Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar: An unsurpassable record? || Suresh Menon - BBC

Around 1900, it was widely believed that physics had reached the end of the road and that everything had been discovered. Only minor details needed to be filled in, the science was complete.

Almost on cue, along came quantum physics and Mr Einstein's theories of relativity.

Sporting records are a bit like that.

Pundits decide things can't get better, and they do.

When Bob Beamon leaped to his magical 8.90 metres in the rarefied atmosphere of Mexico, many believed the record would stand forever. It didn't last a quarter of a century.

Among cricketing records, two have always had the stamp of permanence upon them: Don Bradman's career Test average of 99.94 and Jim Laker's match figures of 19 for 90.

Recently a third was added - Muthiah Muralitharan's 800 Test wickets.

Now a fourth has joined that group - Sachin Tendulkar's 100 international centuries.

You only have to look at the second-best to see this - Ricky Ponting's 71.

The best after Tendulkar's 51 Test centuries is Jacques Kallis on 42; after his 49 one-day centuries is Ricky Ponting's 30. Not in the same ball park, not in the same city, country or planet.

When Tendulkar began his career as a 16-year-old, satisfaction meant 35 Test centuries, perhaps another 25 in one-dayers for a grand total of 60 international centuries.

It seemed his fans were more obsessed with his ambitions than he was. After each achievement, he was issued with new targets.

Now, with the future of Test cricket under discussion, including a possible reduction in the number of matches, the cliche that records are there to be broken may not hold.

Batsmen, like detectives in a murder mystery, must have means, motives and opportunities.

Then there is the question of age. The spirit may be willing, but perhaps not the flesh at 40.

It is easy to see why beating a career Test average of 99.94 is out of reach. The next best after Bradman (among those who have played more than 50 Tests) is Herbert Sutcliffe's 60.73.

As for Laker, only two wickets have to fall to a second bowler or a run out and his record is safe. To take 10 wickets twice in a match is as close to an impossibility in sport as you can get. The best after Laker's 19 is nearly a century old: Sid Barnes's 17 for 159.
Moveable feast

Tendulkar is a modest man who, like Alexander the Great, has no more worlds to conquer.
But for someone to score 100 international centuries he would need to begin his career early and play through two decades averaging five per year. That's as tall as orders get.

Indian cricket is based on passion, on easily-stirred emotions; players are worshipped for what they do, romance trumps realism, sentiment pushes out logic and reason.

A Tendulkar ton in defeat is feted more heartily than a 40 in victory.

That is why few are concerned that only 53 of Tendulkar's first 99 international centuries were in winning causes.

Yet today, it is somehow different.

To adapt Hemingway, if you are lucky enough to have followed Tendulkar's career, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, he stays with you. For Tendulkar is a moveable feast.

Suresh Menon edited an anthology of writings on Sachin Tendulkar. His latest book, Bishan, is a biography of the Indian spin bowling legend Bishan Singh Bedi

A fan's paean to Sachin Tendulkar || Soutik Biswas - BBC

The "ridiculous thing", as an English cricket writer described Sachin Tendulkar's quest for his 100th international century, took a long time coming - in fact the longest since the time taken between his first hundred in 1990, and his second, 511 days later.

It also appeared to wear him - and his fans - out. The wait, as Mike Atherton said, had not "only become tiresome, as it shone a harsh light on Sachin himself and what is motivating him to continue". In the run up to his newest record, Tendulkar's batting reminded Atherton of a "novice learning the ropes rather than someone who has learnt them better than virtually everyone in history".

Artherton is exaggerating. Tendulkar's unending feats have a sense of deja vu about them. So it is once again time to join the celebrations, and sing a paean to a man about whom there isn't much left to be sung.
With the hundredth international hundred now under his belt, Tendulkar holds just about every batting record worth having in the game.

The numbers are simply mind-boggling: 22 years at the crease, over 630 Tests and one-day games around the world, 33,000 plus runs, highest number of centuries in both formats of the game. The ferociously talented batsman is also the leading scorer of Test runs, and had 16 centuries before he turned 25. A giddy fan can go on and on.

Of course, critics believe that the god of cricket is fallible.

Many say Tendulkar doesn't dominate a match and dictate its outcome as, say, Vivian Richards and Brian Lara did. Others say his record against arch rival Pakistan has been underwhelming, compared to, say, the swashbuckling Virender Sehwag.

Then there is Tendulkar's insipid record as a leader - he won 16% and lost 36% of the 25 Tests he captained with what was one of the strongest Indian sides. His record as a one-day captain (35% wins) is way below that of Saurav Ganguly (53% wins) and Mohammad Azharuddin (54% wins). Only 20 of Tendulkar's 50 Test centuries have led to victories for his team.
'Just happens'

But all this, in the end, are minor quibbles, fans say. "No one", wrote Peter Roebuck, one of the greatest cricket writers, "has played more breathtaking innings in the highest company, or scored more runs, or given more pleasure." The age and occasionally the game itself, Roebuck said, has belonged to him.

Tendulkar is an unusual superstar in a celebrity-addled world. After scaling peaks which no other batsman had climbed, the diminutive guru of a glorious game retains a disarming child-like quality and a self-effacing demeanour. "Had JM Barrie needed a cricketer for Neverland," writer Mukul Kesavan wrote once, "he might have dreamt up Sachin Tendulkar."

