Sachin Tendulkar will embark on his fifth Test tour of Australia today, something that not many would have imagined four years ago. Remember the rousing ovation he got at the Adelaide Oval in 2008, the crowd presuming it was his last Test on Australian soil.
Renowned writer Mike Coward even penned a sentimental piece on his potential farewell. "It is only right that Sachin Tendulkar should play his last Test match in Australia at Adelaide Oval for he has a very special affinity with this city of churches and Chappells and festivals.
"For this was Don Bradman's hometown for 66 years and in 1998 India's little master came here especially to pay homage to the game's greatest batsman on his 90th birthday. "He will be 35 on April 24 (2008) and India is not scheduled to return here for Test matches before 2011-12," he wrote prior to the Adelaide Test. And yet Tendulkar returns to his beloved country for a fifth time, the first Indian to do so.
Ever since his first tour Down Under as an 18-year-old, Tendulkar has left Australians smitten with his strokeplay. The love affair began when he became the youngest to score a Test century in Australia on his first tour -- an unbeaten 148 at Sydney. After his exquisite Perth ton later on that tour, Merv Hughes cracked open a beer, turned to his captain, Allan Border and said: "This little prick's going to get more runs than you, AB." Border had 9,532 Test runs at the time -- the second highest in the history of the game after Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar. Hughes was on the button.
"I was there to witness those hundreds at Sydney and Perth in 1991-92. I was amazed how he adapted to those conditions so quickly, considering his age. The Perth hundred is still the best I've ever seen. There was prolonged bounce after the third day - a lot of cracks on the wicket. You could literally put a finger inside the crack. When the seam landed on the crack, the ball went wherever it pleased.
It was difficult to anticipate anything. This teenager walked in and showed everyone how to bat," said Dilip Vengsarkar, who previously held the Indian record for four Australia tours (1977-78, 1980-81, 1985-86 and 1991-1992). Vengsarkar was also part of the Indian team that won the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia.
"He's done well everywhere in the world. But there's something about Australia. He likes the ball coming on to the bat. He enjoys those conditions like anything," he added.
'The Best' in Oz
Indeed, he does. In 16 Tests there, he has 1,522 runs at 58.53. Even Sir Vivian Richards (47.56), Brian Lara (41.97) and David Gower (44.48), who played a lot more Tests in Australia, didn't match Tendulkar's feats. In fact, Wally Hammond, Herbert Sutcliffe and VVS Laxman are the only visiting batsmen besides Tendulkar to average in excess of 50 in Australia (minimum qualification: 1,000 Test runs).
In his autobiography 'Standing My Ground', Matthew Hayden wrote that Australians were so much in love with Tendulkar that a special version of his 1998 blade was manufactured at a Brisbane factory. Irrefutably, Tendulkar is an icon in Australia.
In 2003-04, Tendulkar went through the leanest patch of his career. But the double century at SCG that summer was his way to reaffirm his love for Australia, a knock that many felt redeemed his career. "Tendulkar was having a quiet series, with just one 50. Before the Sydney Test, we talked about his batting, which didn't happen very often as he knew his own game inside out.
In Sydney, he decided he was going to keep it very tight; he wouldn't play through cover or square off the front foot because that was where he'd been getting out. Having formulated a plan, he went out and executed it, making 241 not out, his highest Test score (at the time), of which only 53 came on the off side. The word gets done to death, but this was an awesome display of technique and discipline. A month later his wife Anjali (Tendulkar's wife), who'd listen in our conversation, got in touch to say thanks for the chat in Sydney," former India coach John Wright wrote in 'Indian Summers'.
The Tendulkar-Australian love affair reached its pinnacle on the last tour. The boy was too young in 1992 and in 2008 doubts lingered that the man may be too old; it didn't matter to the man and like the boy he also reached Perth having made runs in Sydney -- this time a 154 not out. Tendulkar made an audacious 71 before falling to an unlucky lbw decision. He finished with 493 runs at 70.42; his best ever return from any series.
Help from a friend
Tendulkar had sought help from former India fast bowler Subroto Banerjee on that tour. "He was always a good friend, even before he started playing international cricket. I was playing club cricket in Australia at the time.
He called me and said, 'why don't you join us at the nets and help me out'.
I obliged immediately. I ended up travelling with the team for the entire Test series. The original plan was just to visit him in the nets once. "I did not regret travelling with the team as he played some of his best knocks on that tour.Â If he calls me again, I will be glad to help him out," Banerjee told MiD DAY.
The below players have made six Test trips to Australia
Johnny Briggs (England)
1884-85, 1886-87, 1887-88, 1891-92, 1894-95, 1897-98
Total: 21 Tests
Colin Cowdrey (England)
1954-55, 1958-59, 1962-63, 1965-66, 1970-71, 1974-75
Total: 27 Tests
Bob Willis (England)
1970-71, 1974-75, 1976-77, 1978-79, 1979-80, 1982-83
Total: 24 Tests
Daniel Vettori (NZ)
1997-98, 2001-02, 2004-05, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2011-12
Total: 12 Tests