On the eve of the third test against Australia, and 22 innings having passed since his last international 100, the pressure continues to grow on the broad cricketing shoulders of the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar. Or does it? Is the pursuit, and eventual achievement, of 100 international centuries really that important?
If you read the mass of articles written by Indian scribes, or have bought into the media hype created by any number of marketing and PR departments in the West Island (sorry, for those of you outside New Zealand, I refer to the small island due west of us – Australia), then the answer is a loud and definitive yes. If you were to put yourself in the shoes of all but a minority within the Indian press box, would you risk the ire of over one billion Indian fans who view the Tendulkar as a cricketing deity, and not tow the company line about the magnitude of the milestone? Likewise, can you blame the marketing gurus at Cricket Australia, Channel 9, Vodafone et al. for promoting the potential record ad nauseum if it means more punters file through the turnstiles, download the app or watch the live televised coverage, all the time helping grow revenues, ratings and crowds?
That said, does a feat encompassing two very different cricketing disciplines hold much water? There was no unadulterated celebration when the diminutive 38 year old passed 30,000 runs across tests and ODIs or played his combined 600th match – both achieved for the first time by Tendulkar. Consider this; would people think less of Sachin or remember him with only muted fondness if he finished on 99 centuries? No. No one questioned the pedigree of the world's greatest batsmen because he was bowled for a duck in his final innings and finished his accomplished career with a test average of 99.94. Yes, it would have been an ending more befitting Disney if instead, Eric Hollies’ googly had been driven for four, and Sir Donald George Bradman had ended his career with an average in triple figures, but it doesn’t matter a jot. The Don will always be the batting benchmark; a man who sat at the top of the pile with daylight a distant second. In the same vein, regardless of if (or when), he reaches the 100 century mark, Sachin Tendulkar will be widely regarded as the icon of the modern game – not because of that one achievement, but for all he’s achieved during his 23 years in the top flight. Since playing his first test against Pakistan as a skinny 16 year old with a curly afro, Tendulkar has destroyed almost every batting record up for grabs, and created others of his own. His more than 33,000 international runs and 50 plus test hundreds are unlikely to be bettered, and if he can stroke his way to two more ODI tons he’ll go past 50 in that form too – now, that’s an achievement worth celebrating.
But, when the pre-test hoopla and hyperbole has died and the Little Master descends the steps to enter the WACA cauldron, like fans all around the world, I hope he knocks off his 100th century, and then moves on to numbers 101, 102 and beyond with the same poise and humility as he has one hundred times before.