True, Sachin Tendulkar’s momentary misjudgement of the short of a length ball from Ravi Rampaul shattered the dreams of innumerable fans. A moment of pain shot through and wrenched the heart of the country.
This particular milestone, light years beyond every mortal mile that has been traversed by other cricketers, has now again been shelved – to be perhaps retrieved and accomplished in a dramatic delight of destiny, in the backyard of Bradman.
However, the ones who had made their way to the Wankhede on the fourth morning, or had tuned in to follow the master on television or live-streams, did witness a few moments of mystique from the willow of the wizard.
The ball hard and new, the bowlers fresh and fast – the contest was lively. VVS Laxman lasted just one ball, carving a wide delivery to gully in his trademark laidback style, which looks sublime if it comes off and silly if it does not.
In his next over, Fidel Edwards - charged up by the taste of fresh and fantastic blood - tore in and pitched short. The little man arched back and delicately guided the ball over the slips. A stroke executed with the subtlety of a late cut. And it went on and on as the eyes squinted and strained to follow it, all the way over the ropes.
We have seen the uppercut used with great productivity in recent times. Virender Sehwag has made it so celebrated that he was signed on to perform a flat-footed dance step involving it in a popular ad. However, there has always been a ferocity involved with the cheekiness of the shot.
Yet, when Tendulkar struck it in the morning, power was turned down to a minimum. It was all grace and finesse. A brutal, unorthodox strike when produced by lesser bats, it was transformed with the stamp of genius into an exalted work of cricketing art. It may well be the first instance of an exquisite late cut going for maximum.
It was his second six of the innings. All morning he looked in supreme touch, the unquestioned master of all he surveyed. Three boundaries had scorched the turf already, one to square leg, one to extra-cover, and one – and oh, what a one that was – to the left of the sight screen. His 27 runs in the morning had been rapidly rounded up in just 19 balls before he steered the Rampaul delivery into the hands of second slip.
Interestingly, all this came in the wake of an Ian Chappell article that spoke about the way his rate of scoring was slowing down because of pressure built up in the anticipation of the landmark. The piece spoke of Tendulkar’s desperation to achieve his hundredth ton which was making his batting look laboured, even in the face of innocuous spin from Devendra Bishoo and Marlon Samuels.
Well, what the article actually showed with remarkable eloquence was the desperation of the author to hang on to the coat tails of any Tendulkar related issue and thus get dragged the additional parasitic mile, attain that freeloaded footage of fame. This is the same Ian Chappell who advised Tendulkar with characteristic Aussie directness to call it a day on March 30, 2007. Since then, Tendulkar has amassed 4512 runs in 49 Tests at an average of 60.16 with 16 centuries.
Some people never learn when to accept that the object of their criticism is too colossal for their myopic eyes to comprehend in full.
Not that Tendulkar was playing in the aggressive vein to make a point to the ex-Australian captain. My money will be on his not even knowing about the article. With 33,000 runs in international cricket, he has learnt a thing or two about the way to go about batting, and has hardly anything more to prove to anyone.
And, although he failed to score his 100th century on this day, he is still a good 30 clear of the next in line.