The Indian cricket team starts a long season now with a game against New Zealand in the Compaq Cup in Colombo on Friday. And while it will begin without either of the familiar pair of the left-handed Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag walking out to start its innings, there is no real reason to panic.
Sehwag’s recovering from a shoulder surgery while Gambhir aggravated a groin injury at nets and is winging his way back home. A certain Sachin Tendulkar returns to one-day internationals after missing the tour of the West Indies in June-July and will open the innings with Dinesh Karthik, who did duty in the four-game series in the Caribbean.
Tendulkar’s overall career has been too glittering to recount here and it will suffice to say that he has opened the innings in each of the last 41 ODI games he has played and has scored 1837 runs at 47.10 runs an innings – higher than his career average. And, because we tend to forget, the New Zealand attack was savaged for 163 runs in his last knock.
Of course, thanks to the return of pace duo Daryl Tuffey and Shane Bond from the ICL fold, the New Zealand attack can be more competitive than when it hosted India in March. With the quick bowlers hitting the right areas on the sluggish Premadasa Stadium track in the opening game, scoring freely was not an option for the batsmen either.
Mention of the Premadasa Stadium in the Khettarama suburb of Colombo brings back memories of the little big man’s maiden century in ODI cricket in September 1994. He had played 78 games without reaching the milestone. A top-score of 84 featured 17 half-centuries, including four that came at the top of the order in New Zealand and Sharjah.
Everyone who knew Tendulkar kept waiting for the big day. When he made 11 not out and 6 in two starts against Sri Lanka in the Singer World Series, it looked as if the slow tracks would prolong the wait. But come September 9, he played a gem to get to the landmark for the first time in ODIs.
It appeared to help that the opposition was Australia. And with men like Craig McDermott, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in the attack, Tendulkar willed himself to play a superb century that set up a comfortable win for India. It was a night to remember as he hit the ball over the top and through the line in a manner born.
Getting to 50 off just 43 balls, he slowed down a bit as he got closer to the three-figure mark and eventually reached his maiden 100 in ODIs off 110 deliveries when he was hugged by his best buddy, Vinod Kambli. Later, Tendulkar told us how relieved he was to overcome the mental pressure of never having scored an ODI century.
He has got to the milestone 42 times after that memorable night but the first one stands out – even after all these years.