More than a celebration, it was a sigh of relief. A boulder, weighing a billion expectations, was off his shoulders.
The date – March 16, 2012 – was etched in the history books. It was five past five on a warm evening in Dhaka. Three-hundred-and-sixty-nine days and thirty-three international innings later, came moment with a nudge on the leg-side off Shakib Al Hasan.
Sachin Tendulkar became the first cricketer to notch up a century of international centuries. The 99 before were a lot easier. The master would later call his century, “toughest of them all.”
Taking off the helmet, he looked at the wooden blade, which had mesmerised millions, at his command. He gazed at the heaven before responding to the handshakes from the Bangladeshi opponents. He then pointed the national crest to the dressing room before kissing it.
On March 15, 1877, Australia’s Charles Bannerman became the first cricketer to score an international century – the first-ever in Test cricket. Since then, the three-figure has been a major yardstick for batters. Exactly 135 years and a day later, Tendulkar became the first cricketer to get to the unreal mark of 100-international centuries.
Most international hundreds
1. Sachin Tendulkar (India, 1989-2013): 100 from 782 innings
2. Ricky Ponting (Australia, 1995-2012): 71 from 668 innings
3. Virat Kohli (India, 2008 till date): 70 from 460 innings
4. Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka, 2000-15) 63 from 666 innings
5. Jacques Kallis (South Africa, 1995-2014) 62 from 617 innings
(As of March 16, 2020)
As a 17-year-old, in the English summer of 1990, Tendulkar stunned the world with his first century. The array of strokes from a teenager’s willow made it clear that the cricket world was viewing at a potential great. But 100 hundreds?
The calendars changed, so did the world. Unification of Germany happened, so did the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We progressed from antennas and grainy screens to cable television to high-definition boxes to digital streaming. From majorly a red-ball sport to shunning of the red in limited-overs, even the game evolved greatly. One thing that remained constant was Tendulkar’s hunger for runs.
A month short of his 39th birthday, Tendulkar got to the century of centuries, and it would be the last of his illustrious career.
A year back, Tendulkar had lived his ultimate dream of lifting the World Cup. He had a fruitful campaign, scoring two hundreds. In the group match against South Africa, Tendulkar reached his 99th. Many predicted the perfect swansong – his hundredth reserved for the tournament final, at his home ground, Wankhede Stadium.
He missed the landmark in the semi-final against Pakistan by 15 runs, and the final was all about MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir’s partnership.
In the months that followed, Tendulkar faced enormous pressure. From media to fans to pundits, the discussions would all revolved around the elusive hundredth. Every venue he played, prepared for that moment. Media had their special features ready. Cricket fan or not, it was of an interest to all.
Tendulkar had one foot on history, a feat that probably won’t be repeated ever. Expectations didn't translate, and around the same time, India suffered a slump – suffering whitewashes in England and Australia.
“It's been a tough phase for me. I started off the season batting reasonably well. I was luckless. I am not playing only for my 100th hundred. It doesn't matter how many hundreds you score, you still put your head down, grind it out and do the job for the team.
“I was not thinking about the milestone, the media started all this; wherever I went, the restaurant, room service, everyone was talking about the 100th hundred. Nobody talked about my 99 hundreds. It became mentally tough for me because nobody talked about my 99 hundreds,” Tendulkar would say during the mid-innings interview, before quipping he “shed 50 kilos” during the innings.
The 147-ball 114 wasn’t Tendulkar’s prettiest of knocks. It was far slow and cautious by his great standards. Worse, India could not win the crucial Asia Cup tie against Bangladesh and later that year, Tendulkar would bid farewell to ODIs, a format he redefined.
While the fans' joys knew no bounds, analysts were critical about the slow pace of Tendulkar's knocks, many terming it 'selfish'. Tendulkar dismissed many notions and made it clear that he didn't think of the milestone and only vied for a big total for his team. Further adding on the pressure, Tendulkar opened up in the post-match press conference:“After scoring 99 tons, you are made to realise the value of a hundred. It's not easy, it was a testing period, but there were many people who helped me. There are opinions, some for some against. I don't read them, I have a job to do. Ups and downs are a part of life, there is no person who has not experienced it, and they teach you a lot in life.
“I am glad about the journey. It has tested my patience, my character. So many people have had questions, I don't read any of them. Somebody who has not gone through this will have only questions, not answers.”
Tendulkar would later elaborate his year-long ordeal on the hundredth hundred in his autobiography – Playing It My Way.
Apart from his skills, what made Tendulkar stand out is his longevity and willingness to keep pushing the boundaries. Be it injuries, self-doubt orpushing the age barrier, Tendulkar kept conquering the challenges and proved his mettle. With a limit in appearances, marginally slow reflexes and the rise of Kohlis and de Villiers and Sangakkaras and Clarkes, an almost 39-year-old Tendulkar’s reputation as the then best batsman was pushed to the oblivion.The hundredth hundred was more of a grit and legacy.
Each number adding to the hundred has been a monument and a journey for most, especially the millennials. His milestones have given us reasons to forget differences, problems and provided us moments to celebrate. The hundredth was far from his best. But it provided an opportunity to yet again celebrate his glorious career.