By Syed Khalid Mahmood
It was Sachin Tendulkar’s 41st Test hundred. The great man has played many outstanding innings in his long and illustrious career nearing two decades now. But I don’t think any of his past knocks could match the greatness of one he played at the M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on the fifth and final day of the first Test against England.
Nothing succeeds like success. Tendulkar has thoroughly deserved all the records having come his way but a match-winning innings had become long overdue from him. He rose to the occasion to lead India to victory while chasing a mammoth target of 387 on a wearing pitch.
It was the kind of dominating innings that must have pleased his fans immensely all over the world. He has a global fan following and there had always been an air of disappointment whenever he perished without accomplishing the task.
What an innings he played. He was in total control of the situation from the moment he set his feet at the ground. It was not the best of starts for India on the final day with Rahul Dravid, who has been the architect of so many famous victories recorded by India in the recent past, falling cheaply for the second time in the match.
The M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai had witnessed Tendulkar play a couple of fabulous innings in the past as well. His knock of 155 against an Australian attack having Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in the series-decider was a truly an outstanding effort. His magnificent century against Pakistan in the 1998-99 series has also been talked of very highly even though it came in a lost cause.
But the century he has scored against England surpasses all his previous accomplishments. India needed him to fire to be able to chase a target of the magnitude of 387, a feat never achieved before.
He was involved in three productive partnerships all of which had their significance in setting up the win for India. First he was associated in a third wicket stand with opener Gautam Gambhir that kept the momentum going even after the early departure of Dravid.
VVS Laxman joined Tendulkar when Gambhir was dismissed. The England bowlers were looking threatening but neither Tendulkar nor Laxman got bogged down. Their attacking instincts kept the scoreboard moving which ensured that the asking rate never became an issue.
The real test for Tendulkar came, however, when Laxman left the scene very early in the afternoon session. It was the fourth wicket to fall and India were still 163 runs away from their target.
In came Yuvraj Singh, known more for his flamboyance than patience. The presence of an assured Tendulkar at the other end allowed Yuvraj to play his natural game that prevented England from applying the pressure.
Tendulkar was as solid as a rock but he never went into a shell. The boundaries did not come all that regularly with Kevin Pietersen deploying defensive fields but the strike was rotated once too often to unsettle the bowlers.
Tendulkar played some crisp strokes off his legs without taking chances. He was equally fluent in driving anything pitched outside his off-stump. He did also take the aerial route once or twice but they were calculated risks and didn’t do any damage.
The smile on the face of Tendulkar after hitting the boundary that brought up his 41st Test hundred said it all. Most importantly it was also the stroke that took India to a famous victory.
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