Monday, March 12, 2012

A year on, Tendulkar still on 99 tons

Exactly a year ago, on March 11, 2011, Sachin Tendulkar scored his 99th international century against South Africa in Nagpur during the World Cup. It wasn’t enough to set up an Indian victory, but it showed viewers the world over that aged 37 and 323 days, he was still a master batsman showing few signs of slowing down.

A year on, and Tendulkar is still on 99 international centuries, while so much has changed for the Indian cricket team. In the last 12 months they have won the World Cup, slipped form their No. 1 perch in the ICC’s Test rankings, been whitewashed in consecutive overseas Test tours, failed to make the finals of a tri-series, and have seen Rahul Dravid make his exit from the international scene.

In these 12 months, Tendulkar’s batting returns have also diminished. In 11 Tests he has scored 778 runs at an average of 37.04, with a best of 94. He came close to scoring that unprecedented 100th hundred a couple other times too; at The Oval he made 91 and in Sydney he reached 80. That innings of 94 was the best chance he had of getting to three figures – Tendulkar came out on the fourth morning in Mumbai in robust mood – but an unwarranted dab to third man ended up in the slips.

His batting hasn’t been poor, but he has endured patches where he has shut shop – such as in Sydney, where he fell to Michael Clarke – and others when he has timed the ball perfectly only to lose focus (London, Delhi, Mumbai, Melbourne) with aggressive shot selection. Plenty has been written, spoken and surmised of whether the 100th hundred has played on Tendulkar’s mind, and not without reason. It is a long time for Tendulkar to go without a century. Along the way, India were blanked 4-0 in England and Australia, adding to the overall sense of failure.

Tendulkar did not play an ODI since the World Cup final on April 2, 2011 until he was named in India’s squad for the CB Series after the Test debacle in Australia. That period included four ODI contests, against West Indies and England home and away. Injury played its part, with Tendulkar being ruled out of the ODI leg in England. In 11 ODIs since that century in Nagpur, Tendulkar has made 301 runs at 27.36, with his best shot at the 100th hundred being his chancy 85 against Pakistan in the World Cup semi-final. He has not crossed 48 since then.

Tendulkar’s inclusion for the ongoing Asia Cup – India play Sri Lanka on Tuesday – gives him another opportunity to reach that landmark century. After a bad CB Series, there is thought that Tendulkar will score No. 100 on much friendlier tracks in Bangladesh. If he does, India will rise to cheer a legend. If he doesn’t, the calls for Tendulkar to take a firm call on his ODI career will get much louder.


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