Rise, cheer, shed a tear, or just clap in awe. The milestone – which for some was awaited with bated breath, for others seen as merely a number, for some a zenith – has finally arrived. He searched it the world over, for over a year, not knowing that the landmark would come near to home. And today, March 16, 2012, he finally found it, in Bangladesh. Sachin Tendulkar is a 100-century man.
A hundred international centuries sounds insane, almost nonsensical, but it is no longer a myth or illusion. It is an uncomplicated truth, one that makes the record book feel a lot heavier. It would be foolish to think that the landmark weighed Tendulkar down so as to affect his game. When 99 centuries weren't easy, how could the 100th be any less difficult?
Today, in Mirpur, Tendulkar walked in with 22 years tucked under one arm and his bat in the other. The poise hadn’t eluded him, even if the old curls had. The aplomb was just the same, like his 761 innings before today. The good old buckled pads, the customary stoop before taking his stance, that nod of appreciation after getting beaten were the same as that Old Trafford afternoon of August 14, 1990 – the day he got to his first century.
The change in reception from his fans had changed, however, over the last year. The focus somehow shifted from Tendulkar to a number – the 100th century. It seemed fans had sent the 99 he scored into oblivion and were just homing in on the 100th, almost breathing down the man’s neck. He was cursed and cried for at the same time, for over a year; 370 days to be precise. The moment Tendulkar strode in, that 100th hundred flashed before everyone, which is almost disrespectful to the mountain of runs he had erected and the wins he help fashion.
After today, nobody can deny that Tendulkar has not been a part of their lives. Did we not grimace when he batted in pain? Not shed a tear at his father’s demise? Were we not insulted when he was accused of ball tampering? Did we not jump in joy as he piled on the records?
Tendulkar has almost been a source of life, and each of us living in the Tendulkar era admire him for our own set of reasons. Some fell in love with his straight drive, some admired him for his grounded nature. Some marveled at his love for the game, some saluted the century he scored in 1999 after coming back from cremating his father. Others kept cursing him for getting out at the doorstep of victory, while not refraining from blowing him a kiss when he uppercut Shoaib Akhtar for a six over third man. Some puffed their chests to say 'I was there when he scored an ODI double', some were just content_cn to watch him play. He's been there for all of us.
But somehow, at the end of India's innings on Friday, Tendulkar sounded a bit cross. Largely for people circling over him for this 100th century, for discounting the 99 he scored for the one that just got delayed. He sounded as if the fans left him alone, in the twilight.
"Wherever I went ... hotels, housekeeping, all talked about this. I'm not playing for my 100th hundred. Nobody spoke about my 99 hundreds," he said.
A man who has been an unconditional source of happiness was feeling aggrieved. People counted matches, innings, days, months, years until today when Tendulkar served those mathematical minds his 100th international century. Such minds reduced an ambassador of the game to a run-monger.
But this is Tendulkar. If criticism would have affected him, milestones would have been far and few in between. He takes criticism in his stride, plays on, more for his team than for himself. Few may question that, but Tendulkar is and will always be a team man.
We can only hope after this that Tendulkar settles down and takes a long, hard look at what he has achieved, what the game has already given him. If he still feels the urge, then he should play on. But if somewhere, deep within, he feels the body is not the same, that the strength is deserting him, then he should take decisions.
Playing only Test cricket is one way to go. But nobody, nobody but Tendulkar knows that and decides that.
So let the 'superhuman' grab an armchair, put his feet up, close his eyes and soak in this moment. Contemplations can be left for a bit later.