When the teenager [Sachin Tendulkar] was on strike, it seemed as if he was batting not at Perth, but on the maidans of Mumbai* that he had dominated like a colossus in the latter half of the 1980s.
Sachin was occasionally beaten by deliveries that whizzed past the outside edge, but he was good enough to delete them from his memory bank and focus on the next ball. For him, it was the ‘one-rupee coin’ challenge, all over again. At the Shivaji Park nets just a few years previously, his coach Ramakant Achrekar would make him do five consecutive batting stints in the nets, the last of which would be the toughest. After batting in four different nets, the boy would be pitted against the best bowlers in the fifth. At stake would be a one-rupee coin, which the coach would place on the top of the middle stump. The bowler who would get the batsman out would bag the coin. Conversely, the batsman would get to keep the coin if he defied the bowlers and his own fatigue to remain unbeaten. The teenager had made it a habit to win those one-rupee coins; he had, in fact, preserved all of them, and he valued them more than any of the awards that he had won.
At the WACA in February 1992, there were no coins on offer; at stake was the reputation of his country, the team and his own self. He essayed a combination of drives, cuts and flicks and used the pace of the ball as well as the length and breadth of the crease quite brilliantly. When the bowlers, fed up with being spanked on the off-side, bowled a straighter line, the teenager was quite happy to target the leg-side. A delivery by Reiffel that was a fraction wide of off-stump and short was cut handsomely for four. A straight drive off McDermott gave the teenager four runs and a stunner of a century, his second of the series.
It was an innings that merited a Richie Benaud punchline, and the sage obliged: ‘Wonderful to watch, and a splendid ovation. It’s the sort of innings that deserved a crowd of a hundred thousand.’ In later years, Benaud would argue that while the Perth hundred was great, the one at Sydney earlier in the series, was better.
For once, he was in a minority. Sunil Gavaskar, who was Benaud’s colleague in the Channel 9 TV commentary team, disagreed, as did many others. John Woodcock, who had covered cricket across the globe since the early 1950s, wondered aloud in the press box whether it was the next Bradman they had just seen. Another individual who could not get over the knock was the teenager’s roommate at that stage of the tour.
Sourav Ganguly had been part of the squad for the Test series, but had been left out for the World Cup that was to start in a couple of weeks. His roomie had borrowed one of his bats for the Perth Test and used it to score a hundred against a four-pronged pace attack on a fiery strip.
The teenager had moved to 114 when he did not commit himself fully onto the front foot to a Whitney delivery that pitched on a length. The ball took the outside edge and was snapped up by Tom Moody at second slip. The batsman’s first mistake had cost him and his team dearly. The Indian innings ended soon after...
Three months after the Perth Test, Australian great Greg Chappell visited the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai at the behest of Dennis Lillee, head coach of the academy and his former teammate. Among the objectives of the former Australian captain’s visit was to provide a batsman’s perspective on fast bowling and fast bowlers to the trainees. During his visit, Chappell had an extensive interaction with N. Ram, then editor of The Sportstar, India’s premier sports magazine, on the sport and its exponents. When asked about the teenager, he was effusive in his praise of the teenager’s technical and mental faculties. One remark by him made N. Ram and his team sit up: ‘If things were handled well and it went well, you will have Bradman [pointing to an unreachable level] and then you will have Tendulkar.’
N. Ram and his colleagues were understandably wary. Over the years and decades, the country had witnessed the rise and fall of many a youngster who had possessed tons of talent, but not the temperament to sustain and handle success achieved at the highest level. However, this wariness was forgotten by the time the 1990s came to an end. In April 1992, the age of Tendulkar was nigh.
Excerpted with permission of Rupa Publications India from Hero: A Biography of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar by Devendra Prabhudesai. Available in bookstores and online.
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