Tendulkar emerged into the Manchester murk an unknown and departed a star
Richard Edwards recalls when the world had to sit up and take notice of a 17-year-old who became known as the Little Master
As far as arrival announcements went this was deafening. India were staring defeat firmly in the face when a diminutive 17-year-old strode to the crease against a rampant England attack scenting further Indian blood after a first Test humiliation of the tourists at Lord’s in the summer of 1990.
By the time this Mumbai-born prodigy had exited his stage, unbowed and grinning broadly, 225 minutes later, there was an acceptance from those lucky enough to have witnessed the innings that Sachin Tendulkar was going to be around for some time to come. His life was never going to be quite the same again.
Tendulkar would amass 15,921 runs in a career spanning 14 years and 200 Tests but that first hundred on a typically overcast afternoon in Manchester would be the defining moment.
He had already given notice of his extraordinary talent in the first innings of that match as a support act to the imperious Mohammad Azharuddin who took England’s attack apart in a sensational innings of 179.
The pair would be reunited at the crease on that final afternoon, but by the time Tendulkar emerged from the gloom of the Old Trafford pavilion to join his captain both could have been forgiven for thinking the game was up. Chasing a nominal target of 408, India were already four wickets down, and when Azharuddin departed soon after, dismissed by Eddie Hemmings – some 25 years Tendulkar’s senior – England were closing in on a 2-0 series lead.
Surely, seasoned watchers reasoned, England’s victory procession wasn’t going to be derailed by a 17-year-old averaging a then far from extraordinary 33 after his first eight Tests.
The Little Master had already created something of a buzz that summer, smashing a century against Derbyshire at Chesterfield in a warm-up for the Texaco Trophy series in mid-July.
“A bravura performance,” gushed Jack Bailey in The Times after Tendulkar brought up his hundred with a hooked six over a lime tree on the boundary off Ian Bishop – the ball almost flying completely out of the ground.
Scores of 19 and 31 in the two one-day internationals proceeding the first Test of the series barely hinted at what was to come. His dismissal in the first of those matches – bowled behind his legs by Devon Malcolm – also gave rise to doubts over his ability to play high pace.
With his one-day average standing at less than 20 after that series, it appeared that England would have to wait to see the best of the prodigy, with the 1990 tour perhaps coming too early for him to unveil the true extent of his batting powers.
The first Test at Lord’s is remembered for one of the supreme batting performances in English cricket history – Graham Gooch’s 333 in England’s gargantuan total of 653-4 declared. With Ravi Shastri and Azharuddin responding with centuries, there was certainly no shortage of runs for those pouring through the Lord’s turnstiles.
“At the end of the most intoxicating week in this run-drunk season, we are witnessing something from another age, a Test match in which the result seems to matter less than the entertainment,” wrote Alan Lee in The Times. Of the 1,603 runs scored at the Home of Cricket, though, just 37 came from the apparently over-sized bat of Tendulkar.
England could have been forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about.
After a 247-run spanking on the final day at Lord’s, the chastened tourists headed north to Old Trafford and Tendulkar could only watch on helplessly as England’s batsmen once again filled their boots.
Gooch scored his third successive hundred against an Indian bowling attack that must have been sick of the sight of him. Mike Atherton also scored his second century of the summer – his first coming against New Zealand at Trent Bridge back in June – as did Robin Smith in England’s imposing first innings effort of 519.
Enter, for the first time in the series but for the first of many times against England, Tendulkar. Coming in with India teetering at 246-4, Tendulkar shared in a stand of 112 with Azharuddin and, after taking a scarcely credible 54 minutes to get off the mark, he eventually unveiled his full repertoire as England’s bowlers struggled to find a response to a man playing with the straightest of bats and the calmest of heads.
Tendulkar was the last man out, caught by Chris Lewis off the bowling of Hemmings for a second highest Test best score of 68. “A flowering talent,” wrote Lee. And one that was about to blossom in the most attractive way imaginable.
If there was a recurring criticism of Tendulkar during his Test career it was that he didn’t do enough to win India Tests when they needed him most. As India’s top order crumbled in the second innings at Old Trafford, though, he was about to answer his country’s call. Mind you, England only had themselves to blame.
Tendulkar had scored just 10 when Hemmings shelved a caught and bowled opportunity. It would be a costly miss and one that handed the 17-year-old the chance to create history. There was still plenty for him to do when Kapil Dev became the sixth Indian wicket to fall. Never one for retreat, Dev still batted as if India’s target was still eminently attainable and was bowled after attempting to a smash a turning Hemmings’ delivery over the Pennines. He hid his face behind his bat
Tendulkar is correct, unspectacular and utterly unflappable and he is destined to be a world star in the next century
Our series on major events that gripped the cricket world continues with the emergemce of an all-time batting great
Admirer: Indian legend Sunil Gavaskar