3 February 1992.
Sometimes it is a privilege simply to be there. Perth yesterday was one such occasion. To see Sachin Tendulkar batting was, for two hours, to be transported from our humdrum world and taken to a distant land, a land of magic, an impossible land in which a boy of 18 summers can bat as man can seldom ever have batted.
One shot, in particular, will linger long in the memory. Mike Whitney, it was, who bowled a fastish delivery just short of a length and around middle stump. Tendulkar rocked on to his back foot and drove straight of mid-on, a shot demanding extraordinary timing, a shot of the highest pedigree. 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.
Sachin Tendulkar (middle) with his family.
Photo ©: Suhas S / Flickr.com
All summer Tendulkar has been promising something special – some confirmation that he is what he seems, as good a batsman as any on this earth. Sydney was not bad, but once is never enough, and anyway, Sydney was a slow track and Bruce Reid was injured. Tendulkar murdered spin, now he was faced with pace and a pitch bouncier than any seen in his upbringing.
In Perth his batting was mastery itself, especially his cutting anything remotely short, and his straight driving, and those unerring clips off his pads-all of them the shots of greatness.
His running, too, was fast and faultless, as if he could judge a run as quickly as he judges each delivery, as if running, too, was learnt in his nappies-not so long ago. Maybe his first words were: “Yes… no” and “for goodness sake play straight”.
Tendulkar showed that neither pace bowling nor rising deliveries held any fear for him, and nor should they on a pitch whose bounce is true. Unlike his colleagues, he knew which balls to leave alone, knew how to bat here as if he had been born to it.
All summer he has carried the fight to Australia, has enjoyed the fight, enjoyed the toughness of cricket downunder because he is above all a gutsy cricketer. As a 15-year old he was desperately disappointed to be omitted from India’s team to tour the Caribbean. Not every 15-year-old fancies facing Patrick Patterson and Curtly Ambrose.
Toughness sits beside technique as the chief characteristic of this maestro, and its presence shows that one day he will be a formidable leader. To see his withering stare as his captain lost his wicket to a feeble shot was to see a fierce competitor who expects no less from his colleagues. To see his frustration when Manoj Prabhakar bowls recklessly, or Kapil Dev hoiks to long leg once more is to see a man who knows good cricket and cares deeply about his team. This is a player as absolute in his commitment as the young Vivian Richards.
Tendulkar’s colleagues were put to shame by his bold and proud effort, an effort which ended after lunch, and deservedly so because, for once, Tendulkar strolled three rather than rushing to run four.
Obviously, he wanted the bowling but previously he took every run on its merits. Homer had nodded, and the spell was broken.
Tendulkar’s innings carried all sorts of messages. Plainly, colleagues had not improved since Brisbane, and plainly it is time for youth in Indian cricket.
Nor could Australia find solace in his batting because three memorable innings have been played this season-all by Indians.
A final thought. Would Tendulkar have been picked by Australia yet?
Shield fixtures are so shockingly arranged that it is hard for anyone, let alone an 18-year-old, to challenge for a place. And, anyhow, after the fuss about the dropping of a batsman who had failed in eight of his previous 10 innings, it is a matter for wonder if the selectors will ever dare to drop anyone again.