainly was his back to back hundreds against the Aussies in the Coca Cola Cup at Sharjah in 1998 when against all expectations he first steered India into the final and then helped his team to clinch the title - a feat that saw Shane Warne in a touching gesture seek Tendulkar’s autograph on his shirt. ``I was hit by the best batsman in the world’’ said the record breaking bowler.

And so the amazing success story has continued through the years. Tendulkar’s tally of runs and centuries is well ahead of the second placed Jayasuriya even as there has been no perceptible change in the average or the strike rate - a truly remarkable feat. He holds with Rahul Dravid the second and third wicket partnership records and is the leading run getter in the World Cup. With Sourav Ganguly he has formed perhaps the most successful opening partnership in limited overs cricket. Yes, there have been debates in recent times whether he should retire from ODIs and concentrate on Tests. But every time there have been such speculative stories Tendulkar has scotched them with another sublime knock. He will pick the time and the stage to make a graceful and momentous exit even as he marches on to fresher pastures his enthusiasm for the game undiminished even after 18 years. Long may the king of cricket regale his willing and joyful subjects!

More Views by Partab Ramchand
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