It was a remarkable exhibition of strokeplay by Tendulkar, who not only notched up his 45th ODI hundred but also became the first cricketer in the history of the game to cross the 17,000 run mark
It was a night that broke hearts. The evergreen script of Sachin Tendulkar single-handedly fighting cricketing battles for India was enacted again.
In the end, sadness and silence lingered. The maestro, egged on by the challenge of a daunting target and a familiar foe, played an incandescent innings that turned the clock back, clipped a milestone 17,000 ODI runs, and raised hopes on a feverish Thursday at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.
Tendulkar’s 175, a number resonant with Kapil Dev’s triumphant effort against Zimbabwe during the 1983 World Cup, was, however, destined to embrace tragedy.
Chasing Australia’s 350 for four in 50 overs, India scored 347 in 49.4 overs to lose the fifth ODI of the Hero Honda Cup by three runs and trail the seven-match series at 2-3.
Tendulkar’s innings (175, 141b, 19x4, 4x6) was reminiscent of his knocks against the Aussies in Sharjah in 1998. He punched Ben Hilfenhaus for his first four. Soon he pulled Doug Bollinger, tucked Clinton McKay, slammed Shane Watson and danced down and lofted spinners — Nathan Hauritz and Adam Voges.
The dainty touch was evident too as he late cut and finely swept Michael Hussey in a 209-minute tenure remarkable for its power, placement and poise.
Tendulkar’s 45th ODI hundred was also a manifestation of his genius. Shaping to pull Voges, Tendulkar realised that the delivery was fuller in length and he quickly shortened his extravagant back lift to whip the ball past a bemused Ponting at mid-on.
Tendulkar also found an enterprising ally in Suresh Raina (59, 59b, 3x4, 3x6) and as the duo scripted a 137-run fifth-wicket partnership, a fairytale began to take shape.
The required equation boiled down to 75 from 60 balls, 41 from 30 and eight from the last six deliveries but Raina and Harbhajan Singh fell in succession, Tendulkar’s effort to scoop one over short fine-leg proved fatal and the tail ran itself out.
Frail top order
In a night that was a tribute to Tendulkar’s longevity, his partners in the top order displayed frailty. Virender Sehwag (38) continued his obsession with playing cameos and top-edged Ben Hilfenhaus as Doug Bollinger plucked a fine catch running from short fine-leg.
Gautam Gambhir gifted memories and a first ODI wicket to debutant seamer Clinton McKay. Yuvraj Singh popped a return catch to Shane Watson and M.S. Dhoni was surprised as he found a diving Adam Voges at point before Tendulkar hinted at a near-miracle.
Like father like son
Earlier, it was a case of like father like son. Geoff Marsh scored his first One-Day International hundred at India’s expense in 1986. And 23 summers later, his son Shaun Marsh notched up his maiden ODI century, that too against the Indians.
Marsh junior’s cultured 112 (112b, 8x4, 2x6) along with Shane Watson’s opening blitz (93), skipper Ricky Ponting’s 45 (45b, 3x4, 1x6) and Cameron White’s 57 (33b, 2x4, 5x6) helped Australia grab the initiative after opting to bat.
Marsh did enjoy his reprieves on 29 and 51 when Dhoni and Virender Sehwag dropped him and he was also a subdued player during the opening partnership of 145 runs from 152 deliveries with an aggressive Watson.
However, there was no mistaking the southpaw’s talent. Marsh bided his time while Watson (93, 89b, 9x4, 3x6) cut loose against an erratic trio of Ashish Nehra, Praveen and Munaf Patel, who replaced Ishant Sharma in the Indian XI.
Later, Marsh displayed power in carting Harbhajan down the ground and finesse while hoisting Nehra over mid-wicket with a turn of the wrist.
Watson (93, 89b, 9x4, 3x6) fell to Harbhajan, who bowled a tight first spell of 8-0-28-1 while left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja went for runs.
Meanwhile, Marsh relished the deliveries homing into his pads and registered his maiden ODI century on a day that would be remembered for Tendulkar’s brilliance.
Australia: S. Watson c Jadeja b Harbhajan 93 (89b, 9x4, 3x6), S. Marsh c Gambhir b Nehra 112 (112b, 8x4, 2x6), R. Ponting b Praveen 45 (45b, 3x4, 1x6), C. White c Tendulkar b Praveen 57 (33b, 2x4, 5x6), M. Hussey (not out) 31. Extras (lb-6, w-5, nb-1): 12. Total (for four wickets in 50 overs): 350.
Fall of wickets: 1-145 (Watson), 2-236 (Ponting), 3-270 (Marsh), 4-350 (White).
Power Plays: One (Overs 1-10): 56/0; Bowling (11-15): 41/0; Batting (35-39): 44/1.
India bowling: Praveen 9-0-68-2, Nehra 10-0-79-1, Munaf 9-0-73-0, Jadeja 5-0-44-0, Harbhajan 10-0-44-1, Yuvraj 7-0-36-0.
India: V. Sehwag c Bollinger b Hilfenhaus 38 (30b, 5x4, 1x6), S. Tendulkar c Hauritz b McKay 175 (141b, 19x4, 4x6), G. Gambhir c Hilfenhaus b McKay 8 (13b, 1x4), Yuvraj c & b Watson 9 (10b, 1x4), M.S. Dhoni c Voges b McKay 6 (16b), S. Raina c Manou b Watson 59 (59b, 3x4, 3x6), Harbhajan c Manou b Watson 0 (2b), R. Jadeja (run out) 23 (17b, 3x4), Praveen (run out) 9 (9b, 1x6), A. Nehra c Hussey b Bollinger 1 (2b), Munaf (not out) 2 (3b). Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-8, nb-3): 17. Total (in 49.4 overs): 347.
Fall of wickets: 1-66 (Sehwag), 2-92 (Gambhir), 3-126 (Yuvraj), 4-162 (Dhoni), 5-299 (Raina), 6-300 (Harbhajan), 7-332 (Tendulkar), 8-333 (Jadeja), 9-335 (Nehra).
Power Plays: One (Overs 1-10): 68/1; Bowling (11-15): 33/1; Batting (45-49): 38/3.
Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 10-0-72-1, Bollinger 10-0-75-1, McKay 10-0-59-3, Watson 8.4-0-47-3, Hauritz 5-0-43-0, Voges 3-0-19-0, Hussey 3-0-26-0.