The script couldn’t have been any better. He will become the first man to play 200 Tests and it will be at his homeground - the Wankhede Stadium. The Indian cricket board has pulled out another stunner at the last minute and worked out the situation in its favour.
Leaving aside sentiments, ask Sachin Tendulkar whether he would mind playing his 200th Test at Cape Town’s Newlands ground, as originally scheduled. Little chance, he would. For sheer quality of cricket, Tendulkar leading India’s charge against South Africa’s pace battery on their fast, green wickets would be unmatched.
Ever since the dates of India’s South Africa tour were originally fixed, the connoisseurs had them marked on their calendars. Expectations were especially high after the high-voltage action the two sides produced the last time in 2010-11.
It was in the Newlands Test (Jan 2-6, 2011) that the world witnessed a riveting battle between Tendulkar and Dale Steyn -- high-class seam and swing bowling against batting of the highest level. The world applauded as the two men went at each other and returned with honours even - Steyn with a five-wicket haul and Tendulkar with a series-saving 146.
“That eventful session on the third morning was one of the best of my life in Test cricket. Morne Morkel was bowling to Gautam Gambhir at one end and at the other, Steyn was bowling to me. For 56 minutes or so the strike was not rotated at all. It was quality fast bowling, and we had to give due respect -- something I will always remember,” Tendulkar had cricinfo.
There had been many such intense periods of play in the three-Test series, and understandably, fans have been left disappointed that the series between the world’s top two sides (South Africa are world No 1, India No 3 (equal on points with second-ranked England) may not be played as per the original schedule.
While South Africa have the most fearsome pace attack, India have an exciting, young batting line-up. For Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, it would have been an invaluable lesson facing the stern test of South Africa.
“The South Africa series was much sought after, where our players would have been able to finally prove themselves on a full tour on a foreign land. A curtailed series would be disappointing as it would not have the same impact,” said former spinner Maninder Singh.
Former India coach Anshuman Gaekwad said: “For any youngster to have an opportunity to play a full tour of South Africa would have been vital towards their development.” With the home series versus West Indies, the BCCI will get richer and the fans may cherish the sentimental value. But the quality of cricket will not be the same.
(With inputs from K Phatarpekar)