It couldn't possibly have been more dramatic. Sachin Tendulkar, on the cusp of a landmark, ramrod still in his stance, a veritable picture of calm, waiting. Not for the first time in his then 21-year career did he find himself within touching distance of history, but surely, even by his standards, this must be different. No man in international cricket had ever been there; but then, no man had ever been Tendulkar.
At Captain Roop Singh Stadium, in the stifling Gwalior humidity ten years back, Tendulkar was held on 199 for nine balls before Hashim Amla’s heroic stop at the deep mid-wicket fence gave him the strike amidst MS Dhoni’s blitz at the other end. Nerves.
“We all were thinking in the dressing room, 'bas, paaji should get the strike' somehow, anyhow," Yusuf Pathan, who batted with Tendulkar in that match, remembers the atmosphere in the dressing room.
And then it happened. At the precise moment when the worn white ball left Charl Langeveldt's hand, a million hearts skipped a beat — no hyperbole; a Tendulkar milestone did have that impact. It was the 300th legal ball of the match — a wide yorker. Tendulkar quietly steered it to the point region, and calmly set off for his 200th run of the match. Not the single that defined him, but surely the one that was to define one-day batsmanship in the decade to come. It’s 10 years to that day already. Whoever said time flies was clearly not joking.
The next few moments were a hypnotic blur. Tendulkar took off his helmet, his arms afloat, his sweat-drenched head tilted skywards in thankful submission, even as the crowd kicked up a shindy.
“Let alone paaji , we all were feeling that each one of us had scored 200,” Pathan recalls the historic moment. “It was such a proud moment. Not many get the opportunity to share the dressing room or the crease with paaji and the people who were present in the dressing room or on the ground, they will never forget this innings. Whenever I watch the match or remember that knock, I can visualise each and every shot he had hit. The way he had batted...You can never forget that innings. It's stored in the memories for eternity.”
That calm amid the storm, pretty much, was Tendulkar's defence, defiance, and demeanour for the better part of his career. It also set the template for his record-breaking effort. Not once in his 147-ball stay did he look hurried or hassled. His placement inch-perfect, his timing spot on, his unblemished technique allowing him to manipulate the field and explore the angles that few knew existed, Tendulkar's 200 was a pulsating, living clinic of flawless batting. He regularly went deep in his crease to create the desired length, and didn't shy away from improvising.
“The first memory that comes to my mind is that at no point in time did it look like we are ever going to get him out,” former South Africa all-rounder JP Duminy, who was part of that match, recalls in a chat with Firstpost. “He dominated from ball one. It was quite a small field at Gwalior but anything we threw at him he had answers to them and we didn't have any answers for him.”
Dinesh Karthik, who forged a 194-run stand with Tendulkar, still remembers that innings with considerable clarity.
"Tendulkar had a small injury or a niggle, so he couldn't really get the big shots going but the way he used the gaps and the way he beat the fielders was a lesson in itself. Unbelievable," Karthik told Firstpost.
"I remember he was coming inside the line and flicking Wayne Parnell. He was going over covers to Jacques Kallis. He was basically toying with the bowling. A lot of time manipulating fields can be very hard but the way paaji was just making it look too easy... It's been a very big forte of his batting. It was just a masterclass on how to use gaps and how to beat fields."
Tendulkar started the innings in a typically steady fashion, although scoring at a quicker-than-usual rate. The booming off drives were unfurled first, and when the spinners came, Tendulkar lofted them either inside-out or went straight over the bowlers’ head.
"He was actually scoring quite quickly for someone who wasn't really known to score that quickly in one-day cricket," Parnell, who was at the receiving end of Tendulkar's wrath in that match, said.
"It just seemed like there was a magnet in his bat and the ball was just attracted to the center of his bat. He just kept hitting everything past fielders and into the gaps. He just played the way he normally does — classy, elegant but also smart and calculated."
Tendulkar raced to his first 50 off just 37 balls. He then resorted to his tested method of accumulation, hitting an odd boundary to keep the momentum going as the ODI century No 46 arrived in 90 balls, through a backfoot punch off Duminy’s bowling.
“I don't remember that (he got the 100th run off my bowling) to be honest. I tried to probably put it out of my mind because it wasn't a good day for me,” Duminy chuckles.
Then the tempo was raised, slowly and methodically, building towards a volcanic crescendo. Next 50 runs came off just 28 balls and in the company of Pathan, who was sent up the order to accelerate, the pair collected 63 runs from the Batting Powerplay.
“He gave me knowledge about the bowlers and ground dimensions,” Pathan recalls. “He told me just back yourself and watch the ball closely. The chat was simple, you play your game and I will also keep going.” And keep going he did, denying the opposition and defying cramps. The next 50 runs came off 29 balls.
“Gwalior is a humid place and you perspire a lot,” Pathan explains. “It isn't easy to play these big innings batting full 50 overs. You are running your runs, non-striker's runs and hitting fours and sixes, so it's natural that you might cramp, but he didn't let that pain get into his mind. He just kept playing and it was always the case with him, the pain shall wait, if something good is happening, we need to continue that.”
