MUMBAI: At precisely 3.35 pm on Wednesday afternoon the march of time as we perceive it was arrested, possibly on one last occasion, as Sachin Tendulkar strode out to bat in his 200th and ultimate Test match. The little master emerged from the pavilion to a guard of honour presented by the entire West Indies team and the on-field umpires, almost 24 years to the day since he had debuted as a wispy-lipped teenager against Imran Khan’s mighty Pakistan in 1989.
The score at the Wankhede was 77/2. India had just lost both their openers in the same over. Tendulkar’s first concern, one that has remained unchanged through almost a quarter-of-a-century of international cricket, was to ensure a safe passage for India.
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But it was not going to be easy. Even by the usually uproarious Indian standards of noise, there was unprecedented clamor in the stands, and only one name being chanted. Tendulkar had been out cheaply to off-spinner Shane Shillingford in the first Test -- his 199th -- at Kolkata. And on a Mumbai pitch rather more helpful to tweakers, his survival, leave alone the addition of runs to what is already a world-record tally, was being viewed with unspoken skepticism.
Will he survive to the second day? (There were some 18 overs remaining) Will he cap an unrivaled career with a last century before his home crowd? Will Tendulkar, on whom the Gods have been always so kind, be allowed a final pass into the sporting afterlife with an innings to remember?
None of this saw resolution at close of play. Tendulkar, however, stood unconquered with an unbeaten 38 at stumps. Not quite befitting the final bow of a past master, but built in a climate of such intense psychological pressure that anybody but the most special would have wilted and shriveled up.
Tendulkar began watchfully against Shillingford - a bowler he would have dismembered and forgotten about in his prime - before finding his feet at the crease and powering the off-spinner for boundaries through the covers region. Medium pacer Shannon Gabriel was creamed through the off-side, while Darren Sammy’s second-spell loosener met with a stunning straight drive.
The attack wasn't much. But there was still the odd moment of doubt: An inside edge that ricocheted safely into the pads; some discomfort against the wrong one, the occasional misjudgment of length – but the older, wiser Tendulkar, maybe because he realised the import of the moment, dredged out the best of him at a time when his best was well past him.
It also helped that Tendulkar had for company the ultra-calm Cheteshwar Pujara, who went about his business without anybody so much as noticing that he had almost kept abreast of his senior partner. The old and the new of Indian cricket added an invaluable 80 for the third wicket to reduce the deficit to a mere 25. Tomorrow, however, will bring its own concerns, the chief among them being the procurement of the 62 runs that will deliver a fitting finish to a career unrivaled in the sport.
Like only Tendulkar can
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