A Hundred Memories
Manchester, the story began. A boy became a man. His first Test hundred, standing tall amongst ruins. Sydney, the Aussies found a supreme rival. Perth, a master-class on the bounciest pitch ever that will remain etched in time. Johannesburg, he announces himself to a new world, finds himself a new challenging opposition.
Chennai saw a first ton at home, after long last, and in the company of his childhood friend Vinod Kambli. From Colombo to Lucknow, he would not be swayed by a newbie Lankan attack. Colombo again, a wait of almost five years ended, a first ODI hundred came after seven in Tests. It was scored against Australia, and a sort of love affair had begun.
Vadodara, New Zealand became the fifth cricket playing nation to come under his blade. West Indies follow suit, at Jaipur and then at Nagpur. It was almost the end of Caribbean dominance, even as Australia stood at the cusp of their journey. He remained the prized-wicket for both and all the rest. Then three months later, at Sharjah, came the first storm.
1996 brought with it the first true boom for cricket in the subcontinent. And he was there, at the head of it all. Cuttack and Delhi witnessed first World Cup hundreds. It didn't win India the trophy, but he could only do so much on his own.
Seven years after his debut, one name remained yet unconquered, Pakistan. A most uncommon venue, Singapore, will remember his first triple-digit knock against the arch-rivals. A second followed, soon after, at Sharjah. However, there would be better innings to come against this opposition, rich both in ferocity and drama.
Birmingham and Nottingham, two gems that ought to be remembered as much for his stroke play as for his two new mates. Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, the backbone of Indian cricket going forward, he had found some support at last. They would need a little more time to get going though, even as he would carry on against Sri Lanka, at Colombo, willing to wait.
He was captain, when South Africa came calling in the autumn of that year. Mumbai, Titan Cup final, another hundred - would you consider that a match-winning innings? Or possibly the greatest counter-attack in history when he paired up with Mohammad Azharuddin at Cape Town? Did that 222-run partnership catch your fancy? Because they sure did catch Allan Donald's who went on record saying that he wanted to stop bowling, just to start clapping.
Zimbabwe weren't novices when he added them to his list later on that tour, Benoni it was, during the tri-nation series. He made New Zealand seem like one at Bangalore, during the Independence Cup. But his captaincy was beginning to come apart whilst the runs were still flowing. Two tons at Colombo and then one at Mumbai, but the ones that flew off Sanath Jayasuriya's bat caused greater damage. His style was getting cramped, they said. Leave him to his batting, alone, it was argued.
And they did, when Australia first started talking about the 'final frontier'. They forgot to take him into the equation. The world found out a new way of playing leg spin, dance down and smack that was the watch word. Chennai and Bangalore were ample demonstrations, and the ODI at Kanpur. Then came 'Desert Storm'. Sharjah never glowed brighter than it did when under the shade of a mountain of dust.
Shane Warne was nightmarish, the Aussies went home baffled. But not before a final assault on their senses in Dhaka. They had become the new Pakistan, well almost. For a lack of contest with the arch-rivals, he had deemed them the greatest challenge and gotten better. In between, a first ton at Kolkata, the majestic Eden Gardens had come forth, albeit against Kenya. Since when did that matter, you start the innings at zero always.
With Ganguly, a new opening partnership record stood in their name, at Colombo. Later, with Dravid at Bulawayo as the trinity slowly beginning to take shape. Zimbabwe's Henry Olonga challenged him. It sounded like fallacy, and was duly put in his place, twice over in the span of five days, in Sharjah. Chennai, Pakistan winning a heart-breaking thriller, the anguish of not finishing the match still rankles after 13 years. Colombo, a first Test hundred in the Asian Test championship, probably the only one ever. Bristol, moist eyes as the bat rose to remember his father, a nation cried with him. Colombo, celebrates in style as he is back in the captaincy saddle.
Mohali to Ahmedabad to Hyderabad, a slew of records against the visiting Kiwis - first a record partnership with Dravid, his first double-hundred and then a high of 186 in ODIs. Melbourne, the only one to stand up on a disappointing tour Down Under. Vadodara, finishing his captaincy the way he began, a hundred against South Africa.
Sharjah, in 2000, celebrating the last tournament there for a long time to come. Milking Zimbabwe all the way from Delhi to Jodhpur via Nagpur. Waugh's 'final frontier' remained unconquered at Chennai. Indore, the list versus Australia grows ever more. Harare, century in final of tri-series goes in vain, cynics get more fuel. Prepares for tough series against Proteas with ODI tons at Johannesbury and Paarl. Hundred at Bloemfontein, in company of Virender Sehwag, is a true gem.
England brushed aside at Ahmedabad, Zimbabwe at Nagpur. Then he goes past Sir Don Bradman at Port of Spain. Bats at No.4, Chester Le Street and Bristol, as Sehwag opens. Boundaries and sixes rain at Leeds as India thunder to series leveling victory. First Test hundred at Kolkata. Only one ton in the 2003 World Cup. Gwalior and Hyderabad, opening in ODIs again.
A masterclass in patience at Sydney. Lone hand at Rawalpindi. That oddly confusing declaration at Multan. Highest Test score in Dhaka. Good run against Pakistan continues in Ahmedabad and Peshawar. In between the 35th Test hundred in Delhi. Hampered by tennis elbow, pummels West Indies in Kuala Lumpur and Vadodara. Teaches Bangladesh a lesson, twice over, for the hurt in Caribbean. 2008 sees four consecutive hundreds scored against Australia - Sydney, Adelaide, Sydney and Nagpur.
Chennai, fourth innings hundred against England lays ghosts to rest. 163* at Christchurch and 175 at Hyderabad point to something. Test tally grows meanwhile, at Hamilton and Colombo. Ahmedabad and Mirpur, India gets to Test number one. Defends it in Nagpur and Kolkata versus South Africa. Gwalior, first ever ODI double-hundred. Double-hundreds are a rage - two more in Tests, Sri Lanka and Australia suffer. 50th Test hundred at Centurion. Breathtaking duel with Dale Steyn in Cape Town, the toast of our times.
Andrew Strauss counters his ton for a famous World Cup tie at Bangalore. The 99th in Nagpur versus South Africa goes in vain. A wait of more than a year ends at Mirpur, a first against Bangladesh in ODIs. And more importantly Sachin Tendulkar's 100th international hundred.
Take a bow, maestro!
More about Chetan NarulaStudying engineering and business administration couldn't satiate his mind and in 2007, Chetan Narula found his calling as a sportswriter/journalist. Since then he was written on cricket, F1 and football at various avenues not only in India but also in USA and UK. He also worked as cricket commentator (voice) at ESPN for their mobile and web platforms, doing over a hundred matches. High points of his career include witnessing history at Wankhede Stadium (Mumbai) when India lifted the ODI World Cup and his first book, Skipper: A Definitive Account of India's Greatest Captains, which hits bookstores in July 2011. His Twitter feed is here.
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