Timely ton gets Tendulkar in the groove heading into England series
13:05 GMT, 2 November 2012
13:05 GMT, 2 November 2012
If there really is a gap between Sachin Tendulkar’s bat and front pad, it wasn’t immediately obvious at the Wankhede on Friday.
Of all the questions currently swirling around India’s Test batting line-up – and there are several – the state of Tendulkar’s reflexes is, as they say, right up there.
Everyone has a different take on the likely date of his retirement: some say he will go after the second Test against England here in Mumbai, his home town; others reckon he’ll wait until the end of the series; a few scoff at the idea that he’ll do anything other than impersonate Ol’ Man River. This is, after all, his fourth decade as an international cricketer and all-Indian phenomenon.
Back in the groove: Tendulkar was in action at the Wankhede on Friday
One wag suggested his dream was to bat in a Test match with his son Arjun. Arjun is 13.
But whenever Doomsday arrives, there is general agreement about the fact that he could do with some runs. He was bowled three times out of three during India’s most recent home Test series by New Zealand’s seamers – who are handy, but not devastating – then endured a horrible Champions Trophy with Mumbai Indians in South Africa.
Cricketers who have been operating since the 1980s are allowed the occasional dip in form. But Tendulkar is now 39, the age at which most cricketers are ex-cricketers. And he is, well, Tendulkar.
So when he walked out to bat at 1.19pm local time for Mumbai against Railways on the first day of the new Ranji Trophy season – India’s first-class competition – it’s fair to say that there was more than the usual interest.
Legend: Tendulkar is idolised in India
The clues that his Mumbai side had won the toss came at the stadium gates, where spectators queued in the treacherous hope of a couple of early wickets for the Railways bowlers.
In the event, they had to wait nearly four hours for the star attraction, including a tantalising moment 10 minutes before lunch when Mumbai’s second wicket fell, and out walked… Rohit Sharma. Taking it easy in his first Ranji game for three years, Tendulkar had decided to go in at No 5.
Then, nearly 40 minutes after the break, Sharma was run out chancing a quick single, and the thousand or so spectators concentrated almost exclusively in the Vijay Merchant Pavilion rose to acclaim a player they have evidently not tired of watching.
Tendulkar rotated his neck, widened his eyes to take in the light, jogged on the spot, brushed away a couple of blemishes on the pitch – real or imagined – and calmly defended his first ball, from left-arm spinner Murali Kartik.
Still going strong: Tendulkar is set to face England at the ripe old age of 39
Only Tendulkar could have earned a round of applause for such mundanity. Perhaps it was borne of relief. Yet it turned out there was little reason to be worried.
As well as scoring an unfeasible amount of runs for India, Tendulkar has husbanded an impressive first-class record for Mumbai: 3,865 runs before Friday at an average of 89, with 16 hundreds.
And soon he was off again, tucking his sixth ball, from left-arm seamer Hardik Rathod, off his hip for two, pinching a quick single here and there in the V, then crashing Anureet Singh’s right-arm seam through point for his first boundary. It had taken him 39 minutes – and the crowd evidently thought it was worth the wait.
After that – and a fortuitous Chinese cut to the fine-leg fence off Rathod – Tendulkar started to play his shots against the Railways spinners, lofting Ashish Yadav’s slow left-armers over mid-on for four, then easing a full-toss down the ground next ball for four more.
Easy does it: There was an air of inevitability about Tendulkar's ton
Shortly before tea, he got into position for the slog-sweep, and deposited Shivkant Shukla over long-on for six. At the break, he had 40 from 58 balls, and was beginning to look the part.
What followed in the final session was writ through with a strange inevitability. Warming to his theme, Tendulkar took 21 off an over from Yadav, and was soon completing his 79th first-class hundred – and his first since January 2011.
By the time he cut Rathod to second slip, he had made 137 from 136 balls, with 21 fours and three sixes.
England will expect to pose more of a threat to his future than the Railways bowlers, but this was about more than massaging his Ranji Trophy numbers. Tendulkar may just be at that point in his career where he needs to feel bat on ball just to silence the voices within. This will do nicely.