In the early morning of Friday 15th November I shared my sofa with one of the greatest sporting icons of our age, or any age, come to think of it. I told my wife and she shrugged in that knowing way which implied she had got the best of this international ménage a trois and accepted with a little too much alacrity for my liking. So the stage was set for the crowning of the Little Master and as I stretched out for a few hours kip before the main event I felt a tremor of apprehension but an overwhelming sense of confidence that I was on the verge of witnessing one of those sporting moments that defines a generation.
Although the alarm was set for 3.50am my body clock had already shaken me awake by 3.30 so I had plenty of time to prepare for the moment when the greatest batsman was to enter the pantheon of cricket. Bradman had declared that Sachin Tendulkar was ‘the closest to me’ and the Mumbai maestro would soon breast the tape as, unlike The Don who fell for a silver duck in his last test innings, Sachin was all set to add to his world record of test centuries.
Without even taking into the aesthetics of his range of strokes Tendulkar’s record is packed with extraordinary statistics that make Brian Lara look like a novice. From the moment he announced himself when sharing a 664-run stand with Vinod Kambli as a 14 year-old schoolboy to his first century against England in 1990 and on to his 51st in Cape Town he has been a colossus. With such stats stacking up it was now the perfect occasion to nail one last 100 in his 200th Test Match.
The scriptwriters had clearly taken a massive hit of saccharin as Tendulkar’s swansong was to be performed in front of a delirious home crowd at the Wankhede stadium. The frenzy was such that during pre-match net practice commentators reported they could not hear what their colleagues were saying because of the commotion. With Tendulkar on 38 overnight, he strode to the square with a calm assurance that brooked no argument.
Any remaining nerves were dispelled within the first few overs as he went on to the attack with the straight drive he unfurled to bring up his 50 being so sumptuous that the ball seemed to be purring as it crossed the boundary. Naturally the adoring fans went apeshit, but even the scoreboard operators got carried away declaring that “SACHINGENIOUS” was on his way to glory in 50-foot high neon letters. Tendulkar’s sang-froid was being tested by the increasing clamour but he looked so determined and focused even the surrounding bedlam could not disturb his ineluctable journey to his 52nd test century.
Tino Best threatened to upset Sachin’s sublime serenity as he tried to rattle him with some hostile bowling but Tendulkar just smiled, at one stage softly punching his adversary on the shoulder mid-pitch. Best grinned back in acquiescence, tacitly accepting that it was futile to resist. Tino was taken off and so any threat was removed. After an hour’s play drinks were taken and with Tendulkar some twenty odd runs away from that century I decided I needed to shift up a gear and switch from tea to coffee to really get the adrenalin pumping for the celebrations in the offing.
Back in Mumbai, the die was well and truly cast when the West Indian captain, Darren Sammy turned to his second string spin bowler, Deonarine. It was as if Sammy had decided the quicker this was over the better for all concerned and they could get ready to form a guard of honour to usher in the century, just as they had done when Tendulkar arrived at the crease. In the Sky commentary box they were jostling to be in position to be ‘on air’ when the 100 was achieved. With some serendipity Wasim Akram and Sourav Ganguly were on duty – two players who played in Tendulkar’s first test match exactly 24 years ago to the day. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
With Tendulkar on 74, Deonarine now looked the odds-on favourite to enter the record books as the man who bowled the ball for Sachin’s ton. That would be an honour and something you could never take away from him. In the first over after tea Deonarine was dutifully supplying the ammo for General Tendulkar’s next few dispatches to the rope. One such delivery outside off stump looked gift-wrapped for delivery to the boundary and Tendulkar essayed a cut/dab, which flew not to the vacant third man area but at Sammy’s throat. Sammy somehow held on to the catch and in normal circumstances there would be acclaim for pulling off such an accomplished bit of slip fielding.
The silence that greeted this unexpected turn of events was not so much of the stunned variety, but more one of shock and awe. Shock that Sammy and Deonarine could dare to intervene and awe based around the notion that Tendulkar was a mere mortal. A measly 26 runs short, Sachin turned on his heel and strode back to the pavilion. A billion Indians shook their heads and a fair few million wept. His mother who had never seen her son play before this ultimate act looked faintly embarrassed. “You little rascal, just wait until I get you home,” she seemed to be saying; “how could you do such a thing to your family? Your wife was there and your little boy, you have not only let yourself down, but your whole family and the nation. I mean, honestly.
I felt the same way as Mrs. T, after all it was now 05.07 am and there I was buzzing from my hit of coffee, bereft of any entertainment and facing the prospect of a couple of hours of early morning soul-searching. I consoled myself that not only had I witnessed the moment he fell and nobody could take that away from me but also this was good practice for the big test ahead with The Ashes just around the corner. Me and my sofa are going to get very well acquainted over the next three months.