How does he do it? I had wondered last February, after he had fired one-day cricket's first double hundred two months short of his 37th birthday. Answers to such questions are usually elusive. I had more banal questions.

How has the game still not become an ordeal for him? How does he retain his appetite for the game after all he has achieved and nothing more can be asked of him? Trawling through his old interviews recently, I found some clues. "So long as I love playing the game, so long as I enjoy the sound of bat hitting ball, I'm going to do it. I don't have to force myself - it just happens," Tendulkar told an interviewer in 2006.

It just happens. It just happens while carrying the expectations of a billion moody fans, among other things. But this steely player isn't a buccaneer on field. Tendulkar is one of the most elegant players to have blessed the game. He's armed with razor sharp anticipation, perfect balance and a poise of stroke-making that makes batting looks ridiculously easy.

Tendulkar also dominates the game totally as the greatest sportsmen do. He's at once intensely Indian and global, a lodestar of the country's rising aspirations. "He is a modern man playing a modern game in a modern style in the modern world - and that's what makes him of supreme importance to his fellow Indians," wrote the inimitable Mark Marqusee. "He's a homegrown genius excelling in a global game, a world-beater bred in the heart of Mumbai's status-hungry middle class."

What next? Should Tendulkar now lay down his willow and ride into the sunset? Some say though his mind is sharp, his body - and reflexes - have grown slower. Or will runs just keep happening? Tendulkar is a national obsession in a country where cricket is the opium of the masses. When Tendulkar stops playing what will India get high on?

The Moment

Why there cannot be another SRT?

Why the 100th doesn't matter

An "international hundred" is an artificial landmark and we don't need to be flying into a frenzy because Tendulkar is on the brink of a hundred of those

December 3, 2011

Had Sachin Tendulkar scored six more runs in Mumbai against West Indies, he would have climbed a cricketing Everest: a hundred international hundreds! No one has done this before, not even Bradman. And it's not as if Bradman didn't have the time: he played international cricket for nearly as long as Tendulkar has done: 20 years. I can hear pedants object that there were no ODIs in Bradman's time. So? They had Test matches, didn't they? And if he played only 52, whose fault was that? Slacker.
How many Test centuries did Bradman have? Twenty-nine. Twenty-nine? Tendulkar has 51. If he had gotten those six runs, he would have had 52 Test centuries, one for every Test that Bradman played. That would have been a record too, a minor landmark in Sachin's unmatched career.

How well I remember the great Muttiah Muralitharan's 1000th international wicket! How it was anticipated, how tense we were when he got to 999, how relieved when the great man winkled out… the name of his 1000th victim escapes me, but Cricinfo's Statsguru is bound to have it. Murali went on to take 1334 international wickets, 800 in Test matches and 534 in ODIs. The last 334 wickets were surplus to requirement because it's round numbers that count. Like a hundred hundreds. There's a ring to it. A century of centuries! My sources in a daily tell me that the paper has planned an eight-inch headline, just a single word: CEN-DULKAR! You read it here first.

Warne understood the round-number thing: the moment he got to 1001 wickets (he got the extra one because Hindus believe it's auspicious) he called it a day. You didn't know that Warne had a thousand international wickets (708 in Test matches and 293 in ODIs)? Those numbers don't trip off your tongue? And you call yourself a fan. Pah. How to explain the grandeur of Tendulkar's imminent achievement when you're surrounded by illiterates who don't know the basics about cricket?

I'm joking. The real cricketing illiterates are the people who believe that adding ODI centuries to Test centuries and arriving at a hundred gives you a heroic landmark. It doesn't. This isn't just a meaningless statistic, it's a pernicious one, because it equalises two different orders of achievement.

Making a hundred in a Test is a lot harder than making a hundred in an ODI. The opposition's best bowlers can bowl at you endlessly in Test cricket, instead of being limited to 10 overs; Test cricket features many more close-in catchers; and as the pitch deteriorates over five days, batting gets harder. Making runs quickly is harder too, because the fielding captain can set defensive fields without the field restrictions that make ODI cricket a leather hunt for the bowling side.

To club one-day centuries with Test centuries is to implicitly argue that Tendulkar's epic hundred at the WACA on his first tour of Australia, is the same sort of score as the meaningless hundreds he scored in those squalid ODIs against Pakistan in Sharjah. It isn't, and when we suggest that it is by inventing this empty category, "international hundreds", we devalue Test cricket and debase the currency of cricketing terms.

It is to speak and think like a child with 99 coins in his piggy bank, 51 made of silver and 48 of lead, who is dying to acquire one more coin of either kind because he will then have a hundred metal coins. The child can be indulged because he's too young to know better, but what of the grown men and women who follow cricket and report and comment on it, who carry on as if something monumental is about to happen each time Tendulkar crosses 50, and then mime tragedy when it doesn't? If Tendulkar played Twenty20 cricket for India, would an "international century" scored in that format count towards this century of hundreds? Even children know that winning a game of checkers isn't the same as winning a game of chess, though both are played over the same 64 squares.

