When Sachin Tendulkar made his debut in 1989, Brian Lara was an unknown name outside Trinidad. Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan were still learning the tricks of tweak in domestic cricket. Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid wouldn’t emerge for another six years, and Adam Gilchrist not for another 10. Jacques Kallis didn’t even have a team to play for, since South Africa were still in the Apartheid era. Tendulkar was a legend by the time each of these men made their names. He’s outlasted almost all of them, and as a batsman, racked up numbers out of any of their reaches. And these are the immortals of modern cricket that we are talking of!
On 16th March 2012, when Tendulkar turned Shakib Al Hasan to the leg side and ambled across for a single, an entire nation breathed a sigh of palpable relief. For more than a year, the quest for the 100th 100 had hindered Tendulkar’s batting, and to an extent the spirit of India’s cricket itself as World Cup euphoria fizzled out in a series of disasters in England and Australia. Not that he needed a unique calling card to reaffirm his unmatched greatness, but Tendulkar now has one that will stand for everything he has accomplished. Every cricketing legend has one such catchphrase/number that defines the essence of their cricket – objective in some cases like Bradman (99.94) and Muralitharan (800), but purely subjective for others like Shane Warne (Ball of the Century) and Dravid (The Wall).
Tendulkar’s calling card will always be ‘100 100s’ – the unattainable Everest of batting brilliance. No one is ever going to come close to the heights he has scaled. Ricky Ponting once threatened to finish with more, but with his career drawing to a close, he is still 29 centuries away from a 100. No one else has even 60 – Kallis is third with 59, and Lara ended with barely half the number – 53.
How tragic then, that the 100th 100 came in a match that was a microcosm of the burden Tendulkar has carried through his career. Against the weakest Test playing team, on a flat track, India’s bowlers fell short of defending a strong score, but one that could have admittedly been stronger if not for Tendulkar’s cautious batting. Tendulkar scored a century, yet India lost – a lot has changed since Tendulkar made his debut, but some things have stayed the same.