10 March 1998.
Sometimes it is best simply to sit back and enjoy. Cricket doesn’t come any better than this – a warm and vast crowd, superb young batsmen of contrasting styles at the crease and spinners ripping their fingers and racking their brains in an attempt to dislodge them.
Inevitably, all eyes were upon Sachin Tendulkar. Thirty-thousand people had arrived on a Monday morning in the hope of seeing him in full flow and they were not disappointed.
Sachin Tendulkar of India making a boundary against Australia during the 3rd Test match between India & Australia at Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi on October 29, 2008.
Photo © Public.Resource.Org / Flickr.com.
It was hard to watch anyone else. It used to be said of Humphrey Bogart that there was no point reciting even Shakespeare if he was smoking a cigarette somewhere else on stage.
Tendulkar has this charisma. To my mind he’s the most exciting batsman of his time because he finds the right balance between reason and passion, technique and power, nerve and judgment. He appeals to all tastes.
After his extravagance on the opening day, Tendulkar was somewhat under pressure at the start of his innings. Years ago, an Indian cricket lover (not an isolated case) begged Sunil Gavaskar to score a century for him. Asked whether this added to his burden, Gavaskar replied: “Not really, 950 million people already expect me to reach three figures.”
It is the same with Tendulkar. He began circumspectly after Navjot Sidhu had been adroitly held at mid-wicket. He was taking his bearings and having a look at the bowlers. Only when this work had been completed, and it didn’t take long, did he unleash his full range of strokes.
Within minutes, Tendulkar played the stroke of the match, a back-foot straight drive that broke the stumps at the bowler’s end. This is a stroke demanding a rare combination of eye and timing and few men can play it.
Yet Tendulkar was to repeat it twice in the course of this exposition.
Soon, attention turned to the resumption of the epic contest between the Indian batsman and Shane Warne. For a time, Tendulkar weighed up his opponent. In defence he didn’t seem to be so much watching the ball as reading it from the hand. He turned to the offensive, cutting and driving and placing his strokes with the upmost precision. He took only those risks that were worth it.
Warne tried his luck around the wicket. Rahul Dravid, a cerebral and capable counterpoint, went into his shell. After all, blasting away at leg-breaks, pitching in the rough is a colossal gamble. Surely Tendulkar, too, would hold fire.
Not a bit of it. Straight away Tendulkar lofted to leg, and Ricky Ponting almost intercepted. Undeterred, the batsman had another go, thrashing the ball from outside off stump to the boundary at long-on.
Warne persisted and Dravid fell to a snorter. Tendulkar simply powered ahead, belting the leg-spinner for six and repeating the dose against Greg Blewett’s slower ball. Detecting a googly, he rocked back and took his toll. Between times he played strokes of consummate brilliance, drives on the rise through cover and a leg-side flick off Blewett that belonged to the age of Queen Victoria.
Australia could do nothing in the face of this controlled fury. Mark Taylor did his best to muster his troops, but the line could not be held. After slowing down in his ’80s, Tendulkar broke free by driving an off-spinner for six over mid-off, again directing the ball to his satisfaction and the crowd’s delight.
He occasionally played a defensive stroke, whereupon the bowlers realised the hopelessness of their task. They couldn’t get him out and could only pray that he might go too far.
Australia had begun the day as raw-boned steak and Tendulkar made mincemeat of them.