When we invent this empty category, "international hundreds", we devalue Test cricket and debase the currency of cricketing terms. It is to speak and think like a child with 99 coins in his piggy bank, 51 made of silver and 48 of lead, who is dying to acquire one more coin of either kind because he will then have a hundred metal coins

So why are we going on like idiots about this non-event, this half-wit's holy grail? Why can't we be content to celebrate Tendulkar's real achievement? Fifty-one Test hundreds. Say that slowly because no one will ever score more. And if you must celebrate his 48 ODI centuries, do, but as a distinct and separate achievement. There's no such thing as an international hundred. If you do want to join his Test centuries to some other figure to bulk out his numbers, add to them his 27 first-class hundreds: at least those were made in the same four-innings format of the game.

The reason no breathless Indian television anchor is hyperventilating about Tendulkar's 78 first-class centuries is because that number doesn't sufficiently distinguish the great man: there are many batsmen who have better numbers. Tendulkar, whose 22-year career shadows India's history since economic liberalisation, has become, through no fault of his own, the totem of New India's self-congratulatory middle class. He is at once their redeemer and their guarantee of self-worth. He must, therefore, be a singular genius: in the heaven of cricket, there must only be one God: Tendulkar. And so a copywriter's meaningless catchphrase becomes a cricketing statistic: a hundred international hundreds.
Cricket does have one one true God, who lives alone in his own private heaven; unluckily for desis, he isn't Tendulkar, He is the aforementioned Bradman. Everyone else, from Hobbs to Lara, is part of a supporting pantheon of demi-gods. Tendulkar is among the most distinguished of these but he isn't pre-eminent, not even in this second-echelon host.

He isn't even the greatest cricketer of his generation. Murali's career figures as a bowler are more extraordinary than Tendulkar's career figures as a batsman, and if you think Murali's action disqualifies him, Warne makes for a pretty good substitute. And yet, I don't remember (and neither do you) anyone even noticing their thousandth international wickets. That's because they didn't have a billion consuming customers at their backs who shared a nation with them.

I believe that Tendulkar has a substantial claim to being considered the greatest Test and one-day batsman of his generation. This is a very large achievement with which he (and we) must be content. We don't need gild this lily with trashy "statistics". To use "a hundred hundreds" to winch Tendulkar up onto a pedestal is to disrespect the great players he has played alongside. Consider Jacques Kallis, who after 16 years at the top has a Test batting average higher than Tendulkar's. He also has 271 Test wickets to Tendulkar's 45, and 169 catches to Tendulkar's 110. If I was a determined South African fan looking for numbers to prove that my man was the best, I could legitimately argue that you would need to merge Sachin Tendulkar with Zaheer Khan to come up with Jacques Kallis. Zaheer, India's best strike bowler for years, has 273 wickets, barely more than Kallis. Do these numbers bear out the claim that Kallis is the more significant player? No they don't, because greatness in cricket can't always be boiled down to numbers - which Tendulkar's cheerleaders would do well to remember. 

The most worrying thing of all is that the Little Master seems to have drunk his own KoolAid. For the last several innings he has looked weighed down by the pressure of this non-event. Someone should whisper in his ear that he is a great man, that this absurd quest is beneath him. If he does get a hundred the next time he plays a Test innings, he ought to see it as an oblique salute to Bradman, not an ersatz tribute to himself. There is no 100th hundred to be had: the whole, in this case, is less than the sum of its parts.

Mukul Kesavan is a novelist, essayist and historian based in New Delhi. This article was first published in the Kolkata Telegraph

Chasing the century

The idea that Sachin Tendulkar might be a fallible human like the rest of us doesn't sit well with many Indian fans. And so the wait for the milestone continues

Wright Thompson
March 14, 2012

EDISON, N.J. - Not long ago, a group of Indian expats gathered in a restaurant to discuss the continuing struggles of cricket star Sachin Tendulkar. The men could have been in India, so closely does Edison resemble a subcontinent city, or at least the upscale suburb of one. Strip malls line the main artery of Oak Tree Road, block after block of sweet shops and takeaway storefronts, family-owned businesses selling saris and butter chicken. (The word for butter in Hindi is "makhani", and makhani is deliciously all over the menus.)

The four friends sat at a back table. Between bites, wiping up curry gravy with rough torn edges of naan, they tried to make sense of the unfamiliar desert of failure in which Tendulkar finds himself stranded. He's been trying for his 100th international century, a quixotic journey that has taken him to three continents and consumed exactly a year and a day. He's got three, possibly four, chances at the Asia Cup, the biennial tournament between Asian nations currently underway at a sturdy and simple stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh. After that, he's unlikely to play international cricket again until September.

At the end of the table, with his back to the cavernous room, Atul Huckoo talks less and more softly than his three friends, but his words carry heft. He's a pot-bellied man with bright rings on his fingers, president of the local cricket club. He compared seeing the 39-year-old Tendulkar struggle with the hollowness of recently seeing a Bob Dylan concert and realising the man on stage looked like Dylan but wasn't. Not any more, just as the man struggling to do things that once seemed effortless cannot be Tendulkar. But something about that logic seems unfair to Huckoo. The reaction of so many Indian fans and reporters to the missing century has disturbed him.

"They have considered him a god," he said. "They're not ready to accept that he's a human being." Huckoo is close to several Indian cricket legends - when Sunil Gavaskar, a retired star whose place in India's history is comparable to Joe DiMaggio's place in America, visits the States, he hangs out with Huckoo - and he's brought Gavaskar into this very restaurant, seen the way people react to him. They genuflect. And that is what has been nagging him. He'd read about Gavaskar for his entire life. Seen him give interviews, soaked up biographies, talking with assumed knowledge about his career, and speculated about his motivations. Then Huckoo got to know the man. They became friends. And the person standing in his kitchen, or riding in his car through rush-hour traffic, was nothing like the celebrity he thought he knew. In a perfect bit of assimilation, Huckoo quoted Billy Joel to explain Sachin Tendulkar by way of Sunil Gavaskar. People, he said, have a face they hide from everyone but themselves.

