Author : Sougat Chakravartty
Many ardent fans hoped that this day would never come. They kept praying, hoping that their hero would continue to soldier on in the longer format for at least another couple of years.
Age, slowing reflexes and a fairly silent bat eventually made him decide to call time on his Test career, bringing down the curtains on a journey that spanned twenty four years and six World Cup tournaments – winning the last one in 2011.
He had already bid farewell to coloured clothing and the white ball a year ago, and walked into the sunset of Twenty20 cricket a few days previously after the Mumbai Indians added a second Champions League title to the 2013 IPL crown.
Nearly 200 Test matches and 50,000 career runs later, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is ready to leave the game, letting the burden of responsibility he held for so long go on to much younger shoulders.
As he prepares to put his body through the grind of the longest format for one last time, here is a look at ten of his best Test innings:
10. 114 vs Australia at Perth, 1992
Into the fifth Test match of his fledgling international career, Sachin thoroughly dominated the fearsome Aussie pace battery of Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, Paul Reiffel and Mike Whitney on the bouncy WACA track.
For a skinny 18-year old brought up on slow pitches back home in India, this was a captivating innings. Consisting mostly of swaure cuts, the batsman’s knock also featured a few of his soon-to-be signature cover drives as he dealt with the bowling in the manner of an accomplished veteran.
His display was so authoritative that it prompted the burly Hughes to remark to his captain Allan Border: “This little prick’s going to get more runs than you, AB” – a statement that would come true years later.
Unfortunately for his heroics, India ended up losing the game thanks to magnificent performances from Tom Moody, Dean Jones and David Boon, with Whitney destroying the opposition line up with a seven wicket haul. Nevertheless, Sachin’s innings made the world sit up and take notice of the prodigy who would go on to become one of the greatest batsmen in the history of the game.
9. 119* vs England, Old Trafford, 1990
This game saw six centuries being scored between both sides, but only one stood out for its sheer outstanding quality and the fact that it was the first ever century for a young 17-year old prodigy in international cricket.
It came at a time when India were fighting to save the game while in pursuit of a record second-innings total, and had lost more than half their side to reckless strokes. All hopes now rested on Sachin and all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar, the last recognized pair at the crease, so to speak.
Dropped by England spinner Eddie Hemmings early into his knock, Tendulkar proceeded to play an innings complete with remarkable composure in facing the short pitched stuff from the likes of Malcolm, Fraser and Lewis. For over two and a half hours, he and Prabhakar kept the bowlers at bay.
By the time the game was halted, India were safely out of the woods, and Sachin received plaudits for his calm temperament in the face of hostile seam bowling, especially from Fraser. His unbeaten 119 saved the game for India, but what was even more remarkable was the fact that he was wearing a pair of ultra-light pads given to him by another legend, Sunil Gavaskar – a sign that this youngster was destined to have a glittering career!
8. 104* vs Sri Lanka, Colombo, 1993
This innings gave India its first ever overseas victory since 1986, and its maiden win on Sri Lankan soil. And it was doubly special because it was the effort put in by two young stars – in the first and second innings respectively – who had made a name for themselves in Mumbai’s cricketing circles a long time ago.
Vinod Kambli’s century in the first innings propelled India to a powerful score, and Sri Lanka skipper Arjuna Ranatunga was the only one to offer some resistance in his side’s total of 254.
In reply, both Sachin and Navjot Sidhu hammered centuries in their second essay at the crease; the former, in particular, was as sublime as ever as he dispatched all the bowlers to all corners of the park with alarming regularity.
He reached his sixth century in Test cricket, after which the declaration was effected, and Prabhakar and Kumble ran through the rival line up without a fuss, earning their side the win.
For Sri Lanka, worse than Sachin’s brutal treatment of their bowling was the fine they had to pay for a slow over-rate.
7. 117 vs West Indies, Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain, 2002
In yet another landmark for the Little Master, he equalled the legendary Sir Don Bradman’s record of 29 Test centuries with a superb knock in the first innings against the West Indies at Port-of-Spain in 2002, laying the foundations for an eventual win.
Free from the burden of captaincy, the stylish No. 4 batsman played a free-flowing innings, replete with fierce cuts, pulls, hooks and powerful cover drives on a pitch that had a lot of grass and assistance for the pace bowlers.
He weathered the early dismissals of the openers and was nearly dismissed four times, before settling in for a masterly knock. With the ever-reliable Rahul Dravid and skipper Sourav Ganguly, the maestro added a mountain of runs before falling to Cameron Cuffy for a well-compiled 117.
Brian Lara, Sachin’s rival for the title of world’s best batsman, tried his best in both innings, but couldn’t overcome the foundations laid by the latter for a 37-run win and a series lead. This was one of those times when the Indian triumphed over his Caribbean counterpart and fellow contender for the throne – and it also happened to be his first hundred in the West Indies. Terrific stuff!
6. 155* vs Australia, Chennai, 1998
Chennai has been witness to a lot of great deeds in both Test matches as well as in ODI cricket. The maestro from Mumbai has traditionally revelled on this ground, having made many notable contributions with the bat as he shouldered the burden of holding the batting together.
Billed as a contest between the world’s champion leg- spinner Shane Warne and the world’s greatest batsman Sachin Tendulkar, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy drew in a lot of crowds at each venue. Initially, it was Warne who succeeded in overcoming the latter in the first innings at the Chepauk stadium.
But Sachin retaliated in grand style in the second innings, using his feet to step out of the crease and loft the bemused spinner over his head for boundaries; when Warne went around the wicket, Tendulkar employed the lofted sweep and pull shots to deadly effect, hitting a brace of sixes and fours that left the blond bowler stunned.
