119* v England, Old Trafford, 1990 All of 17 and on his first tour of England, Tendulkar made his first Test century a significant one. India had been set an improbable target of 408 to win the second Test, but at 127 for 5 they were on the road to defeat. Then Tendulkar, on a tricky pitch, batted for almost four hours – this after he took 54 minutes to get off the mark for his first-innings 68 – to earn his team a creditable draw. Batting in a pair of Sunil Gavaskar's pads, he put on 160 with Manoj Prabhakar before the match ended. His innings contained possibly every shot in the book, spanned 224 minutes with 17 boundaries, and duly earned him the Man-of-the-Match award.
"In the second Test match I decided that come what may I am going to spend minimum 45 minutes here and then see what happens," reflected Tendulkar of his maiden Test century a couple years ago, "because the players around me told that the first 15-20 minutes are always tough but once you stay there for longer than 25-30 minutes then things start changing gradually."
114 v Australia, Perth, 1992
On a lightning-quick WACA surface, India were blanked by 300 runs to go down 4-0 in the series. But Tendulkar's contribution in the first innings was mesmerizing and showed the cricket-mad Australian public that he was a player on the verge of greatness at the age of 19. Promoted to No. 4 – the spot he would make his own – Tendulkar stunned Australia with a stroke-filled 114. Looking on as India lost six wickets for 90 runs, he batted sublimely before being last out at a total of 240. His second fifty took 55 balls and he added a record ninth-wicket partnership against Australia of 81 with Kiran More. Ultimately India were rolled over for 141 second time around, with Tendulkar making five, but he had made people take notice of his genius.
In later years, Tendulkar said that 114 on a fast and bouncy WACA track changed the course of his life and gave him the necessary confidence to tackle any sort of bowling attack.
169 v South Africa, Cape Town, 1996-97
Another crushing defeat, another dazzling Tendulkar century. On his previous tour of South Africa, Tendulkar had made 202 runs at 33.66 including a century that helped India draw in Johannesburg. This time around, as captain of the side, Tendulkar was joined by his predecessor Mohammad Azharuddin at 58 for 5 in reply to the hosts' 529 for 7. What followed was 40 overs of bravado batting, which resulted in 222 runs. South Africa's bowlers were torn apart, with Tendulkar hitting 26 fours in his 254-ball 169. After Azharuddin (115 off 110 balls) departed, Tendulkar carried on to be the final Indian wicket to fall, after nearly six hours at the crease. His excellent century had averted the follow-on and given fans more reason to feel proud of their hero, never mind that India lost the match by 282 runs.
155* v Australia, Chennai, 1997-98
Billed as the Tendulkar v Warne showdown, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy saw the former emphatically squash any notions Australia's legspinning genius had of finishing on top. After falling for four to Warne in India's first innings, Tendulkar came to the middle in the second with India 44 runs behind Australia. Warne was in the middle of a testing spell, bowling around the stumps and into the rough, but the hours of training before the series proved immense for Tendulkar. Grabbing hold of the bowling, Tendulkar displayed his repertoire with a stunning assault on Warne. Particularly eye-catching was his employment of the sweep shot, sometimes aerial with sheer disdain, as Warne was made to look decidedly pedestrian. Tendulkar's unbeaten 1555 handed India a match-winning 347-run lead but more importantly, negated Warne's threat and left a psychological mark on the legend.
143 v Australia, Sharjah, 1997-98
Tendulkar wasn't finished with Warne yet. The year 1998 was arguably the best he has ever batted, with his aggression being the distinctive feature to his game, and when India met Australia in the UAE after the Tests he again stunned them with his mastery. Chasing a score of 254 to beat New Zealand on net run-rate and make the tri-series final, India were handed their target by Tendulkar. Single-handedly, he defied the attack and sandstorm with a innings of supreme skill and energy. A spot in the final sealed, Tendulkar then attempted to win the match. It wasn't to be, but the Australians had been sounded an ominous warning.
134 v Australia, Sharjah, 1997-98
Two days later, and on his 25th birthday, Tendulkar produced another spectacular century – his 15th in ODIs - to deliver India the series title. He was unstoppable, producing an array of the finest shots possible on a cricket field to drive India to their target of 272 quite comfortably. It was arguably his finest innings for India in 50-over cricket, coming against the top ODI team and in the cauldron of a final in Sharjah.
136 v Pakistan, Chennai, 1998-99
Widely hailed as Tendulkar's best Test century for the sheer effort and mental fortitude that it required, this 136 took India to the doorstep of what would have been an epic win over Pakistan. Chasing 271 to win, India stumbled at the top to leave Tendulkar, suffering from back spasms, to halt the slide. He did that emphatically, handling a red-hot Saqlain Mushtaq on a turning Chepauk surface with immense concentration and application. At 254 for 6 on the final afternoon, India were 17 away from victory with Tendulkar still at the crease. But severely hampered by his aching back, he mistimed a lofted drive and holed out, after which Pakistan wrapped up an unforgettable Test by 12 runs. So devastated was Tendulkar that he did not come out of the dressing room for the post-match presentation, instead sitting in tears and solitude.
117* v Australia, Sydney, 2007-08
Tendulkar answered critics who questioned his ability to seal tough chases in ODI cricket – he had not managed a chase-winning ODI century since 2001 or in any chase since 2004 - with a superb unbeaten century in the first of three CB Series finals. Chasing 241 against the world champions, Tendulkar guided India's innings with an impeccable 117 as the visitors took a decisive advantage in the finals. He shepherded the team's younger players expertly while never losing sight of his goal. In doing so, he also finally achieved an ODI century on Australia soil. It was one that few fans could forget.
200* v South Africa, Gwalior, 2009-10
Just a few months after he scored an excellent 175 off 141 balls in an ODI against Australia, Tendulkar broke a barrier that had not been breached in over 40 years. On a flat track in Gwalior, he stunned the South Africans to become ODI cricket's first male double-centurion. Tendulkar overcame cramps, heat and humidity to script an amazing innings which contained 100 runs in fours alone. He finished on exactly 200 not out, taking his tally of ODI centuries to 46 while eclipsing Saeed Anwar's 194 against India and Charles Coventry's 194 not out versus Bangladesh.
His first century took 90 balls, his second half-century just 28 balls, and he reached 200 with a steer past backward point. His awesome effort took India to a match-winning 401 for 3 and afterwards, ever-modest, Tendulkar said: "I don't think any record is unbreakable. I hope that if this record is broken, it's done by an Indian." Profound words, for in December 2011 his opening partner Virender Sehwag would do just that.
146 v South Africa, Cape Town, 2010-11
India's chances of winning their first Test series in South Africa were hit hard by Dale Steyn, who was in the middle of an outstanding spell of sheer pace and nasty away swing. In reply to South Africa's 362, India had slipped to 28 for 2 when Tendulkar walked in. Steyn was getting the semi old-ball to talk at high pace, and produced two fiery spells either side of lunch on the third day. Tendulkar faced 48 of those 66 deliveries and somehow came up on top. His handling of Steyn was excellent, and even though he was made to hop and fend and sway and miss Tendulkar held his composure to see off Steyn. His 146 proved the difference between a first-innings lead and big deficit. India didn't win the match, but Tendulkar had contributed significantly to a rare drawn series in South Africa.