"We perceive them as superhuman beings," he said. "They are human beings who are better than the rest in their craft."

"People forget this," one of his dinner companions said.
The myth overtaking the man
The struggle between Tendulkar's humanity and the natural desire of fans to strip him of it has always elevated his fame and subtly cheapened his achievements. He is so large on so many billboards, and has played with such automaton consistency, that it is easy to forget the man who carries his fears out onto the pitch. These two conflicting forces have pushed against each other in his life since reporters gathered with outstretched arms outside his high school exams.

"He lived up to the expectations," said Sambasivan Amarnath, sitting at the other end of Huckoo's back table. "From the age of 13, there were great expectations. India loves to make gods of people. He is cricket's equivalent of Gandhi."

Tendulkar was a boy wonder decades ago, and he became the country's first modern sporting celebrity. He has endorsed Pepsi and Coke. He's worn a fake beard as a disguise. He's driven his Ferrari in the middle of the night for a brief taste of freedom. His national importance is so great that he is protected by the Indian equivalent of the Secret Service. Election planners take into account his schedule; politicians know people are unlikely to vote when Sachin is batting. Once, when he failed to reach a century during the past year, a distraught fan killed himself (there were rumours of a huge gambling loss). And all these years, he's never been ensnared by scandal, or boasted about his wealth and power.

These layers of meaning are of utmost importance to the billion fans who follow Indian cricket. No figure in the game shoulders more symbolic power than Tendulkar, whose ascent to global stardom has mirrored India's own economic rise. Both Sachin and the concept of media-fuelled narrative are children of that rise; heroes and impossible expectations are the Cain and Abel of any society that bruises its way out of the pre-modern.

Through more than 20 years, his only real failure was the inability to lead India to a World Cup title. Then, 11 months ago, he achieved that, another storybook ending. It seems important to note here that, while this is slowly changing, a hallmark of Bollywood movies is white-hat saviours and black-hat villains, and crowds have actually set theatres on fire upon the introduction of gray. So the famous T-shirts that say "If cricket is religion, then Sachin is God" are more significant than if they were worn here in New Jersey.

After the World Cup was won, India stopped. Crowds of euphoric fans shut down the streets of Mumbai and other cities and towns. Pizza places stopped delivering. They couldn't get through the throngs. The most common spontaneous chant in Mumbai, echoing down the beautiful Marine Drive, was "Sachin! Sachin!"

There was nothing more to accomplish.

But there was. He finished the World Cup with 99 international centuries. For cricket neophytes, a century is when a player scores 100 runs in one at-bat. It is like a basketball player dropping 50 points in a game, but more prestigious. The drumbeat began in the press. Indians love statistics and symbolic displays of success. This was a perfect storm, managing to touch the soft underbelly of both national arrogance and insecurity: Wouldn't it be perfect if Sachin could get 100 hundreds? That's a number fitting for a god. Thus began a media-driven quest. The 100 comes from adding Test centuries and one-day centuries, which no one had ever thought to do before. It's not a real statistic, emerging organically like 56 or 61, but born full-grown by the narrative machine. Reaching this record, which wasn't really a record at all, could deliver the complete victory of the myth. An easy and fitting coronation, it seemed. The defining century shouldn't take long. He averaged one for every seven or eight times he went to bat.

He's tried 32 times since then. His last century happened 366 days ago.
Never-ending symbolism
The longer Tendulkar stays marooned on 99, the more anxiety spreads through the global Indian cricket community. This includes expat neighbourhoods and colleges in the US, where this story has been hiding in plain sight from the rest of us, dominating conversation at tables and in dorm rooms while never raising a peep in the papers. Atul Huckoo's three dinner companions host a local call-in radio show, and they've heard the anxiety creeping into the voices of their listeners, which grows with each failed attempt. "They want to know why," co-host Amit Godbole said.

A year ago from this chilly Monday, Tendulkar scored a century, his 98th, in a dramatic World Cup tie versus England. He got his 99th on March 12, against South Africa. The closest he's come to 100 since was in November, against West Indies, playing in Mumbai. The at-bat lasted two days. He inched closer, crossing 75 runs, then 80. The crowd chanted his name. At Rutgers University, around 1 am, new graduate student Bhavya Sharma's phone rang. Campuses, especially those with strong connections to India, are where the Tendulkar watch has been kept most closely in the US, as students explain to class-mates why so many Indians look like zombies in the morning. For reasons such as, say, a phone call from Sharma's dad in India.

"Are you watching?" he called into the phone.

She found the match on the internet. Tendulkar was on 90. He scored four more runs. Six to go. The bowler landed it short, the ball bouncing halfway up Tendulkar's chest. At the last split-second, Sachin opened the face of his bat just a little, and the ball sliced into the hands of a defender. Out on 94. He sighed, and as he reached the edge of the pitch, he looked around at the silent fans.

