What is an athlete’s greatest enemy? It is the passage of time, isn’t it? For, with every passing year, Father Time gently reminds the athlete that he has taken another step closer to the sunset.
The reminders can come in various forms - reflexes start slowing down, the eye does not sight the ball in the same way as it used to, the ball which would have been dispatched with ease now starts sneaking in through bat and pad…
Slowly, Father Time starts gaining a foothold over the athlete.
But then there are a few sportsmen - and they are only a handful who can defy time and make it appear as if it is just an illusion. For, these are men who have basked in the sunshine for long, the passion still burning in their bellies, they have mastered their craft, and are just madly in love with it.
On the 5th of November 2009, a man called Sachin Tendulkar deluded all those who watched him into believing that the concept of time did not apply to him. He had already crossed 36 years of age, withstood the harsh tribulations of international sport for a staggering 2 decades, but on that day, he again bewitched all of us with the willow in his hand.
The Venue for this classic was the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad. The Australians had posted a mammoth 350/4, and India needed to bat extremely well, to get anywhere close to the target.
Tendulkar though seemed to be totally in the zone...
A flick past mid-wicket off Hilfenhaus took him past the 17,000-run mark in ODI cricket. No batsman had got to 17000 runs till then, and in all probability, no one ever will.
The master got going with a lofted drive over mid off for four off the bowling of Hilfenhaus.
Tendulkar then rocked onto the back foot and pulled Bollinger past mid-wicket for a boundary. And by the way, Bollinger was just 8 years old, when Tendulkar first took guard for India way back in 1989!
Meanwhile, Sehwag departed at the other end, but Tendulkar marched on. He showed his mastery by opening the face of the bat off Mckay, and the ball raced past the keeper into the boundary.
The master batsman got to his fifty with a single to third man, and at that point, had scored exactly half of India’s total.
Nathan Hauritz, the off-spinner, was then carted over mid-wicket for a boundary. Tendulkar glided down the wicket with the elegance of a ballet dancer and smashed him to the boundary.
Shane Watson was then pulled over mid-wicket for a six, and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan exclaimed in the commentary box “Tendulkar is playing a magical innings tonight.”
Tendulkar then danced down the wicket and hoisted Hauritz for two glorious sixes over his head. Nine years ago, he had baffled the greatest leg-spinner responding to the name of Shane Warne in Sharjah, and nine years later, a lesser mortal called Hauritz was witnessing Tendulkar’s Genius unfold on the cricket field.
A single to third-man took Tendulkar to his 45th ODI hundred, and every soul in the stadium erupted in unbridled joy.
After crossing the three-figure mark, Tendulkar started playing with the field - he first opened the face of his bat and split the gap between point and short third man with the precision of a surgeon, and once a fielder was positioned to prevent him from repeating the same shot, Tendulkar moved to the off side and executed the paddle with perfection.
The master was at the peak of his powers, and all that the bowlers could do was gape at him in awe.
Then, as Tendulkar was batting on 148, he played the shot of the match - and it is shots like these that made all of us forget our troubles and allowed him to capture his place in our hearts. Hilfenhaus bowled a perfectly good delivery on off stump, Tendulkar got onto the front foot, and just punched the ball between cover and long off.
The master had now got India very close to the finish line. India required 19 to win off 18 balls and Clint Mckay had the ball in his hand. He bowled a slower delivery, Tendulkar went for the paddle, the ball took the leading edge, and the man at short fine leg completed the catch.
And, as Tendulkar departed after illuminating the night sky in Hyderabad, Sunil Gavaskar exclaimed “What an innings! How privileged are we, to witness this knock!”
Tendulkar created a mirage on that day, and time was nothing more than just an illusion.Published 04 Jan 2019, 14:51 IST