When Sachin Tendulkar illuminated Perth
Twenty-six years ago, Sachin Tendulkar – the batting prodigy – scored a hundred at WACA, Perth. At 18, his dexterity on the world’s fastest track spoke volumes of his ability and abundance of talent. If 148 runs at the Sydney Cricket Ground were special, his counter-attacking 114 at Perth was monumental and worth preserving in the annals of cricketing history.
Amidst the hopelessness displayed by Indian batting, one name stood head and shoulders above the rest. Sachin Tendulkar attacked the Australian bowlers courtesy of his positive mind-set and wide array of glittering strokes. An innings of astonishing brilliance came from the willow of Tendulkar that nudged India towards a decent score which gave its first innings score an air of respectability.
Tendulkar’s 161-ball essay is special since it was punctuated by 16 boundaries. It was a commendable job by an 18-year-old sensation from India since those 114 runs came at a venue which is arguably the fastest track of the world. The extra bounce at the WACA wicket gives the visiting batsmen a nightmare. But Tendulkar looked comfortable on the lively wicket. The extra bounce extracted by a four-pronged pace attack- Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Paul Reiffel and Mike Whitney, helped Tendulkar to play horizontal bat shots. The vintage cut in front of the square on the off-side indicated the amount of time Tendulkar had while playing his shots – a rare sight at WACA since Test cricket first started in 1970. It was as if Tendulkar had deciphered the Da Vinci code.
Tendulkar made batting look easy because of his decisive footwork. This has been the basic tenet of his batting which is why he was touted to be “the next best thing in Indian cricket” right since his arrival at the International stage in 1989. In his first series, his decisive footwork saw India save the fourth and the final Sialkot Test when Pakistan had got four Indian wickets for 38 runs. If Sialkot saw Tendulkar engineering a rear-guard action, at WACA it was a case of “fighting fire with fire.” The Indian batsmen were at sixes and sevens when the Australian bowlers pitched the ball up to the bat. Tendulkar’s response to such deliveries was a firm push down the ground – never before has anyone including any Australian been that decisive with his straight-drive at WACA.
The water-tight defence and guide to the third-man fence were the two shots played with precision. When Tendulkar was on strike, mellifluous metaphors came into the cricket-lovers’ minds. When others took strike, the focus shifted to how WACA is a tough place to bat on and how Australian pacers were smelling blood. Tendulkar kept losing his partners. When Prabhakar and Kapil Dev were dismissed, India were still trailing by a long margin. But Tendulkar found an able ally in wicket-keeper Kiran More. Tendulkar shielded More till the time the latter settled down. Tendulkar, by now, was toying with the home side’s attack. He knew which balls to score off and how to find a single when needed during the second half of the over.
A huge standing ovation was given to Tendulkar by a modest crowd of 4,347. Every person in the crowd was proud of Tendulkar and the way he batted. They were sure about who the number 4 batsman was going to be for India for a long time to come. They had just seen the glimpses of brilliance from Tendulkar at Perth.
It is here where Australia’s romance for Tendulkar’s batting began. An Olympian feat from a teenager gave some solace to the battered Indian fans. They had been dismissive of India’s batting in overseas conditions thanks to some of the insipid performances in the tour down-under. Tendulkar had injected a lot of “hope” in the minds of Indians. A star was just born.