So many things are happening at once, and they have nothing to do with each other, except in the way that all things are connected. The growth rate is down. Inflation is up. The Indian cricket team is struggling. Its stars are fading. And not only is Tendulkar coming to the last act of his career, he is doing it in failure

Sharma turned off the game. Across town, a group of her friends did the same, heading for late-night food. It was Thanksgiving break, and the campus was empty and dark. It fit the mood. For these students' entire lives, everything stopped when Sachin came to bat. One student's grandmother won't let anyone in the house move positions. Another's mom refuses to cook as long until Tendulkar leaves the pitch. Everything stops until Sachin finishes. The past year has awakened people to the reality of Tendulkar finishing for good.

In the same way the 1950s symbolically died with Elvis, the first rush of hope created by the new Indian economy will end when Sachin retires. The next generation will be successful but lack some hard-to-define simplicity and earnestness. So many things are happening at once, and they have nothing to do with each other, except in the way that all things are connected. The growth rate is down. Inflation is up. The Indian cricket team is struggling. Its stars are fading. And not only is Tendulkar coming to the last act of his career, he is doing it in failure.

Listen to former Indian captain Dilip Vengsarkar. He told the Times of India on Jan. 7: "We might have left the best behind. We've been spoilt by success in the past 10-12 years. The big batting guns have long covered up other shortcomings but they are nearing the end. The increased dependence on Tendulkar after more than two decades is a sign of poverty."

What an odd choice of words to describe sporting failure.
Blaspheming his own legacy?
The critics have drawn their long swords.

Tendulkar has committed the great sin of being fallible. That's not good enough. Everyone has an opinion about not only his life but about the inner workings of his mind. Fans and former players are calling for him to retire from one-day cricket, saying his play and his cherry-picking events are damaging both the present and future of the Indian team. One paper called the past year a "terminal decline". The minority view that Tendulkar chases personal records instead of team wins, and that he crumbles under pressure, no matter how disproved by statistics, has gained tenuous traction.

"Maybe his time has come," a former Indian captain said.

"He has to go," said another.

"It's a monkey on his back, which is now a gorilla," said a former Indian star.

"After 50 runs," tweeted another, "Tendulkar battles the demons in his head."

Those demons, if they exist, are his alone. Team-mates say he hasn't mentioned the century, even in the safety of the dressing room. Sachin has said little to nothing publically about the close calls, offering a brief and contradictory interview to an Australian television station.

"It is easier said than done," he said. "It is just a number."

People can only wonder. They watch him eat lamb cutlets at his favourite curry house on Beaufort Street in Perth. They see him at a steakhouse in Adelaide called the Stag Hotel, where a DJ spins records on both levels. They follow him in the Sydney airport, Sachin smiling at the firing line of microphones and cameras, barrels bunched together, each attached to the outstretched arm of a reporter desperate for comment. They get none.

The rest of the Indian team walks through baggage claim with little fuss. They climb onto an idling bus. This year has been bad for all of them. The entire team was slumping, swept in a Test series by England, then by Australia. Back home, India was boiling, calling for heads, focusing frustration onto Sachin's personal quest, perhaps hoping this milestone, if achieved, would disinfect the rot of the past year. Or even offer a symbolic fresh start.
The beauty of failure
The ghost of an Australian named Don Bradman looms over all of this. Bradman was the greatest cricketer who ever lived. Millions watched his funeral on television. Even in life people deified him, just as they're doing to Sachin. His son, John Bradman, has spoken out against that worship. My father wasn't perfect, he likes to remind people. John struggled with his dad's legacy; for a period in the 1970s, he changed his last name, before accepting his fate and changing it back.

Bradman entered his last at-bat in 1948 needing just four runs to retire with a career average of 100. The crowd at a stadium in London stood to cheer its dangerous opponent, the rumble and roar raising goose flesh around the stadium. The legend - however much part of a creation myth - says that the reaction brought tears to the stern eyes of Bradman, and, his vision blurry, he was bowled out on the second ball. That last part isn't myth. The failure is real. He got out on the second ball and disappeared into the pavilion, his average forever 99.94 runs per game. Over the years, this number has turned into a sort of poem about the inevitability of human frailty, and the nature of the game itself.

Cricket is defined by failure. In one-day cricket, a batter gets a single at-bat (an innings). In Test cricket, he gets two. A great innings takes hours, even days, and one slip of concentration, one misread of spin or bad angle with the wrists or conspiring crack in the ground - anything - results in an out. With a game so dominated by failure, it's seen as appropriate that the greatest career ended with it, as a warning against the hubris of future generations. Men come and go. The game always wins.
The last days of an epoch
The streets lay cold and empty at half past two in the morning. Suhrith Parthasarathy walked up Broadway, crossed 115th Street, arriving at the stone gates of Columbia University. As a child in India, he and his grandfather woke up at 5:30 in the morning to see matches from Australia, catching a few hours before school. Now a graduate student, he swiped his card and headed to Room 504C of the journalism school, where the window looks out at a bare tree in a tight quad, backed by the soaring glass walls of the library. Tendulkar was about to bat on this Monday night two weeks ago. Suhrith found the feed on the internet and logged into Twitter, joining in a global community.

"Everybody wants him to get it," he sighed, "so they can bloody well go on about their lives."

