It feels like Ripley's Believe It Or Not but the last time Sachin Tendulkar played a Test at his home ground, he was booed -- probably the only time it must have happened to him anywhere in the world.
The 2006 game at Wankhede Stadium came during the leanest phase of his career. Even his opponents, the England players, looked in disbelief at the reaction of a section of the Mumbai crowd as Tendulkar walked back after a scratchy 22-ball effort for one run. India went on to lose the Test.
A sensitive character, Tendulkar is not among those who get over things quickly. The long, painful walk back to the dressing room will be etched in his mind. His response was strong. In the last five-year period, he has played like a man possessed to turn things around.
In 2006, he didn't get a single Test century. Since then, save the rare failure, he has rattled off 25 centuries (16 in Tests, nine in ODIs) to race towards the 100-century mark.On Tuesday, he will return to his beloved turf as the cynosure of all eyes.
The optimists are calling it a sort of divine turn that he gets the chance to reach the magical figure at his home ground.
Stranded on 99 centuries since the World Cup, the pressure has increased on him with each passing innings. After failing to achieve the milestone in England, it was widely expected that he would complete it in the first Test at Delhi. Two Tests have gone and the wait continues.
But, it seems everything is laid out on a platter in the third Test for the local hero. The setting is perfect and his form is good. The familiarity with his home turf should help calm whatever nerves he is feeling. His match-winning knock in the second innings in Delhi is proof that he is in good touch too. With the series already won, the buzz around Mumbai is only about Tendulkar's ton of tons. That he is playing his natural, attacking game gives more confidence to the Mumbai cricket fraternity that the moment has arrived.
They believe his attacking frame of mind augurs well as the strip laid out for the game by the curator, former India opener Sudhir Naik, is ideal for the strokeplayers.
"It's a wicket which will have good bounce throughout the game. The pace bowlers will love bowling on it, but, strokeplayers like Tendulkar and Laxman should also thrive," Naik told HT.
"I spoke to him (during training on Sunday) and he looked in good space - calm and assured. The hundred was not playing on his mind. The only thing he said was: 'It's a good wicket; it will be a question of getting in; once you get set, one will enjoy batting.' "If a batsman is feeling the pressure, then you are asked questions like 'How will the wicket play, will it swing or spin?" said Naik.
From the team's point of view too, it will be important he gets the monkey off his back. If he skips the West Indies ODIs, the next Test series is in Australia and the pressure could become too much to handle even for a seasoned campaigner.
In between, there is the one-day series against West Indies, but any player worth his salt will agree that limited-overs cricket can never match the buzz of Tests. It could also be the 38-year-old batsman's last Test at home, giving him a perfect opportunity to make it a dream finish. Rarely are there fairytales in real life, but if Tendulkar gets the coveted mark at the Wankhede, it will be one!
“Playing a game with Sachin was something special. It's a memory that I will live with forever. Sometimes I find myself focussing on him so much I am not focussing on my fielding,” confessed West Indies batsman Kirk Edwards on Sunday.