“Such was a nation’s collective sense of relief and release, it seemed almost incidental that his 100th international hundred came in a match India would contrive to lose. The search for this statistical nirvana – and the ballyhoo which had accompanied almost every innings since the 99th, against South Africa during the 2011 World Cup – slowed Tendulkar down late on and, with the Bangladeshi bowlers keeping the big hitters quiet at the end, India’s final total was imposing rather than impossible.”
That is the Wisden Almanack’s account of the final century that Sachin Tendulkar made, in Dhaka five years ago today. It was not an innings that would make any Tendulkar highlights reel, and as such, it’s tempting to look at the near misses, some of them classics, that might have taken its place.
90 v England, Bangalore, 2001
This was chess on a cricket pitch. Rain on the final two days would reduce this match to a footnote in the history books, but the contest between Tendulkar and England was gripping. “As a hard-fought series petered out, the depression clung not just over the Bay of Bengal but also over the England dressing-room,” said the Almanack.
“A chief source of that depression was the criticism of their negative bowling tactics against Tendulkar, apparent throughout the series, but here employed more bloody-mindedly than ever. The unedifying spectacle of Flintoff and, in particular, Giles aiming outside Tendulkar’s leg stump left both Hussain and Duncan Fletcher unrepentant and, in Hussain’s case, resentful that an inexperienced team’s attempts to compete in alien conditions had not been given unreserved support.”
Tendulkar batted more than four hours for his 90 before giving Ashley Giles the charge and being stumped for the only time in his Test career.
98 v Pakistan, Centurion, 2003
In an interview a few months after this game, Tendulkar told me that he had barely slept in the fortnight leading up to it. But when the time came to chase a daunting 274 for victory in the most eagerly awaited match of the tournament, there was no trace of drowsiness in the Tendulkar approach. He struck 12 fours and one astounding six off Shoaib Akhtar over third man in a 75-ball 98 that provided the early impetus for an emphatic victory.
“Sachin Tendulkar has produced the most astonishing innings seen in 50-over cricket since the matches began,” wrote the late Peter Roebuck in The Sydney Morning Herald. “His breathtaking assault on a furious Pakistani attack brought thousands of spectators to their feet, waving, chanting and roaring themselves hoarse. Tendulkar was blistering and monumental, ruthlessly attacking off both feet and on both sides of the wicket.”
95 v Pakistan, Lahore, 2006
This was a very different innings from the Centurion masterpiece. For one, Tendulkar – after the ‘Endulkar?’ headlines at the end of the Test series – was still working his way back to form, and struggling with a shoulder problem that would require surgery three months later. And on a helpful surface, Mohammad Asif was darting the ball this way and that, and with India slipping to 12 for 2, it needed Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid to show all the nous accumulated over the years to lead India to relative safety.
“Even Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, with a haughty 79, were upstaged by 95 of the best from Tendulkar,” wrote Osman Samiuddin in the Almanack. “Early on, he played the ball, left it and was beaten in roughly equal measures as he swatted at the seam movement of Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul; inevitably and impeccably, he opened up later.”
91 v England, Nottingham, 2007
A match remembered for Zaheer Khan and his reaction to jellybeans also saw Tendulkar and the middle order – thought to be past it after the first Test at Lord’s – play a decisive role. Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer gave India the perfect start in reply to England’s 198, but it was Tendulkar that drove home the advantage. He wasn’t always fluent, and he had to survive a tremendous spell from Ryan Sidebottom on the third morning, but with the hard work done, a century was there for the taking until Simon Taufel intervened.
Tendulkar came down the pitch to Paul Collingwood and then opted to play no stroke, taking the ball on the bat. Collingwood and Matt Prior put in a big appeal, and after an interminable pause, Taufel’s finger went up. Even with the naked eye, it didn’t look out, and Hawk-Eye merely confirmed that it would have missed the off stump by a distance.
98 v Australia, Mohali, 2010
This was a massively important innings in the context of the two-match series. Australia had the runs on the board (428) and India had VVS Laxman batting at No. 10 because of a dodgy back. Having tormented Australian bowlers for nearly two decades, Tendulkar focused his energies on a new generation. There were a couple of gorgeous cover drives off Ben Hifenhaus and another off Doug Bollinger, and he dusted off a variety of sweeps against Nathan Hauritz. But best of all was a delicate late cut off Hilfenhaus that sped to the rope.
Test century No. 49 was a stroke away when he shuffled across the crease to the part-time offspin of Marcus North and was struck in front. India would stumble, concede a 23-run lead and then require the genius of a near-crippled Laxman to see them to a two-wicket win that saw no nails left unbitten.
94 v West Indies, Mumbai, 2011
This was the last time Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman played together in a home Test. The series may have been lost, but West Indies had stroked their way to an imposing 590 in search of a face-saving win. Tendulkar played with some of the freedom of old, including two upper-cut sixes off Fidel Edwards, but it was one of his favourite strokes that was to be his undoing.
From the time he was a teenager wowing crowds in New Zealand, England and Australia, the back-foot punch through the covers had been one of the signature Tendulkar strokes. In front of his home crowd, and just a big hit away from the 100th hundred, Tendulkar tried to force Ravi Rampaul away. But instead of speeding away off the middle of the bat, the ball took the edge and rocketed to second slip, where Darren Sammy made a difficult catch look ridiculously easy. Tendulkar grimaced, looked at the edge of the bat that had betrayed him, and walked off to a soundtrack of sullen silence that was eventually replaced by sustained applause.