At Suhrith's home stadium in Chennai, he's seen a few Tendulkar centuries, including a famous 136 in a losing effort against Pakistan. A friend who grew up in Dubai found Suhrith in 504C and pulled up a chair. Hiten Samtani has also seen Sachin centuries in person, including two of the most famous. In April 1998, against Australia, India needed a miracle to stay alive in the Coca-Cola Cup. Before Sachin took the pitch, he told his coach: "Don't worry. I'll be there till the end." Sachin finished with 143 and led India into the finals. Two days later, on his 25th birthday, he took India to a win against Australia, scoring 134. The television announcer said, 14 years ago, "This little man is the nearest thing to Bradman there's ever been."

In the room at Columbia, the monitor glowing green from the pitch, Hiten remembered those long-ago days. "There were no physical constraints on what he could do," he said. "He could do anything." That night, Sachin reached 39 runs and then got his feet tangled, blocking a ball bound for his wicket with his leg. Out! Hiten sighed. Suhrith rubbed his hands over his face. They switched off the computer and headed back out into the cold. For two days, they thought this would be Sachin's last chance until September. Then news broke about the line-up for the Asia Cup, stunning the experts. The Indian cricket board had chosen Tendulkar. An important detail soon emerged:

Sachin spoke to the selectors himself.
A fleeting triumph over myth
He might never make it to 100.

However unlikely, there exists the possibility that the Asia Cup will come and go, and then the next series, then another, with no century. Tendulkar is expected to play Test cricket for a few more years, which means he'll get chance after chance. But what if he fails? A cricket writer in England, Jon Hotten, argued that, as there is beauty in Bradman's 99.94, there would be a similar beauty if Tendulkar retired on 99. "It will contain in it this kernel of romance," Hotten said. "He didn't quite get the hundred hundreds, because no human being should be able to do that."

Like Bradman's 99.94 career average, the 99 would be a poem about humanity, and failure, and about the nature of Tendulkar's career. Because the interesting thing about the past 366 days isn't simply that he's failed over and over again, but that he's kept trying under such global scrutiny. This seems like a final siege of expectation in a career flanked by it, the final struggle between the reality and the myth. What could be a more fitting coda?

When you look back, it is not his unapproachable statistics that draw the most admiration, but that he managed them with a billion people on his shoulders. He's almost at the end, and the final test isn't of his sporting ability, but of something deeper. "Tendulkar's greatest achievement," Hotten said, "is he's resisted the mad circus that's around him. Tiger Woods, for example, it's obviously driven him crazy in some respect. This has happened so many times with people you attach the label of genius to. I don't know how Tendulkar has remained sane. In a way that will end up being the biggest mystery of all: How did he survive it?"

Indian fans wait for the elusive 100th century by Sachin Tendulkar, India v West Indies, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 4th day, November 25, 2011
The last year has been tough for fans of Indian cricket © AFP
Tendulkar is a closed book. He smiles and walks to the centre of the pitch. His play suggests he is bending under the weight, but he'll never admit it. Nobody knows how he feels about the century. Bradman, for instance, never mentioned his career average in a lifetime of correspondence with the dean of English cricket writers, David Frith. There are all sorts of grievances and private insecurities in Bradman's crowded, upright hand. But not a word about the failure that came to define his success.
What does Tendulkar think about the quest? He cares enough to keep chasing it, but maybe the media and the ex-players and the manic fans are missing the point. Scoring the century doesn't define his career, but the chasing of it does, the willingness to risk failing for the chance of success. 

In the past year, Sachin hasn't blasphemed his career. He has reaffirmed it. The failure to achieve this one thing opens a rare window into the cost of all that's been achieved already, and elevates, for a moment, the attempt above the result. 

The sacred journey is a familiar idea in his family. His father, a poet named Ramesh Tendulkar, often explored the theme that life is about the hard work of travelling, not the easy peace of arrival. Once he wrote these words, which now speak for his silent ageing son: A road leads to many other roads. But legs do not get extra legs; As a result one has to walk the same road again and again as there is no other solution.

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for, where this article was first published

Damn the 100th || Harsha Bhogle

Why don't we all just give it a rest and enjoy Tendulkar, and the sport, while we can?

March 16, 2012

I don't know how you feel but increasingly I find my love for cricket assaulted from all directions. I feel it has been kidnapped, bundled into the boot of a car and dropped off in an area with no phone signal. We fret, we are obsessed with landmarks, we build conspiracy theories, we get angry, and I wonder: What happened to the simple joy of watching cricket? What happened to the reason we were drawn to this great game?
I've come to the stage where I have told myself, "Damn that 100th". It is a great milestone and no one else is going to get there, but we don't watch a game merely for a milestone. We watch sport for the joy of seeing great performances from elite sportsmen, sometimes riveting ones from those less skilled. We watch it as the greatest display of emotion and skill on a public platform. We want to marvel, rub our eyes in disbelief, occasionally grieve but be aware that tomorrow is still ours. We want to feel blessed for being allowed to sit in on such contests. 

And then numbers happen. They are good tools for comparison (though not always), but they are by-products of performance. If we watch sport for numbers, we watch it for the wrong reason. You can count numbers anywhere, generate statistics anywhere - the largest set of people to collectively leave Mumbai's CST station on a Thursday, for example; or the percentage of unemployed every January since 1901. Don't get me wrong, collecting numbers is not bad - as I said, you often get good insights from them - but obsessing over them is a poor reason to watch sport.