The spinners eventually ran rough-shod over the bleeding Aussies, and India emerged triumphant to take a 1-0 lead in the three match series. But the outcome was decided in Chennai, when Sachin tonked Warne all over the park.
5. 194* vs Pakistan, Multan, 2004
Virender Sehwag is usually called the Sultan of Multan for his magnificent triple century on that ground in 2004. In the same game, however, his guru Sachin also made his presence felt with a fluent three-figure knock of his own.
Together, the two went about demolishing the Pakistan attack as if it were nothing more than a minor nuisance. Even the banter unleashed by the likes of Mohammad Sami and Shoaib Akhtar rolled off them like water off a duck’s back. All the four frontline bowlers conceded runs in three-figures as Sachin and Sehwag went hammer and tongs at them.
While the Delhi lad was aggression personified, Sachin was his usual self – unruffled, unfazed by spin and pace, and on top of his game. After reaching 194, the crowd waited in anticipation of his first ever double century on Pakistan soil, even though it was against their own national team.
But Dravid, leading the side in Ganguly’s absence, made a decision that surprised the Master – he declared the innings, denying both Tendulkar and the spectators the landmark figure they eagerly anticipated. Even the commentators thought the former’s decision was in bad taste.
The Big Three got together at the end of the day’s play and sorted the matter out, but Tendulkar admitted to having felt let down.
Nevertheless, his and Sehwag’s knocks piloted India to an innings victory over their arch rivals, securing their first ever Test win in Pakistan.
4. 241* vs Australia, Sydney, 2004
The Sydney Cricket Ground has long been one of Sachin’s happy hunting grounds in Australia. With the series tied at 1-1, the decider assumed the proportions of a World Cup final, and the maestro was determined to sign off with a win.
He played an epic innings – quite uncharacteristic in fashion, but effective nonetheless. As he grew in confidence, and with Australia’s long-time nemesis VVS Laxman at the other end settling into his groove, Tendulkar pounced upon Brett Lee and hammered him out of the attack.
It was a compact innings, and while he did not dominate the bowlers as much as he did in his younger days, he did take them apart with the precision of a surgeon. The two batted on and on, ensuring that Steve Waugh, in his last Test, would have no trophy to take home.
For the record, the Indians put on a massive first innings total, and Sachin followed it up with a half-century in the second essay as Australia grimly held on for a draw to end the series with even honours.
3. 169 vs South Africa, Cape Town, 1997
The South African safari turned out to be a nightmare for Sachin and his boys as they ran up against the fearsome might of a pace attack led by the aggressive Allan Donald and the accurate Shaun Pollock.
Within no time, half the side was back in the hut with less than 60 on the board, and the skipper was out in the middle waging a lone fight. Then Mohammad Azharuddin strode out to join him.
For the next couple of hours, it was vintage stuff from both batsmen. Tendulkar, wielding the heavy MRF bat like a blade, flayed the bowling to all parts of the ground, while Azhar employed those silken wrists to telling effect.
The former skipper departed for a well-made century, but Tendulkar soldiered on, unleashing drive after scorching drive and pulling with gay abandon, even as he started running out of partners.
He progressed to 100, then 150, and was the last man out to a spectacular catch from Adam Bacher, who leaped to pluck the ball out of thin air in one hand at deep square leg. The great man was stunned, but was accorded a standing ovation by his own team as he made his way back to the pavilion.
Despite his exploits, South Africa won the game handsomely on the back of a phenomenal performance from all-rounder Brian McMillan. Nevertheless, this still remains one of his best knocks ever.
2. 103* vs England, Chennai, 2008
After the November attacks in Mumbai, interest in cricket had dipped to an alarming low, and it needed something heroic to bring people back to the game.
It was fitting, perhaps, that the act would be carried out by someone who had long held the banner of Indian cricket flying high for nearly two decades – Sachin Tendulkar.
Centuries from Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood in the second innings enabled England to set a target of 387 for the hosts to chase on a fifth day track at Chennai. Tricky stuff indeed!
But Tendulkar unleashed a vintage innings, dispelling thoughts of another abject surrender, as he combined beautifully with the redoubtable Yuvraj Singh after England had managed to weather the Sehwag-Gambhir storm initially.
He swept Graeme Swann to the fine leg fence to bring up his century and the win, and dedicated his innings to the people of Mumbai. A gallant knock, and a magnificent gesture from a gentleman!
1. 136 vs Pakistan, Chennai, 1999
Pain formed the core of this knock, pain led to the rush of blood, and the end result of the game also caused pain -not only to the Indian fans, but also to the great man himself. He would achieve his redemption nine years later.
But the way Sachin kept battling on to chase a target of 271 reminded people that he was, in no way, willing to throw in the towel against the likes of Wasim, Waqar and Saqlain. A chronic back problem which flared up during the course of the game had forced him to wear a brace to alleviate the pain somewhat.
He found an able partner in wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia, and the two kept the runs flowing, chipping away at the target while circumventing Saqlain’s web of mystery – he had unleashed the doosra for the first time on the Indians.
They had progressed to 218 when Mongia, having lost patience, charged out to Wasim and skied a catch to Waqar, ending the long alliance. And when Saqlain removed the clearly struggling Sachin for a well-crafted 136, it was all over for the home team.
It still remains Sachin’s finest innings despite the defeat, and he wiped the slate clean in 2008 on the same ground against England, ending the pain and misery he had carried for nine years.