'Sachin disappoints again.' 'Tendulkar dashes hopes.' 'Little Master falls short.'
It is rather absurd that such headlines could be written about Sachin Tendulkar, who is by far the most celebrated and successful cricketer of our generation, and most likely the generations before that too.
After all, this is a man who has given us countless moments of joy through his batting - and at times even his bowling and fielding - never mind the wins, some of which were single-handedly achieved. He has served the Indian team exceptionally and consistently for 22 long years, even as relentless pressure and the burden of expectations of an entire nation have been his constant companions.
Much to the gratification of a seemingly numbers-obsessed country such as ours, he already holds just about every record in the game worth owning, including those for most Tests and ODIs played, most runs and hundreds scored in Tests and ODIs, most runs in World Cups, most runs in an ODI innings (the one and so far only double-hundred) and most Man-of-the-Match awards.
Of course, he also has a few unwanted records, for instance, the one everyone is focusing on right now - that Tendulkar is the first batsman to have been dismissed in the 90s ten times in Tests and 18 times in ODIs. Then there are some records that are only meant for trivia geeks - did you know Tendulkar is the first batsman to have been given out by the third umpire?
So, with so many records to his name, is the delay in reaching his latest milestone - and it is inevitable that the 100th century will come - really disappointing?
It seems that what is actually disappointing is the hysteria that now surrounds Tendulkar each time he walks out to bat, for the myopic focus on his impending hundred has overshadowed all other achievements of the team and his teammates. When you have spectators berating Rahul Dravid - who also, by the way, recently crossed 13,000 runs in Tests - for preventing Tendulkar from scoring, or the crowd calling for India to follow on just so Tendulkar can bat again, then it really is time to wonder whether we - as cricket followers - have got our priorities right.
Of course, most fans have been waiting for this milestone ever since India won the World Cup - or so the hype surrounding it would make us believe - and so, there was stunned silence in the Wankhede Stadium as he slowly walked back to the dressing room, just as there had been at Eden Gardens and before that, at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Blasphemous as it may seem though, I was not as disappointed as the masses seemed to be.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Tendulkar just as much as the next Indian cricket fan and nothing lifts my mood like a century from his bat. However, if you think about it, there is an upside to the fact that ‘the wait’ must go on a bit longer.
For one, it draws the crowds. Of all the 14 days of Test cricket between India and West Indies, the largest crowd came in Mumbai, with the prospect of Tendulkar’s century in sight. And at a time when Test cricket is struggling to fill the stands, this kind of excitement is the shot in the arm it needs.
For those who have to rely on their TVs, it now heightens interest in the already mouth-watering Test series against Australia, starting next month. There’s nothing like the prospect of Tendulkar’s landmark hundred to persuade people to wake up at five a.m. on a cold, winter morning. Besides, won’t the runs mean a lot more were they to come in Australia against the side that he has tormented the most?
As for the stats-obsessed, even in the unlikely scenario that Tendulkar is stranded on 99 centuries, there is always the fitting comparison with Sir Donald Bradman’s 99.94. And the failure to reach the 100-figure mark did not make the Australian legend any less great, did it?
Meanwhile, until that hundred arrives, we can always console ourselves by remembering some of the other memorable centuries Tendulkar has scored since the first one in August 1990 - a match-saving 119 not out against England at Old Trafford. With 99 gems to choose from - the 114 as a 19-year-old at the WACA; the 155 not out in Chennai against the same opponents in March 1998, the 136 against Pakistan at the same venue a few months later; the unbeaten 241 in Sydney in January 2004; the 175 in Hyderabad in November 2009, again against the Aussies - honestly, one is spoilt for choice.
But there are some other very unforgettable innings as well, even as they fell just short of the three-figure mark. For instance, that 98 against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup is an innings to treasure. The 85 against the same team in the World Cup semi-final this year was pretty special too. Come to think of it, any of his 158 half-centuries can be part of the list, including the 94 against West Indies in Mumbai last week; and there is nothing disappointing about that at all.
If at all I was upset, it was because India failed to get the one run they required to win the Test. It was a painful case of so near and yet so far; and to fall short by just a single run... that’s truly disappointing!
Now, if only Tendulkar had scored those six runs ...