This obsession with Tendulkar's 100th isn't affecting only him, it is affecting us even more. Suddenly we have lost all objectivity, become unaware of the presence of other players (thankfully the Dravid retirement got the place it deserved), forgotten that cricket is a contest between 22. And now I'm bored by it all and fed up with the angst over it. If Kohli and Gambhir make fine hundreds, I don't want to see or read of Tendulkar's innings first and theirs as a filler.

Sadly Tendulkar is also a financial instrument. Yes, he makes very serious money out of the game but people make just as much out of him. Ad revenues go up, so do attendances when he plays, but just as important, supplements and special programmes sell. Praising him sells and criticising him does, and so, whether he wants it or not, whether he needs to be or not, Tendulkar must feature in the news, on specials, in features. If there is no Tendulkar story, we must create one.

So I say, damn that 100th. Let us enjoy watching a supreme exponent of the game while we can; let us revel in being part of the journey, let us gasp at the cover drive one more time, for Tendulkar, at 39, is playing his endgame. Let's bring back the little joys for as long as possible. If the 100th happens, we'll celebrate a great achievement but if it doesn't, he won't become a lesser player.

Then there are these debates; endless spewings of venom, factories of anger. If an Australian player mutters something as he passes, or makes a gesture, a half hour is devoted to Indians being wronged. If Greg Chappell says something we don't like, another orgy of temper, trembling voices lamenting an attack on India's pride. We scream of racism. One person called Chappell a "pathological case". (I hope he knew what that means, for I don't.) Anger, anger everywhere. Sport was meant to be uplifting but I wonder if that doesn't sell enough on a daily half-hour slot.

I recently did four Test matches in Australia for ABC Radio and it was like being transported to my childhood. There was laughter and joy, good words to describe good shots. Cricket was the theme of happy conversation and every morning I got up excited about trying to be a friend to all those who couldn't be at the ground. I was back, living with the simple joy of watching cricket. And tell me honestly, isn't that what you really want? 

So I say, damn that 100th, turn off the anger, put the conspiracy theories where they belong, and ask yourself why you really watch cricket.

In a league of one ||

Sachin Tendulkar has scored 29 more international centuries than the second-highest tally; it's a mark that is unlikely to be equalled
March 16, 2012

Finally, in his 34th innings after getting his 99th international century, Sachin Tendulkar has reached the milestone which is unlikely to ever be emulated. A century of centuries would have probably never even entered the realms of the achievable for any other cricketer, for so many things needed to fall into place for a batsman to get to that mark. For a start, it required a batsman to be highly skilled in both forms of the game, and in all sorts of conditions. Then, he needed to open the batting in ODIs, for that offers by far the best chance to notch up hundreds in that format. And, of course, it required top-class fitness levels and single-minded focus to achieve the kind of longevity required for a milestone of this nature. 

Tendulkar has ticked all those boxes, and then some, scoring runs against all oppositions, in all conditions, in both forms of the game, and over a prolonged period of time. His last two away series, in England and Australia, were terribly disappointing, but those are still little more than a blip when seen in the context of his entire career. Overall, through his 22 years of international cricket, Tendulkar has maintained amazingly high standards. As Daniel Vettori once said: "He has been in form longer than some of our guys have been alive."

What is surprising, though, is that it took Tendulkar 34 innings to move from 99 to 100 centuries, especially since he was in such scintillating form from the beginning of 2008 till the 2011 World Cup. During that period, he averaged 65.21 in Tests, 52.41 in ODIs, and had struck a mindboggling 21 hundreds in 104 innings. During this period, no other batsman had scored as many hundreds: Ricky Ponting had 11 in 147, and Jacques Kallis 13 in 113. 

Given the form Tendulkar was in at that point, the 100th century was expected to be a formality. Over the last year, it's been anything but a formality. Till this innings against Bangladesh, he'd gone 33 innings without a century, just one short of the most innings he's gone without an international hundred: in 2007, he went 34 innings without one. However, in those 34 innings in 2007, Tendulkar had averaged 47.24, with 15 fifties, including three 99s and four more scores in the 90s. In these 33 innings, though, he's averaged only 32.87, with eight fifties. 

Despite taking so long over his 100th, Tendulkar still needed only 65 innings to score his last ten hundreds, which is among his better conversion rates. The passage when he was at his most prolific was between his 31st and 40th hundreds, when he needed only 36 innings. In fact, his 14 centuries from the 27th to the 40th took a mere 50 innings, an average of 3.57 innings per hundred.

On the other hand, one of his worst periods - in terms of scoring centuries - was between 2005 and 2007, when he needed all of 130 innings to move from his 71st to his 80th international hundred. During this period, he averaged 46.46 in 34 Tests, and 42.20 in ODIs. The averages aren't poor, but what hurt his hundreds tally during this period was his conversion - he went past fifty 43 times, but only converted ten of those into centuries. The only period when his conversion was even poorer was right at the beginning of his career, when he took 132 innings to score his first ten, largely because he didn't open the batting in ODIs during much of that period. 

