On a couple of balmy nights in Sharjah in 1998, Sachin Tendulkar carved out successive scintillating centuries against Australia to convince the men in gold who weren’t believers, he was the best batsman in the world.
More than a decade later, Tendulkar has converted a whole new set of Australian non-believers with a mercurial ODI century in Hyderabad. That’s actually not quite true; Ricky Ponting was in attendance in Sharjah and for him Tendulkar just re-confirmed his great skill and tenacity.
As opposing skipper, Ponting was constantly plotting Tendulkar’s downfall in Hyderabad and it came just in the nick of time to preserve an Australian victory that for a time looked like it would be snatched away by one man. As the third man, along with West Indies champion Brian Lara, in what was a three-way battle for the batting crown, Ponting would’ve appreciated, if not welcomed, Tendulkar’s mastery.
One of the more amazing things about Lara was his remarkable feat in recapturing the world record 10 years after he first established the high-water mark. Longevity isn’t the hallmark of greatness but it’s a requirement.
Not that Tendulkar needed another century to convince anyone of his prowess but a masterful knock like the one in Hyderabad was a timely reminder that he still has a few great innings left. That’s the main difference between Tendulkar of today and a decade ago.
In Sharjah, he belted the Australian bowlers all over the park to get his team into the final and then followed it up two days later with an equally dynamic showing to win the big prize. Now, the hard part will be reprising his starring role in Guwahati when his body is still recovering from Hyderabad.
Tendulkar did prove one thing in Hyderabad; the mind is still willing. He displayed the same fighting spirit that was evident in Sharjah, the same desire to trump the opposition and amazingly, his strike rate was better than in both of those 1998 gems.
I recall Greg Chappell saying near the end of his illustrious career; “I can’t concentrate like I used to. I can still apply myself occasionally,” sighed the strong-minded batsman, “but other days it’s just a battle.”
Tendulkar is a strong-minded person but that isn’t what defines his batting. His is more a mercurial attitude that allows him to sense the moment when to let loose his full array of shots and leave the bowlers clutching at straws. Straws that in his pomp were constantly whisked away by a whirlwind of shots.