For several weeks two things kept the entire country on tenterhooks: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s first baby and Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th century. Be that as it may, Beti B’s much-heralded arrival in the world leaves Tendulkar’s elusive 100th century the single most discussed issue across not just the country, but the entire cricket world. Why hasn’t he got to the landmark yet? Will he get the century in Australia, or is it going to become one of the great hard-luck stories of sport?
Intrinsically—and historically—a batsman’s century has been arguably the most cherished aspect in the sport. The milestones and achievements of bowlers and fielders somehow pale in comparison, and that has not changed with time. The exploits of Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath have not commanded the same public adulation and critical appreciation as, say, those of Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting—much as Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton dominated Ray Lindwall, Alec Bedser, etc.
Under watch: Sachin Tendulkar. By Rafiq Maqbool/AP
That said, a century is a fascinating milestone even if five wickets in an innings or 10 wickets in a match for a bowler is no less significant in terms of skill, and perhaps even more in terms of a result. For instance, several bowlers compete for the spoils, but all frontline batsmen can hope to make a century.
Not all do, of course, and only the most technically skilled, with superb stamina, temperament and desire, achieve the three-figure mark frequently. Of course, how these centuries are scored, and their worth to the team, are defined by the batsman’s personality, the conditions and the opposition. In all these aspects, Tendulkar is a top-notcher beyond doubt. Considering that he already has 99 centuries (none of his contemporaries is within hand-shaking distance of this mark), the clamour for his 100th must seem a trifle misplaced, if not downright banal.
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The landmark itself is somewhat contrived in the context of the sport; a mix of apples and oranges, as it were, because the total includes centuries made in Tests as well as One Day Internationals (ODIs). This, apart from the fact that modern cricketers play far more matches than did players, say, half a century earlier, for ODIs did not exist prior to 1970-71.
The next step could well be to add centuries made in Twenty20 (or some other format that may spring up) to a player’s tally, which will skew achievement and debate further. For argument’s sake, should a footballer’s goals made in nine-a-side or six-a-side also be seen in the same perspective as goals scored in the regular format? It almost sounds puerile, if not downright ridiculous.
At best, the 100th century is an interesting milestone in the life of a great cricketer, not the defining attribute of his greatness. But that discounts Tendulkar’s impress on the Indian psyche ever since he made his international debut at age 16, 22 years ago. His charisma has since grown to the extent that he has now been ascribed with near-superhuman qualities and has assumed the dimensions of some mythical figure. Consequently, the wait for his 100th century, which began as a ripple during the World Cup earlier this year, has become a tsunami where public expectation is concerned. This obviously flies in the face of good sense, but logic is always a casualty in blind hero worship. That he has been able to retain his equanimity is a tribute to Tendulkar’s temperament. It would be fair to say too that he has shown less anxiety and urgency in getting to this century than have fans and the media.
Former batsmen like Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar have argued that he should have played the current ODI series to get the century—and the monkey off his back. But had he been just greedy, as some are wont to argue, Tendulkar would not have skipped the tour of the West Indies after the Indian Premier League or agreed not to play the ongoing ODI series against the same opponents.
This does not mean that Tendulkar does not want the 100th century—or is not feeling the pressure of not having got it. Going by his career pattern, this is among the longest barren periods he has had in scoring a century. He also has a couple of scores in the Nervous Nineties—a self-explanatory phrase about a batsman’s frame of mind—in recent matches, apart from a few half-centuries, which in other circumstances he would have taken easily to the three-figure mark.
I understand that Ladbrokes, the English betting company, has reported a huge number of wagers already on whether Tendulkar will reach the landmark in Australia when the Indian team travels to Down Under later this month. Early indications are that the odds are ranged against him getting to the 100th on this tour, though this could go topsy-turvy if he shows good early form.
My own belief is that there is nothing in his current form to suggest that Tendulkar has hit a trough. Even in England, where he didn’t score too many runs, his feet were moving well and his timing was quite superb when his stay in the middle was not brief. I reckon that bettors on Ladbrokes are being a tad pessimistic. But this is a strange game and, sometimes, a slice of luck helps too.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at firstname.lastname@example.org