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?He?s the best?, they say Down Under

Akshay Kripalani studies computer science at the University of Sydney and came to the SCG today for the reason that a lot of people have been going to cricket grounds all over the world for the last 14 years: to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2004 00:43 IST

Akshay Kripalani studies computer science at the University of Sydney and came to the SCG today for the reason that a lot of people have been going to cricket grounds all over the world for the last 14 years: to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat. "I came to the ground when India toured in 1999-2000," he says. "Tendulkar got 45 and four. My greatest wish in life is to be in the ground when he scores a century."

At 12.28 this afternoon, that wish was granted as Tendulkar flicked Simon Katich off the hips, scampered the single and then 'in a most un-Tendulkar-like celebration of an un-Tendulkar-like hundred' ran down the pitch, jumped high and punched the air.

You could tell, though it hasn't quite shown in his talk or his walk, that the great little man has been under a fair amount of stress.

And why not?

Ever since that dodgy dismissal in the first innings in Brisbane, there have probably been more words written about The Slump than Tendulkar has hit boundaries in his career. Rahul Dravid may have been the mainstay of the Indian middle order; Sourav Ganguly may have been courageous; Virender Sehwag may have been the buccaneer and V.V.S. Laxman may have proved that his wrists are made of stuff far more elastic than bones. But it is Tendulkar — and why not? —who has been endlessly talked about this summer.

It's called aura. There's no getting around it.

"I hope he lies low for the next two Tests," Steve Waugh had said after Melbourne. "And all this without the little fellow firing..." has been the line that newspaper writers, television commentators, grocers, bus drivers and software developers have been saying all this while. Hoping that he would come good. And dreading that he would at the wrong time for Australia.

There have been standing ovations for Tendulkar everywhere he has gone. A packed SCG stood up to a man when he walked out on the first afternoon. It stood up again when he got to his century.

And then, through the innings, as he swept Stuart MacGill, flicked Brett Lee, drove Jason Gillespie and more or less proceeded, as far as possible, to bat Australia out of the match, there was applause for him, time and again, from Australians in every part of the ground.

From in front of the sweaty, beer-drenched Members' Bar, in the upper tiers of the Bill O'Reilly Stand, in the scorching Yabba's Hill, Australians clapped for a man who, along with Laxman, was gatecrashing Steve Waugh's final party in his own backyard.

It is amazing, this adulation that attends on Tendulkar wherever he goes in Australia. "He's simply the best. It's a shame if he doesn't get some runs," says Gordon Burgess, who lives a couple of hundred kilometres away from Sydney and came for the day's play.

It is as though, if Tendulkar had let the summer pass without a big one —something that has never happened before in these parts — Australian fans would have been relieved but would have felt cheated.

"Australians respect players who have performed well against them," says Matthew Engel, editor of Wisden Cricketers Almanack.

"Australians go out on a pitch to express themselves, to play hard and win and they see that in Tendulkar and admire that. They recognise Brian Lara is a brilliant player but they would never give him the kind of ovation they have given Tendulkar. They love him. He has earned that," says Peter Roebuck, one of Australia's leading cricket writers.

"Let Sachin score a hundred and let Australia win," was the prayer on the lips of every Australian fan during this series.

The first part of the wish has been granted. On its not being fulfilled could have hinged the second.

First Published: Jan 04, 2004 00:43 IST