New Delhi: India's batting genius Sachin Tendulkar becomes the youngest cricketer to play 100 Test matches on Thursday when he takes the field in the decisive final Test against England at the Oval. India looks forward to another sizeable contribution from the prolific 29-year-old as it attempts to win their first Test series away from the sub-continent since 1986.
Tendulkar smashed a robust 193 in the previous match at Headingley last week as India squared the series 1-1 with an innings victory over the host. He overtook the legendary Don Bradman with his 30th century in Tests and is now only behind compatriot Sunil Gavaskar, who holds the world record of 34 hundreds. Observers believe the day is not far when the "little genius" will knock the "little master" off the perch, for he is young and has not lost his enthusiasm for the game and appetite for runs. Tendulkar has rarely encountered failures during his illustrious 13-year career, having scored 8,351 runs in 99 Tests and 11,505 in 295 One-dayers with a world record 33 hundreds. It is a tribute to his temperament that Tendulkar has never been criticised for his on-field behaviour.
"I've enjoyed every bit of it," said Tendulkar as he surpasses former team-mate Kapil Dev, who played his 100th Test aged 30. "I really feel if you're going to be nice to people, the people are going to be nice to you. This is what my father taught me. It would have been good if he was around today. He would have been a proud man at this moment." India's batting has been revolving around Tendulkar for more than a decade. So much so the critics have often labelled India a one-batsman team, especially on tours. Tendulkar was not even 17 when he made his Test debut in 1989 against a Pakistani side boasting of fearsome pacemen Imran Khan and Wasim Akram.
He has never looked back since. Besides his extraordinary talent, courage and consistency have been the main virtues of Tendulkar who has made batting glamorous and entertaining without sacrificing solidity. Bradman and West Indian great Vivian Richards had remarked that Tendulkar's batting reminded them of their own. Australia's champion leg spinner Shane Warne realised there could be only one winner in a duel with the little master blaster. Warne continued to be haunted by Tendulkar in his dreams after being mauled by the Indian on the 1998 tour of India.
Tendulkar admires Richards for his ability to play amazing shots and Gavaskar for sheer consistency. "I've really admired Richards," said Tendulkar. "That's how I always wanted to play. I like to play shots and he (Richards) played shots throughout his life. I like the way he played shots - really remarkable. "I also admire Gavaskar's consistency. These two are my batting heroes. As for behaviour, it was obviously my father." Tendulkar has sometimes invited criticism for his failure to play match-winning knocks when India needed them most. Critics say this is one of the reasons for India not winning an away series for so long.
It is a sign of his greatness that he has grabbed the headlines as much for failures as for his successes. Observers feel that Tendulkar has matured and is not as adventurous and risk-taking batsman as he was at the beginning of his career. "Sachin, in the first half of his career, played breath-taking shots," said former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar. "Now, he's more of a clinical run-getter. He's risk-free, amazingly consistent and mastered shots that don't come naturally to him, such as those behind the wicket."