Ask batsmen about their favourite innings and inevitably they tell you that it’s unfair to ask a father to choose between his sons. The good thing is, for those watching from afar, there are no such compunctions. With Sachin Tendulkar, there is such a large body of work to consider, even if you limit yourself to his Test centuries, that there can never be complete agreement.
Over the course of 23 years, Tendulkar, who took to the Test game even more naturally than the shorter versions, produced many gems. Here are five that we thought were right up there:
119 not out, v England, Manchester, 1990
In only his ninth Test match, the little boy with the curly mop gave the Indian cricket fraternity the confirmation that they were after, that this was a genius that would graduate seamlessly from one level of the game to the next. At 17, Tendulkar had hardly been exposed to the pressure of having to play out a final day on foreign soil to save a Test match. An attack that included Devon Malcolm, Angus Fraser, Chris Lewis and Eddie Hemmings were in with a chance when India were reduced to 35 for 2 staring at 408. In 189 balls, Tendulkar ended with an unbeaten 119, calming the nerves of a nation and keeping defeat at bay. It wasn’t his most destructive innings, but when the first Test hundred is as special as this one, how can you count it out of a list?
114 v Australia, Perth, 1992
Today’s cricket viewers may not understand the significance of Tendulkar’s batting at the WACA in 1992, but that’s only because the pitch at Perth circa 2013 bears almost no resemblance to the traditional surface at the venue. In 1992, it was still rock hard, and countless batsmen tell you that playing there felt like the laws of Physics did not apply: the ball seemed to come off the pitch faster than before it landed. When none of his more experienced colleagues could get past 30, Tendulkar stood on tip-toe, leapt in the air and wielded the bat with power and precision to stare bullies such as Craig McDermott and Merv Hughes in the eye and not blink. For purity of strokeplay and a display of raw guts, this innings will always be rated highly by those who watched it.
136 v Pakistan, Chennai, 1999
The emotion ebbed and flowed on a final day that had everyone at Chepauk on the edge of their seats. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mustaq at the height of his powers stood between Tendulkar and a famous chase of 271. That, and the small matter of back pain so severe it left Tendulkar virtually immobilized at its worst. Playing the occasion, absorbing the pressure, blunting the opposition, Tendulkar slowly yet surely took India towards their target even as wickets fell at the other end. Forging partnerships with every batsman who graced the crease, Tendulkar got to 136, but only one other batsman crossed 10 on the day, leaving the master in tears as India fell short. The match may be remembered for the standing ovation Pakistan got from the Chennai crowd, but for Tendulkar, the pain and tears will make it unforgettable.
241 not out v Australia, Sydney, 2004
When you have every shot in the book, the ability to place the ball better than most, and can judge the pace and bounce early enough to get your timing right, there can’t be too many things more difficult than self-denial. At Sydney, the team needed runs, by hook or crook, and Tendulkar gave away the cover drive for a little longer than 10 hours. No matter how juicy the half-volley was outside off, or how tempting the vacant spaces were, Tendulkar refused to be drawn into the stroke. It wasn’t pretty, but this was as close to cutting out all risk that is possible on a cricket field. For sheer bloodymindedness, this knock is an important one in Tendulkar’s scrapbook.
103 not out v England, Chennai, 2008
Having spent his whole life at No. 4, Tendulkar should never have been expected to finish matches by being not out when the winning run was struck. That he set games up should have been enough, but India’s fans rarely follow reason, and demanded that Sachin tick that box. It was also suggested that he didn’t like the fourth innings quite as much as the first, so when India were staring at a record chase of 387, the situation was perfect for Tendulkar to do his thing. Batting with poise and composure that belied the pressure of the scoreboard, Tendulkar stuck to a fairytale script, knocking off the winning runs with a boundary that took him to his hundred. When Tendulkar picks out this innings as one of the most satisfying of his career, it would be churlish of us to leave it out.
Think we missed out a big innings? Your favourite not on our list? Send us your comments below: