A year later...Sachin Tendulkar is still stuck on 99
Sachin Tendulkar, says Bikash Mohapatra, has for the last one year played on his fans' patience. His impending hundred not only became the batsman's, but the entire country's obsession.
It's been a year now.
It was on this day (March 12) last year that Sachin Tendulkar scored 111 against South Africa in Nagpur.
Regardless of the fact that India went on to lose the game, it was a special innings for the Master Blaster.
It was his 99th international hundred.
After 22 years as a professional, Tendulkar was on the threshold of achieving arguably the biggest milestone in an already glittering career. He was just one short of a 'century of centuries'.
A total of four centuries in less than three months had brought the batting legend near the unprecedented landmark.
An entire nation waited in eager anticipation for the same.
A year later, the wait continues.
Criticism has mounted since
Tendulkar played 11 Tests and an equal number of ODIs – a total of 32 innings – since that Nagpur game and flattered to deceive, leaving the billion-plus fans disappointed every time.
Besides, his desperation for the same has cost the team on many occasions, leading to experts criticizing him.
'That's been a huge hurdle for India to overcome all summer – Tendulkar's search for his 100th century has become a burden on the team as well as the player,' Australian legend Ian Chappell wrote in his column for Sunday Telegraph last week.
'There's only one reason to play cricket; to help your team win matches. If a player gives everything and the team loses there is no shame in that; but when individual statistics start to overshadow the team result then clearly there is a problem.'
Even his countrymen, who are usually lenient, have been critical of the Master Blaster.
'From what we have seen in the last three months, he (Sachin) should have announced his retirement after the World Cup or even earlier,' the legendary Kapil Dev was quoted as saying recently.
If one keeps emotions aside for a moment -- it is a difficult thing to do considering the fact that it relates to Tendulkar -- there is a rationale behind the criticism.
Personal records do matter, even if it's a team sport
It is the search for this elusive century that has kept Tendulkar going.
Else, there was nothing left for the legendary batsman to achieve after Team India won the World Cup last year.
Prior to that, Tendulkar, a veteran of six World Cups, had arguably been the best player never to have been part of a Cup winning team.
There were many -- Kapil has reiterated the same on many occasions -- who had expected him to call curtains on his illustrious career on that triumphant note. However, Tendulkar preferred to carry on.
The 'century of centuries' was a landmark that he was not going to miss. It is to his misfortune that he is yet to achieve the milestone.
The Master Blaster has often dismissed the pressure of expectations, saying 'it is just a number'.
However, deep inside he definitely felt the pressure to deliver. He might have been bestowed the divine status by his legion of fans. But he is, after all, a human being.
Suffice to say Tendulkar has for the last one year played on his fans' patience. Each time he failed during this period, the frustration of his many fans had increased. However, at no point it could end their excitement.
They are still waiting for Tendulkar to achieve the milestone. In a country starved of sporting success, and, therefore, having limited icons, Tendulkar is probably the biggest.
It, therefore, doesn't come across as a surprise that over the last 12 months the impending hundred has not only become the batsman's but the entire country's obsession.
The deluge that brought hope
In more ways than one, 2010 was the year which redefined Tendulkar's career.
That January, en route to his 105 not out (when on 30) against Bangladesh in Chittagong, the batsman reached 13,000 Test runs in what was his 163rd Test.
It took him just seven more matches to add 1,000 more to that total, the maestro reaching the landmark when he notched his 27th run in the second Test against Australia in Bangalore. He went on to score 214 in that particular innings.
A few days earlier, he got himself something special. For a player who has broken almost every record in the game, there were still a few things that have eluded the Master Blaster.
The coveted Sir Garfield Sobers trophy, awarded to the ICC Cricketer of the Year, being one of them. The award eventually made its way to Tendulkar's trophy cabinet.
Before the year could end the batsman reached another milestone. His 111 not out in the opening Test against South Africa being his 50th Test hundred, aptly coming at a venue called Centurion (SuperSport Park).
Tendulkar finished with a whopping aggregate of 1562 in 14 Tests (@ 78.10), having recorded as many as seven centuries in the process.
It was the sixth time in his career – after 1997 (1000 runs), 1999 (1088), 2001 (1003), 2002 (1392) and 2008 (1063) – that he had scored more than 1, 000 runs in a year.
It was also his highest aggregate in a particular year, achieved in what was the 21st year of his illustrious career.
The drought that brought desperation
In his maiden Test innings in 2011, against South Africa at Newlands, Tendulkar scored another hundred (146). It was his 97th international ton.
No. 98 and 99 came during the World Cup – 120 against England in Bangalore followed by the one against South Africa in Nagpur (on March 12).
Thereafter, it has been a long wait, one that has added to the fans' despair with each passing innings.
The Master Blaster has raised hopes raised along the way.
In an otherwise forgettable tour of England, Tendulkar scored 91 in the second innings of the fourth and final Test at The Oval before Tim Bresnan caught him on the wrong foot.
Similarly, in the first Test of the home series against West Indies at Feroz Shah Kotla, Tendulkar scored 76, completing 15, 000 Test runs (when on 28) in the process.
However, just when the fans had started celebrating in anticipation, Devendra Bishoo cut it short.
Also worth a mention is his innings of 80 in the second Test at the Sydney, where everything seemed fine till he nicked a seemingly innocuous Michael Clarke delivery to Mike Hussey at first slip.
In One-Day cricket, after 10 months
Even as the wait became longer, the Master Blaster became impatient.
How else can one explain his return to the one-day fold?
Tendulkar had not played in an ODI since April 2, that memorable day last year when Team India ended a 28-year long wait by winning the World Cup.
His decision to skip the shorter format was then construed as a sense of satisfaction, of having finally won the biggest prize in the sport. Experts believed he would never return to play one-day cricket again.
The announcement for the squad for the Commonwealth Bank series though belied all belief. Tendulkar was a part of the team. He had decided to further his ODI career.
However, if the Master Blaster had expected better fortune in the limited-overs' format, he was in for further disappointment. His figures in the CB series – 143 runs in seven matches (@ 20.42) – made for a sorry reading, his effort (rather lack of it) also being one of the reasons behind Team India's early exit from the tri-nation competition.
And the wait continues
Moreover, MS Dhoni's reluctance to field him, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir – labelled as 'slow fielders' by the captain – meant the composition of the team kept changing with each match. This unwarranted rotation prevented the team from settling down, thereby affecting the overall performance.
Something that needs to be accepted here is the fact that Tendulkar's decision to pick and choose matches not only refrains the selectors from zeroing down on a right combination but also unsettles the team.
The fact that the selectors are overawed by his larger-than-life stature means they will probably never be able to do what their Australian counterparts did to Ricky Ponting – not a lesser player by any means but forced to retire owing to a lack of performance.
Instead, his availability meant his inclusion in the squad for the Asia Cup. On a positive note, though, Sehwag's exclusion from the tournament ensures the team won't be tinkered as it was in the CB series.
Besides, the favourable conditions in Dhaka increase the possibility of Tendulkar getting that elusive hundred. If it happens nothing better. If it doesn't, dare we say it is time for a rethink – at least in one format.
For Tendulkar, 39 next month, isn't definitely getting any younger.