Sachin Tendulkar likes round numbers. He likes centuries more than fifties, and he likes a hundred centuries very much.
It took 11 tests, 13 ODIs, 34 innings and more than a year for him to climb from 99 centuries to 100. But he stayed at it.
The republic of India, it would appear to some from the media coverage during those awful 370 days, did little else but wait to exhale its collective breath while he was thus stuck.
He was honest and attributed this slowness to being nervous as that glorious mark eluded him.
Tendulkar is a man who consciously plays for record-setting, for building mountains nobody else may climb. This takes away from what should be a team game played for winning, not record-setting. However, this does not bother Indians who, as Ian Chappell once observed, don't mind losing the match so long as Sachin scores his century. I don't have any quarrel with this attitude, and it is true he is first rate at setting records.
Aged almost 40, having scored his 100 centuries, and being quite unlikely to score 200 of them, what could Tendulkar still be hanging around for?
It could be one or both of two things.
The first is money. Tendulkar makes Rs 100 crore (US$ 20 million) a year, of which most comes from endorsements. As Gavaskar and Shastri and Kapil Dev will testify, these fade away as one retires. Sachin's brand might have more life than these three ancients, but he's already in decline. He was second in earnings to Dhoni last year and will probably be third to Virat Kohli this year. Retirement will immediately slice off at least 50 crore a year from his booty, which is a loss of Rs 13 lakh per day.
Let us assume, however, he is not playing on only for the money. What else? I think here we might find an answer to why he's hanging on.
His tally of 100 international hundreds comprises 51 scored in tests and 49 scored in ODIs.
This 49 is an awkward, unfinished number. It needs to become 50 for it to look good. My guess is (and assuming I'm wrong that he's not hanging about only for the money), he's waiting to round the 49 off to 50 ODI centuries. This is a simple enough goal, and quite achievable. But it is not one he can publicly own. Even he who plays for setting records may not say he is.
That might explain why he has been vague about his retirement plans despite the speculation that is damaging him. There is a weakness in my theory and it is that in the recent past Tendulkar has been skipping ODI matches, including the series in Lanka earlier this year. However, this was before his performance against New Zealand and the talk of his retirement. This has put the sort of pressure on him he has never faced before. If I am right about his motive for staying on, he will play in every ODI he can from now on.
The problem is that there are no ODIs to be played this year.
The English team arrives in India at the beginning of November, but will play its first ODI only on January 11. There are five ODIs in that series and given that Sachin scores a century every 10 matches, he has a good chance of rounding off his record then.
My bet is that after he scores that hundred he will announce retirement, and play a final series where he can be cheered off the grounds. The hope is that he doesn't take as long to score this century as he did for his 100th.