Sachin Tendulkar tuned up brilliantly for the upcoming Test series against Australia by hitting a record equalling 81st first-class century but couldn't prevent Mumbai from conceding first-innings lead to Rest of India on the third day of the Irani Cup match in Mumbai on Friday.
Tendulkar looked in fantastic touch as he hit a sparkling unbeaten knock of 140 off 197 balls to level Sunil Gavaskar's Indian record of 81 first-class hundreds. In the process, the 39-year-old also completed 25,000 runs in first-class cricket.
However, Tendulkar ran out of partners as Mumbai were all out for 409 thereby conceding a sizeable first innings lead of 117 runs. In the second essay, Rest of India were 27 for one at stumps which enhanced their lead to 144 runs and they have nine wickets in hand.
Nightwatchman S Sreesanth batting on seven is giving company to Murali Vijay, who is unbeaten on 18. Opener Shikhar Dhawan was dismissed for a duck.
The day belonged to Tendulkar, who sent a strong message to the Australian team about his intent, as he struck 18 boundaries and two sixes during his five hour and 43 minutes of stay at the crease. He played some shots around the wicket and none of the Rest of India bowlers barring S Sreesanth, who dug a few short ones could ask any probing questions.
Having arrived at the crease in the second over of the day, Tendulkar was hardly troubled by the Rest of India bowlers and his most productive partnership was with Ankeet Chavan (49) that yielded 103 runs for the seventh wicket.
Tendulkar also added 73 runs with the talented Ajinkya Rahane, who missed out on a deserving century as he was trapped leg before by Harbhajan Singh. The senior offie was the most successful bowler for the Rest of India grabbing three for 64 from 21 overs as he also dismissed Rohit Sharma for a duck.
Tendulkar warmed the cockles of the good turn-out at the Wankhede Stadium by batting right till the end of the Mumbai innings after coming to the crease in the second over itself at the fall of night watchman Shardul Thakur's wicket.
Watchful in the beginning against the swinging ball and the short-pitched stuff dished out by Sreesanth, Tendulkar opened out later with a string of exquisite drives, mostly through the off-side cordon and straight, for fours to reach the landmark 100 in 139 balls with 12 fours and a six each off spinners Harbhajan and Pragyan Ojha.
It was also Tendulkar's second ton in the annual Irani Cup game. His earlier one made in 1989 for Mumbai against the Rest of India, which clinched him a place in Krish Srikkanth-led squad for his maiden tour to Pakistan.
Starting with a splendid front-foot extra cover drive off Pandey to the second ball he faced, Tendulkar looked absolutely in command till the end of the innings.
Tendulkar and Rahane were cruising along merrily before Harbhajan broke their fourth wicket stand by trapping the latter leg-before when the batsman tried to sweep.
Replays suggested that the ball hit the bat but umpire Subrat Das upheld the appeal.
In the course of his 479th innings in first class cricket, Tendulkar also reached another big milestone of compiling 25,000 runs in the first class game, including 15,645 runs in 194 Tests. He needed 104 runs in his 479th innings in first-class cricket for reaching the second landmark.
Gavaskar had notched up 81 first-class hundreds between 1971 and 1987, which included 34 Test centuries.
The biggest culprit for Mumbai was Rohit Sharma, who tried an ugly heave over mid-wicket and left without scoring in 12 balls and 21 minutes. Captain Abhishek Nayar couldn't translate his Ranji Trophy form as he edged one from Abhimanyu Mithun to slip cordon.
While Harbhajan dismissed Rahane and Rohit in quick succession to strengthen his claim for off-spinner's slot, left-arm spinner Pargyan Ojha, who is certainty, was unimpressive as he went over 100 runs for his two wickets.
Sreesanth, who tested Tendulkar with short-pitched balls, got one wicket while his pace partners Mithun and Ishwar Pandey grabbed a couple apiece.
Rohit came to the crease, saw Tendulkar reach his 50 with a four and then threw away his wicket with 15 minutes to lunch by trying to slog Harbhajan over mid wicket from wide of stumps, only managing to give a catch to Ojha at mid wicket.
Mumbai, 255 for 5 at lunch after adding 100 runs in 30 overs, lost Nayar who departed soon after the break and were in trouble at 251 for 6 when Chavan joined Tendulkar and rescued the innings from disarray.
The duo remained together till the tea interval when Mumbai were 350 for 6. Chavan left soon after resumption edging Mithun behind the wicket to Saha to end the seventh wicket stand after it had lasted for 134 minutes and 157 balls. The batsman hit 8 fours in 89 balls.
Tendulkar continued to play his shots diligently even as the wickets fell at the other end to remain unconquered at the end.