The day Rahul Dravid retired, he was asked to look back on a long career and name his best innings. "It's like asking to choose between my sons," said Dravid, listing several memorable knocks but declining to pick just one. This is something you expect when someone has built a large and impressive body of work in a span extending well over a decade. And that is why it came as a surprise when Sachin Tendulkar pin-pointed one of his hundred international centuries as his favourite.
Tendulkar, who was more relaxed and forthcoming than we've seen throughout his career, opened his heart out to those who had gathered in Dubai for the first of six dinners with him hosted by FidelisWorld. The 350-plus fans lost interest in the fine wine and food on offer, thanks to the nuggets Tendulkar so liberally dropped in an interaction with Alan Wilkins, the former Glamorgan seamer who now works in the media.
"It's got to be, from a cricketing point of view, Perth in 1992," Tendulkar began, referring, of course, to the time when he, as a 19-year-old, was up against a formidable Australian attack that included a red-hot Mike Whitney, who picked up 11 wickets in the Test.
Although India lost comfortably, Tendulkar lit up the Western Australia Cricket Association ground with 114 in an innings where the next highest score was 43 from Kiran More at No. 10.
Tendulkar conceded that he learnt many new words in the course of that knock, being sledged mercilessly by an expert Aussie unit.
But, while the Perth innings was incomparable from a purely cricketing perspective, the knock which means the most to Tendulkar is another one. "The one that is really important to me is the hundred I scored against England in Chennai. We all know what happened in Mumbai in 2008," began Tendulkar, referring to the simultaneous attacks on the Taj Mahal Hotel and other locations that left 164 dead and at least 308 injured. "The entire nation was dumbfounded and didn't know how to react. England went home from the ODIs and gracefully returned to play the Test series. For three and a half days, England dominated. Zaheer picked up key wickets on the fourth afternoon and Sehwag and Gambhir gave us a great start."
On the final day, it was Tendulkar who closed the game out, striking the winning runs and reaching his hundred in the same stroke, ending unbeaten on 103. "We were in a terrific position to chase 387. The next morning, I had a great partnership with Yuvraj, who batted brilliantly," said Tendulkar. "Normally, you have groundsmen running on to congratulate you, but for the first time in my career, I saw a groundswoman jumping with joy. That had never happened before. It showed the emotion of that moment, the way people reacted. By winning that Test, if we were able to help people who lost loved ones think differently for a fraction of a second, it was a great achievement by the Indian team."
While Tendulkar did not say so, the innings also put to rest the misplaced claim that he did not win matches for India. Batting at No. 4, it's unlikely that someone would still be at the crease at the end of a match, even if he executed his role perfectly. That run chase, however, was a once-in-a-lifetime situation, and now we know that even Tendulkar places it above all else.