Sunday, February 5, 2012

Recalling the best among Sachin’s 99 tons

Sachin during his 114 run innings at the WACA, Perth in 1992
Australian spin wizard Shane Warne was once quoted saying, “Outside grounds (in India), people wait until he (Sachin) goes in before paying to enter. They seem to want a wicket to fall even though it is their own side that will suffer.”

Over the years, the frenzy has only heightened. Since half a decade, Tendulkar is being welcomed with standing ovation all around the world and grim faces are seeing him off. For instance, the Australians have been bidding him adieu since the past two tours. It has been four years now. This is Tendulkar’s third tour since 2008.  And from what we see, what we noticed at MCG — where a packed stadium turned up to see the last of the trio of Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar — might get repeated for a couple more tours.

Since his first visit to the country, when he scored his second and third international hundred, the Indian batsman has gone on to add a mountainous 96 more to his name and 17 more against Australia alone. Yet when experts sit and try to table his hundreds — lamenting the missing one — the innings that reaches the tip of the Everest, most often gathering consensus, is the 114 he made at Perth during his first Australian safari.
“There was no player (that day) who could really face the Australian attack. The ball was deviating left, right and centre from the cracks. No-one really knew how the ball would travel after pitching”
It was important because as Laxman says, “For somebody on his first tour of Australia, especially when the team is not doing well, and to score a century on a fiery track like Perth at a tender age said a lot about Tendulkar’s talent.”

It is important because as Mark Taylor puts it, “At the WACA it takes a special player to pick up the bounce and pace of the wicket in such a short time and Sachin was able to do that.”

And important because even two decades later, Indians remain as susceptible to the leather ball when hurled fast and pitched short.

We all know that Perth in those days was far from the track it is now. The pace and bounce of the pitch could lay bare the most illustrious of the batting line-ups. At this very ground, Lillee and Thommo had done in it on many occasions. Curtly Ambrose had claimed in one single spell, seven wickets Australian for one run in the Test series of 1992-93.

Thus, with cracks opening up in an already hostile pitch it was hardly surprising that Indians — already three matches down in the five Test series of the tour of 1991/92 — were reeling under pressure.

In the fifth Test match at WACA ground of Perth, Australians chose to bat and left India a total of 346 runs to live up to. By the time Sachin came in, India had lost both their openers with 69 runs on the board. After steadying the innings for some time, Manjrekar gave in to a Merv Hughes delivery. Indians were 100/3. Vengsarkar, Azharuddin, Raju, Kapil Dev and Prabhakar followed Manjrekar to the pavilion. And within a span of few overs, Indians were down to 159/8.

“There was no player (that day) who could really face the Australian attack. The ball was deviating left, right and centre from the cracks. No-one really knew how the ball would travel after pitching,” recollects Javagal Srinath, who was a part of the playing eleven. Others say that the mere view of the widening cracks killed the batsmen psychologically.

In came wicketkeeper Kiran More, recuperating from an injury and trying to regain his place in the team. More was hardly in the class of Dhoni, actually far from even Nayan Mongia.
Mike Whitney was spitting venom — he ended with 11 wickets from the match — and he along with Hughes, 

McDermott and debutant Paul Reiffel made up for a vicious company. More tells us, “One ball from Whitney pitched on leg and middle went straight to second slip.”

But the wicketkeeper had not more than a spectator’s duty to serve. The 19 year old, whom Whitney recalls as “a schoolboy wunderkid”, defied the squalor; he fended and attacked for all his teammates.

“Whitney was pushing the ball across and Sachin would lean slightly forward and would hit it back past him even before Whitney could get his right hand down,” recalls Taylor.

It was no surprise that the bad balls were punished, even the good balls found the ropes. Anything pitched up were driven off the front foot. The balls pitched around the off-stump were clinically driven off the back foot toward covers. It was not the runs that he scored, the situation and pace set this knock apart. Amidst such difficulties, runs flowed easefully at a strike-rate of 70.8. When Sachin fell as the ninth wicket, after 228 minutes of battling, Indians were placed at a face-saving total of 240.

India faltered in the second innings losing the series 4-0. But result was a formality. Too little a price paid for over two decades of Tendulkar.

Somewhere in the middle of the innings, Merv Hughes went up to his captain Alan Border and quipped, “This little prick’s going to get more runs than you, AB.” He did. We are gladly counting.

Debojit Dutta can be found doodling waywardly and pening absurdly on his blog Musings and Lyrics

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