In Mumbai’s cricketing circles, being khadoos is a highly respected trait. The Hindi word literally means stubborn in an Ebenezer Scrooge sort of a way. In a cricketing sense, it means not giving your opponent an inch; being single-mindedly focused on winning, becoming bruised, battered and bloodied in the bargain, but holding on to that inch, and if you still must perish, do so with your pride intact.
Tendulkar’s 146 in Cape Town typifies what Mumbai’s cricketing mandarins have been talking about all this while. Those who saw him face Dale Steyn’s first over on Day 2 would swear he had no idea what the ball doing. Having dominated the best part of 21 years of international cricket, Tendulkar was made to look like a novice by Steyn.
But he hung on. The series hinges on this hundred. He knew it. Despite the repeated humiliation of not being able to get bat to ball, despite the non-stop chatter from the bowlers and close-in fielders, he focussed on the next ball. India were not about to go down on his watch. He was khadoos. Whatever the result in Cape Town, the talk about this game many years from now would be about how Tendulkar survived Steyn.
The hundred was hardly a typical Tendulkar hundred in which he dominates bowlers out and out. It was more Steve Waugh at work than Tendulkar. He was lucky to survive an LBW against Paul Harris; he was lucky an edge didn’t carry to Mark Boucher, and he was lucky Steyn was swinging the ball out so much it was impossible to get an edge most of the times. Tendulkar would not score a uglier hundred than this.
Each time he beat him, Steyn simply smiled and walked back. In his own words: “There’s no point wasting energy bowling at (Sachin). You focus on the other guys.” There can be no better compliment for his efforts.
Steyn’s out-swing on Day 2 bordered on the unplayable. Swing alone is potent; but late swing at 90 miles an hour with great accuracy is a whole other challenge. It is the toughest examination of your eyesight, reflexes and technique. Your brain works overtime trying to anticipate the trajectory of the next ball.
Give these hostile conditions a historical backdrop: India’s losses at this venue in 1996 and 2006, the fact that this could be Tendulkar’s last chance to help India win a Test series in South Africa, and that Sehwag and Dravid have failed to deliver in this series. It all boils down to this innings, this inch that Tendulkar didn’t give away.
As Valerie wrote in her dying words on a toilet roll in V For Vendetta, “[An inch] is small and it is fragile and it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.”
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