ON February 24, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar set a record that a few have looked like achieving but nobody has – a double-hundred in a one-day game. He set the record against South Africa, the team that is currently ranked third in the ICC one-day rankings, and this gives an indication of the achievement. (Australia stands first in the ODI rankings, followed by India; in the Test rankings the same three teams hold the top positions, with India being first, followed by South Africa and Australia).
One must go back fo 1983 to trace the progress of high scores in one-day cricket – during the world cup in England that year, India’s captain Kapil Dev made a swashbuckling 175 not out against Zimbabwe. At that time, the latter was still a fairly decent outfit, and nothing like the rabble it has become after the political troubles that have engulfed the nation. A year later, Viv Richards knocked the stuffing out of England with a knock of 189 not out, an outstanding effort which was made out of 272 and in an innings where only two others reached double-figures.
Pakistan’s Saeed Anwar eclipsed Richards in 1997 when he made 194 against India in Madras (now Chennai), a score which ZImbabwe’s Charles Coventry equalled last year. Coventry’s innings was somewhat devalued because he made the runs against Bangladesh, a team that should not be playing top-level cricket.
In some ways, Tendulkar’s unbeaten 200 – he reached the mark in the final over of the game – was not as taxing a knock as the 175 he made against Australia last year. The pitch at Gwalior was flat, India was batting first, and the ground was small. Hitting over the top and reaching the boundary was far easier on this ground than in Hyderabad where Tendulkar made his 175.
But that should not detract from the achievement. At 36, any cricketer would normally be devoting his attention to the longer form of the game; that Tendulkar still plays the one-day game and performs so well is testimony to his ability. And an important thing to note is that unlike many others, he has never adopted ugly improvisation to keep making high scores; practically all his shots are genuine cricket shots that the connoisseur can appreciate.
Indian batted first in this game, the second in a three-game series against South Africa, with the advantage of having already won the first. The innings began at at a fair pace but Virender Sehwag, who normally relishes batting on a flat track, fell early. Thereafter, Tendulkar shared three partnerships, with Dinesh Karthik, Yusuf Pathan and skipper M.S. Dhoni. He dominated the first two but Dhoni was in such a savage mood that for a while it looked like Tendulkar would be denied his 200.
Tendulkar scored at a cracking pace – 100 in 90 balls out of 176 (his 46th one-day hundred), 151 out of 264 (18 balls to go from 100 to 151) and 200 from 147 (29 balls to go from 151 to 200). He was lucky to be adjudged to have made his ground when sneaking a run at 159. In total, he hit 25 boundaries and three sixes as India, 213 for one in the 32nd over, reached what was ultimately a match-winning 401 by the end of the innings.
South Africa did not play Morne Morkel in this game and Makhaya Ntini is no longer in the team. Dale Steyn, Wayne Parnel, Charl Langeveldt, and Roelof van der Merwe were the main bowlers for the Proteas, a decent attack by any standards. Jacques Kallis and Jean Paul Duminy provided back-up.
When great batsmen strike a certain vein of form, there is nothing any bowler can do; Steyn, who has been a vital cog in South Africa’s move up the ladder in international cricket in recent years, could only watch in resignation as Tendulkar played some incredible shots against his pace. One particular shot stays in the mind – he moved outside the off-stump and hit Steyn to the mid-wicket boundary. That degree of control against a man of Steyn’s pace is reminiscent of the great Richards at his best.
Records are just one indicator of a cricketer’s greatness. The way a player makes runs, the opposition, the circumstances, all count. No matter what factor one measures him by, Tendulkar stands tall.