Tendulkar's progression to 100 hundreds
Landmark Innings Tests - 100s/ innings ODIs - 100s/ innings When
First 10 hundreds 132 7/ 45 3/ 87 November, 1994
11-20 67 3/ 23 7/ 44 December, 1996
21-30 74 6/ 24 4/ 50 April, 1998
31-40 36 3/ 13 7/ 23 February, 1999
41-50 67 5/ 20 5/ 47 November, 2000
51-60 51 5/ 24 5/ 27 April, 2002
61-70 78 4/ 32 6/ 46 March, 2004
71-80 130 6/ 56 4/ 73 January, 2008
81-90 63 6/ 31 4/ 32 January, 2010
91-100 65 6/ 43 4/ 22 March, 2012

Among the top sides, it's clear that Australia has been his favourite. A fifth of his centuries have been scored against them, at a rate of one every 6.85 innings. Some of his most memorable hundreds have come against them, be it the two in Sharjah in 1998, or the Test match centuries in Perth, Melbourne and Chennai. Australia is the only side against whom Tendulkar has scored ten or more hundreds in a single form of the game, and his ratio of innings per hundred against them is superior to that against most of the other top sides.

The other top team against which Tendulkar has been almost as successful in terms of notching up hundreds is Sri Lanka. Those are the only sides against which his ratio is less than seven innings per century.
The team that has made Tendulkar work the hardest for his hundreds is Pakistan - in 93 innings, he has only managed seven, which is his worst innings-per-hundred ratio: 13.29. A part of his problem against them has been his inability to convert half-centuries into hundreds - he has converted two out of nine 50-plus scores in Tests, and five out of 20 in ODIs. South Africa is the other team against which Tendulkar has a relatively low average - 42.46 in Tests and 35.73 in ODIs - but his conversion rate against them is excellent: seven centuries in 45 innings in Tests, and five in 58 in ODIs.

Tendulkar has not played that much against the lesser sides, but he has made those innings count, scoring 19 centuries in 77 innings against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Kenya and Namibia - an average of one every 4.05 innings. Against Bangladesh, he has scored a century in Tests every time he has gone past 50. Before his 100th hundred, though, Tendulkar had not scored an ODI hundred against them. Among the teams he has played against, the only ones he has not scored a century against are Bermuda, Ireland, Netherlands and UAE, which means he has a century in Tests and ODIs against every Full Member.

Tendulkar's centuries v each team
Opposition Innings 100s Inng per 100 Tests - inng/100 ODIs - inng/100
Australia 137 20 6.85 67/ 11 70/ 9
Sri Lanka 116 17 6.82 36/ 9 80/ 8
South Africa 103* 12 8.58 45/ 7 57/ 5
England 84 9 9.33 47/ 7 37/ 2
New Zealand 77 9 8.56 36/ 4 41/ 5
Zimbabwe 47 8 5.88 14/ 3 33/ 5
West Indies 69 7 9.86 30/ 3 39/ 4
Pakistan 93 7 13.29 27/ 2 66/ 5
Bangladesh 20 6 3.33 9/ 5 11/ 1
Kenya 9 4 2.25 - 9/ 4
Namibia 1 1 1.00 - 1/ 1
* Includes his Twenty20 international innings in Johannesburg in December 2006

Tendulkar does not score enough hundreds in wins, goes the popular refrain. It's a claim that has been strengthened by some of his recent centuries: on the tour to South Africa in 2010-11, Tendulkar scored hundreds in two out of three Tests, but India won the game in which he didn't score one. In the World Cup that followed, India tied and lost the two matches in which he scored hundreds. And then, of course, there was the 100th hundred itself, which resulted in India's first ODI defeat against Bangladesh in five years. That means none of Tendulkar's last five international hundreds have resulted in victories.

Overall, though, 53 of his hundreds have come in wins, and 25 in defeats. Of those 25, eleven have been in Tests, but that's only reflective of the fact that in difficult conditions he has often fought a lone battle with very little support from the rest of the batsmen.

What is true, however, is that only one batsman has scored more hundreds in wins in international cricket - Ponting has 55, and sits at the top of the table. Tendulkar is next on 53 - they were level on 53 before India's tour of Australia - while the next best is Kallis on 33. Tendulkar has also scored 24 hundreds in losses, which is well ahead of Brian Lara's 17. Overall, Tendulkar's innings per hundred in wins is about half that ratio in defeats. 

Tendulkar's hundreds, and the match results
Result Innings 100s Inng per 100 Tests - inng/100 ODIs - inng/100
Won 331 53 6.25 100/ 20 230/ 33
Lost 308 25 12.32 108/ 11 200/ 14
Drawn 103 20 5.15 103/ 20 -
Tied 5 1 5.00 - 5/ 1
No result 16 1 16.00 - 16/ 1

The wait for Tendulkar's 100th century lasted more than a year and included 33 fruitless attempts, but despite that he still averages a hundred every 7.63 innings, which is the best rate among batsmen with at least 40 hundreds. Matthew Hayden is next with a rate of 8.70, while Ponting, Lara and Kallis are closely bunched together at marginally less than ten innings per century. Tendulkar, though, has maintained that rate over 22 years, and 750-plus innings. It's a mark that will almost certainly never be touched by any other international batsman.
Batsmen with 40-plus international 100s
Batsman Innings 100s Inng per 100
Sachin Tendulkar 763 100 7.63
Matthew Hayden 348 40 8.70
Ricky Ponting 657 71 9.25
Jacques Kallis 579 59 9.81
Brian Lara 521 53 9.83
Kumar Sangakkara 516 41 12.59
Rahul Dravid 605 48 12.60
Mahela Jayawardene 598 45 13.29
Sanath Jayasuriya 651 42 15.50