Tendulkar batted against Steyn and Co. at what, in terms of fineness and brilliance, can be called the highest level possible on the global stage; some others came up with the kind of performance that would scarcely qualify as befitting a team competing for the sport's most prestigious trophy.
In the process of pulverising the South African attack, he hit his favourite straight drive with the elbow held high, the feet neatly placed and the body beautifully balanced, pivoted on the back foot and played the hook to perfection, smacked the ball once through the covers off Morkel at a speed his friend Schumacher would be proud of, hit powerfully and effectively in the air in the manner of the destructive Sachin of the 1990s, and outwitted one bowler who, having bowled a dot ball to him which was fielded at mid-wicket, bowled the next one at the same spot, by just slightly changing the angle of the bat and sending it through the gaps for four.
His command over the proceedings was complete, and his mind, ever responsive to the needs of the situation. He ran his singles quickly and gave Virender Sehwag a lot of strike when the Delhi hitter was at his destructive best, and took on the role of aggressor when Gautam Gambhir needed some time to get into his rhythm. Always, he batted along with his batting partner, not in competition with him. And, much as he toyed with the bowling, he did not for a moment breach the principles of sensible cricket. There was no blind hitting, no reckless aggression; the knock of 111 off 101 balls was full of purpose and focus, intended to take the match away from the opposition.
It did indeed take the team to an unassailable position: 267 for 1, with more than 10 overs to go. If India had got no more than just one run per ball from there on, the total would have been in excess of 330. If they had taken singles off most deliveries and hit at least some of them for 2s, 3s and boundaries, the total would have been in excess of 350.
So all the batsmen had to do was to play out the remaining overs. Which they couldn't. Casual cricket quickly wiped out a world-class effort.
The most intriguing response to the harakiri was Dhoni's. At the end of the match, he alleged that the batsmen had been trying to please the crowds. He was at the other end when this shoddy display was under way. Did he say anything to them in the middle? It is not clear. Also, after the major batsmen got out, Dhoni could have taken it upon himself to attack and to play out at least 4 balls every over. Instead, he kept getting the singles, and the batsmen at the other end attacked. What, really, was going on?
When Tendulkar was at the crease with Sehwag, and especially with Gambhir, the conversation between them was continual without being disruptive. What happened to the communication levels with the skipper in the middle?
In the field, again, Tendulkar's efforts surpassed those of younger members of the team. His intensity was fierce; he dived to save singles, ran and threw in briskly; and once, he picked up the ball at third-man and threw swiftly in one easy, uninterrupted action to prevent what would have been an easy two runs.
The Indian wicket-keeper struggled to effect stumpings; one fielder at mid-wicket, and another in the deep, dropped regular catches, and the fielding and throwing left a lot to be desired, so much so that almost every time, the SA batsmen could run one for the throw. The captaincy, of course, was thoroughly unimaginative.
Tendulkar has got two hundreds in the tournament so far, against two major teams in the group; both have been nullified by poor team effort, though he batted nearly 40 overs in each of the games. Even against Ireland, he batted with responsibility after Sehwag and Gambhir got out early, and had he not strung a partnership with Virat Kohli before being caught plumb by teenager George Dockrell - who was born after Sachin had played his first World Cup in 1992 - the game could, perhaps, have ended differently. In any case, India made the chase hard for itself after he had got out.
'After Tendulkar, the deluge' has become a reality once again for Indian cricket, in this tournament. And batting, apparently, is India's greatest (and, at the moment, only) strength.
This is not quite the way Tendulkar would have liked to be on the cusp of a hundred hundreds in international cricket. He would be disturbed.
(Vaibhav Purandare is the author of Sachin Tendulkar: A Definitive Biography, published in India and the UK. As a schoolboy, in 1987-88, he watched helplessly as Tendulkar and his partner-in-amassing-runs, Vinod Kambli, got a world record 664-run partnership against his school, St Xavier's, Mumbai. He is currently senior associate editor, Hindustan Times, Mumbai)