Mumbai batsman Sachin Tendulkar celebrates his century during a Irani trophy match against Rest of India in Mumbai. PTI/Shashank Parade
Every player has that one shot in his repertoire, which he can claim mastery on. And there are few strokes better than Sachin Tendulkar's straight drive. Ironically, it's the straight drive that has been causing Tendulkar some trouble in recent times.
Even as he's trying to shake off the lean form, he has been leaving gap between bat and pad, misreading the line and length of the ball, resulting in embarrassment to the highest century-maker in international cricket.
On Friday, however, Tendulkar looked at ease after a long while, caressing the deliveries from the line of his stumps.
The Day Three of the Irani Cup between Mumbai and Rest of India (ROI) at the Wankhede witnessed a vintage Tendulkar as he slammed a fluent century to draw level with Sunil Gavaskar's record 81 centuries in first-class cricket. This was his 30th ton in domestic cricket, 20 of which have come for Mumbai.
This knock also took him beyond the 25000-run mark in first class cricket.
His unbeaten 140-run effort carried Mumbai closer to ROI's mammoth 526. Eventually, he ran out of partners and Mumbai folded up for 409. ROI, in their second essay, were 27 for the loss of Shikhar Dhawan at the draw of stumps.
Since he hung up his boots in one-day internationals, Tendulkar has been playing domestic cricket in order to get fighting fit for the Test series against Australia. And given ROI's strong bowling attack, the little master must have had a good practice.
If a drive past mid-off, which helped Tendulkar get off the mark, was evidence of his returning to form, the Mumbai batsman repeated the shot a number of times to demonstrate he was in the zone.
The 39-year-old batsman punched the ball through the off-side the moment bowlers erred in length. Also, there seemed a conscious effort on his part to unsettle spinners Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha. He either used the sweep, the paddle shot, or danced down the track to keep them guessing.
This, though, almost had him dismissed when he, at 91, missed an Ojha delivery and Wriddhiman Saha was quick to flip the bails. Tendulkar made it back to the crease, but not before he had missed a heartbeat.
With him needing one run to reach the hundred, security was tightened around the ground, considering the enthusiasm of the spectators who had turned up in large numbers to cheer for the champion batsman.
A push to square leg brought Tendulkar the century, and he quietly acknowledged the applause.
Mindful of the task at hand, Tendulkar continued in the same vein after achieving the milestone.
And, had he not run out of partners, Tendulkar might have seen Mumbai past ROI's 526. The Mumbai tail, barring an impressive 49 by Ankeet Chavan, seemed to be in no mood to stick around. And with Harbhajan Singh bowling a tight line, it didn't take long to clean up the tail.