There were days in Tendulkar’s career when it was extremely difficult, even pointless, to bowl to him, and South Africa were in the middle of one of those days. Tendulkar put their best-laid plans to waste and raced to where no man had been before.
“I think that was one of the most difficult games as a bowler because it was a small field, a quick outfield and you had a guy who was hitting from the middle of the bat every single ball,” Parnell recalls.
“So you had to try different things. I was trying to bowl round the wicket, over the wicket, trying to bowl yorkers, trying to bowl slower balls but it was just one of those days where nothing really worked.
“The most impressive thing about Sachin when he bats is he is so organised. Whenever I used to play against him, I used to be so fascinated. It's almost like he knew where you are going to bowl. And that was one thing that always stood out for me watching him bat. That day was particularly one of those innings when I actually noticed it even more. It's almost like he knew every single ball, 'okay cool, you are going to come here, you are gonna bowl full, you are gonna bowl short, you are gonna bowl straight, you are gonna bowl wide,' so that was for me a really key thing that stood out in that innings.”
As Tendulkar looked unlikely to be dismissed, the conversations in the South African camp changed from trying to get him out to contain him.
“We were just trying to work out and come up with plans of trying to stop him,” Duminy recalls. “The conversation probably changed from trying to get him out to trying to stop him. But unfortunately, we were unsuccessful with that too. So it was one of those things where you look back and you think you just got to kind of admire just the masterclass of the man and appreciate the innings that he played.”
Tendulkar went on with robotic precision to find gaps with his calculated, risk-free and graceful strokeplay. Parnell particularly remembers a flick shot off Steyn that left him astounded.
“There was actually a shot he hit off Dale Steyn where he kept on walking onto the off-side and hitting it to through the leg side,” Parnell says.
“So what the captain then went and told Dale was to bowl full and wide. I was at deep square leg and came into the ring and was next to the square-leg umpire. And I remember like once or twice, he literally...he obviously knew it was going to be wide but he still managed to get the ball past square leg for four and I think there were two or three shots where he hit like that past me at square leg and I was just thinking to myself, wow! Firstly obviously you know where the ball is going to be but to still execute the shot and to not even go across and hit it over extra cover and to be able to hit the ball past square leg just showed what special talent Tendulkar had.”
A flick to deep square leg off Parnel for a single took him past his then highest ODI score of 186 that he had registered against New Zealand in 1999 but it wasn’t until he reached the 190s that it started to sink in that the first-ever 200 in men’s ODIs was within reach.
“I don't think that at any particular point did we think that 'oh, he is going to get a double hundred here today',” Parnell adds.
“I think once he got to 190 then it sort of started sinking in that he's actually got a chance to get 200. But I think up until then we didn't really think about that because there was another guy on the other side, MS Dhoni, who was also going wild, so it was about trying to restrict...And we were actually focussing more on him while Sachin was just knocking it around once he got close to 180-190. He just went about his business and he obviously knew that MS Dhoni was coming in, he is a big hitter and a finisher so he was probably trying to give more strike to Dhoni. But I think once he got close to 190 then it was a real possibility that he could get the double century.”
It was almost fitting that a batsman of Tendulkar's pedigree would go on to record one-day cricket's first double ton. For a two-and-a-half-year period leading up to 2007, Tendulkar appeared human, and hence, destructible. The spate of injuries, the loss of form, and the lack of belief took their toll, culminating in an excruciatingly susceptible passage in his career.
Then, something flipped. On the England tour of 2007 — the site of his first international hundred — Tendulkar set himself free. The feet began to move, the positivity in his approach began to unravel, and inevitably, the runs began to flow. This was Tendulkar V 2.0, his much-documented second coming was at once thrilling and unreal.
The twin match-winning knocks in CB Series finals arrived in Australia, Brian Lara's world record of most Test runs was broken, a majestic 163 was carved in New Zealand, but the first whiff of the unthinkable truly registered during his 175 against Australia in Hyderabad, albeit in a losing cause. Then, Tendulkar not only looked set to go past his then highest score (186*), but also threatened to break Saeed Anwar and Charles Coventry's record of 194 runs — then highest individual score in 50-overs cricket.
It didn't quite happen in Hyderabad, but three-and-a-half months later, the moment finally arrived. It also signalled the beginning of a decade of complete domination of bat over ball — aided in no small measure by heavier bats, smaller boundaries, skewed rules, and a general shift in batsmen's mindset. A case in point is this: In the 39-year history of ODI cricket till 23 February 2010, the number of 150-plus individual scores stood at 57. In ten years since 2010, the 150-run mark has been breached 71 times.
In more ways than one, Tendulkar's Gwalior waltz proved to be cricket's four-minute-mile moment. Not only did he stretch the limits of physical and psychological possibilities, but it also gave batsmen across the world a sense of belief. His teammate Virender Sehwag was the first to follow suit — he put the West Indies attack to sword in Indore next year — and there have been seven individual double centurions since. Not for the first time in his career was Tendulkar the trendsetter — this time at the ripe age of 36. No man in international cricket has yet scored an ODI double ton at that age; but then, no man has ever been, what Ravi Shastri famously called on air, the 'Superman from India'.
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