Who would have imagined then that almost 23 years later, he would be rated as the best-ever to have played the five-day game? In fact, now that he has got his 100th international ton, it is a good time to assess whether he is the top Test batsman of all time.
One would then have to take a look at Tendulkar’s journey from Karachi onwards and break it into four parts – his early days, his peak period, his lean phase, and his ‘veteran stage,’ to understand the genius of the man.
The early years (1989-92)
While Tendulkar’s doubts evaporated after scoring 59 in his second Test in Faisalabad, his legend gathered momentum during India’s subsequent tours to New Zealand and England. At Manchester came his first Test hundred, an unbeaten 119 against a tricky English pace attack that saved India from certain defeat. It was in Australia, though, that Tendulkar began charming the cricket world. His 148 at Sydney made him, at 18, the youngest to score a Test ton in Australia and made Aussie pacer Merv Hughes tell his skipper Allan Border, “AB, this little p***k is going to get more runs than you one day.” The 114 in the final Test, a minefield at Perth, convinced everyone that Tendulkar’s was a name that deserved its place amongst the pantheons of the game. In the winter of 1992, Tendulkar produced another gem, a classy 111 in Johannesburg, a knock in which he discovered his own solution to the bouncing ball, employing an upper cut that few batsmen played before him in Tests – a stroke that he patented before Sehwag came along. Test cricket attractive again!
The wonder years (1995-2002)
Tendulkar’s graph rose rapidly during this period, and he flirted with captaincy too. There was a 122 against England at Edgbaston and a 169 against South Africa at Cape Town, but the best was reserved for Australia, and Shane Warne. Taking guard outside leg-stump, Tendulkar repeatedly dispatched Warne to the upper tiers of the stadium in Chennai, stroking an unbeaten 155. After that came a gallant 136 in Chennai against Pakistan, despite a bad back.
The lean years (2003-2006)
Suffering from career-threatening injuries, Tendulkar lost form too, but kept battling on. He made plenty of runs in the ODIs, but couldn’t replicate the same touch in Tests. The maestro did produce the odd ‘master class’ like the 241 in Sydney in 2004. Tendulkar admitted that with the arrival of Virender Sehwag, and the settling in of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, his role had now changed.
The veteran (2007-continuing)
Just as the daggers were coming out, Tendulkar’s ‘second wind’ arrived. The stroke play wasn’t the same, the hand-eye co-ordination wasn’t at its best, but Tendulkar was willing to slog it out. He passed the ‘acid test’ in the summer of 2007 against England, and kept getting better. There were two hundreds against Australia Down Under and a double hundred against the same side three years later in Bangalore. There was an unbeaten 103 that guided a fantastic chase against England in Chennai and a 160 in Hamilton in windy and bouncy conditions. There were a couple of hundreds in South Africa too, before bad times arrived on tours to England and Australia. Again, there have been calls to Tendulkar to end it all, but few would bet against a ‘third wind’.