February 01, 2007

“For you, a hundred times over.”

(appeared in The Hindustan Times, 7th February, 2007)

You hardly expect an ex-English captain, from recent times, to plug the virtues of one-day hundreds. More so, if the man in question is Nasser Hussain, who scored his first and last one-day hundred versus India in that blessed NatWest “326 run-chase” Final. But that’s Nasser Hussain for you, on air. Amazing what you don’t have, needles you the most – and that’s the deal with England – just not enough players scoring one-day hundreds. Ok, there was one player – Marcus Trescothick. And Hussain never failed to impress upon viewers the importance of Tresco’s twelve gems. After Mr. T, England lucked out with Kevin Pietersen, who has scored some unbelievable hundreds – one of a last ball too. But that’s only two players out of an ever-changing batting lineup. Worse, without these two big guns, England’s truly in the dumps down-under. It’s another matter that Tresco and KP have only fifteen hundreds between them. And out of the present lot, only Flintoff (3) and Collingwood (2) have scored hundreds. Incredibly, the other ex captain, Michael Vaughan has an ODI high (and dry) of 90.

Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist from the coach’s support staff to highlight the criticality of a one-day hundred. Let’s take Tendulkar’s 100 not out from Vadodara (31st January, 2007) as a pointer; victory aside, what did the century achieve?

1) Defined the innings for 25 overs. 2) With Sachin set, the D company (Dravid and Dhoni) played their natural game 3) Increased confidence in dressing room to delirious levels - even the hapless Pathan was smiling; support staff was waving. 4) Increased frustration in the fielding side – dropped catches, missfields, confused tactics – even Gayle didn’t bowl his full quota 5) blocked fall of wickets – India lost only 3 wickets and scored heavily in the last 10 – compared to previous game where both Dravid and Tendulkar fell for half centuries, and India collapsed subsequently. 6) Man of the Match and Man of the Series for Mr. Sachin Tendulkar (Mister being a new addition in the roll call) – prior to this, he had scored a sketchy sixty odd in a lost game, and three wickets from two games 7) A flat screen tv and a bike for SRT

It can be argued that Tendulkar scored his hundred on the last ball, and as such, his knock had less impact on India’s innings, than a more prolific 150 plus score that defines the complete innings. But then, may be this 76 ball-bazooka was Sachin’s way of staking claim for his favourite openers’ slot. Also, SRT opening is a sure shot way to bat Sehwag in the middle order. Not to forget, Veeru the extra spinner. But what about the unstoppable Uthappa? Will he not be played for a few games (against Lanka), and like Dinesh Karthik, public memory will relegate him to the Kaifs and Powars. Out of sight, out of mind, out of team…

Whatever it be, with the 41st one-day hundred and a soft-spoken yet somewhat hurt post-match interview – a jab at not caring what x, y and z thought, and how he knows his game; at least Sachin gave his thoughts much needed expression. And like Nasser Hussain will tell you (remember his jersey-number finger pointing to the media enclosure at Lord’s NatWest Final)– there’s no better time, than after a well-made hundred. Then again, Saurav Ganguly might disagree about post-100 disclosures, as would Greg Chappell.

On the flip side, in spite of this comeback hundred, there now exists an insurmountable gap between SRT and his once blindly unified fan base.

Once upon a time when Sachin Tendulkar scored his magnificent hundreds, you could almost hear him promise us, “For you, a hundred times over”. And we willed him on and he himself. And everything was so damn achievable. The fifty test 100s that SMG spoke about – and how he would personally spank Sachin if he scored any less. And we laughed in unison, because we believed in the joke. We didn’t think it was a joke.

Today, even though most believe he may not score many more 100s, should one doubt his intent? Questioning his intent is a slap at our belief and everything we once believed in. A slap on Sachin - The miracle boy. The magic man. The injured mortal. And any good cricketer will tell you, the timings just not right. You either believe or you have never watched Sachin Tendulkar bat. Get a life.

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