Tendulkar’s 100th century burned in Bangladeshi blaze
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Is Sachin Tendulkar the greatest batsman ever? AAP Image/Paul Miller
Sachin Tendulkar finally dispensed with one of the sports media’s most annoying obsessions last night, as he ended a year-long wait for his 100th international century.
All summer, Australia’s cricketers had joked that they would love to see Tendulkar achieve the feat against Bangladesh. In the end he did just that, with a steady 114 in India’s second Asia Cup match in Dhaka last night.
Far from a meaningless smashing of top-flight cricket’s weakest team, though, the night ended in elation, as Bangladesh pulled off their country’s second-highest run chase to win in the final over and send home fans into delirium.
5/293 was reached with four balls to spare, chasing India’s 289. As with any number of Tendulkar’s achievements, his efforts ended up in a losing cause.
The hundred hundreds is, of course, a bogus milestone – an arbitrary addition of Tendulkar’s 51 Test centuries to an ODI tally that now stands at 49. But it had been talked about for so long that it had become real, a cricketing deity’s version of the word made flesh.
And however arbitrary the yardstick, it is well worth reflecting on the enormity of the man’s achievements over his 23 years at the top level. Former fast bowler Paul Reiffel made his Test debut after Tendulkar. Last night Reiffel watched Tendulkar’s hundred as an umpire.
His fans aside, Tendulkar has many critics who try to talk down his achievements. This milestone will be written off because it was reached against Bangladesh.
Aside from being an insult to a team whose subcontinental bowling has improved drastically in recent years, it is worth mentioning that Tendulkar’s previous 48 ODI hundreds were all scored against nations that were not Bangladesh.
Yes, this was indeed his first against India’s neighbours, to go with two half centuries. Only last night did Tendulkar complete the record of having scored Test and ODI centuries against every other Test nation.
Australia has fared worst over the years, conceding nine ODI hundreds to the Little Master, while Sri Lanka has given up eight.
It is also worth noting that while Tendulkar holds the record in both formats for most international appearances, a grand total of 12 of his 462 one-dayers have come against Bangladesh, and just seven of his 188 Tests.
All of which is rather at odds with the tiresome assertions of Tendulkar’s detractors, that his run-scoring and overall record are bulked up against weak opposition.
Last night’s was not an inning for the ages. It was a straightforward, pragmatic, effort, concentrating hard each ball and working the gaps, with a few early boundaries becoming more occasional through the middle of the innings.
A couple of tired slogs to the rope tried to lift the rate late in the piece, before he was caught behind in the 47th over.
Criticism will also come at the pace of the innings, with 114 runs from 147 balls. As he tended to do all summer, Tendulkar tensed up and slowed down as his score reached the 80s. Clearly the non-milestone has bothered him, more as a source of annoyance than an idea that it is inherently significant.
“I was not thinking about the milestone, the media started all this,” he said during the innings break. “Wherever I went, the restaurant, room service, everyone was talking about the 100th hundred. Nobody talked about my 99 hundreds.”
His caution was enough to see the monkey finally and fully prised free, and perhaps we will see a more relaxed Tendulkar from here. To blame India’s loss on that caution is to nominate oneself as a hindsight genius. A century at a strike rate of 77 is an enviable core around which to build a total, and 289 was certainly defendable.
In the end, there shouldn’t be too much focus on this innings. It’s not the hundredth century itself that is the achievement. It’s the completion of the set. The longevity and intense productivity of this batsman is unprecedented, and his exploits should be viewed from 1989 to now, in the manner of Kurt Vonnegut’s idea of time as the Rocky Mountain range.
More important than an arbitrary statistic is that last night saw a victory for Bangladesh, a side that was never supposed to beat India, and whose Asia Cup hopes are very much alive.
Mashrafe Mortaza put injury-blighted years behind him, yielding economy and key wickets. Tamim Iqbal buckled down for a foundation-stone 70 from 99.
Jahurul Islam and Nasir Hossain contributed fifities to move within striking range, while Shakib al-Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim had the cool heads and clean striking to turn a requirement of 134 from 97 balls into a win with four balls to spare.
When Tendulkar started playing international cricket, the idea of Bangladesh’s involvement was as distant as a player scoring a hundred tons. That Bangladesh last night had the belief and poise to so coolly run down the World Cup champions showed how far things have come.
It was cricket in microcosm: the size and the substance of the characters within the game, the complexity of the plot, and the eventual realisation that no matter how big the hype, or how substantial the individual contribution, the game goes on, and the game is bigger than any of it.
Geoff Lemon is a writer and radio broadcaster. He joined The Roar as an expert columnist in 2010, writes the satirical blog Heathen Scripture, and tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.