Cricket is a game that is in thrall to numbers. For all Sir Donald Bradman’s greatness it is often the failure, by 0.06, that he is remembered for. Other numbers stick in the mind, too: for Brain Lara, the record for the highest score wasn’t enough, 501 sounded so much better. Half an eye on his brand, some quipped.
For Sachin Tendulkar, the current number obsession, rather like Bradman, is 99 and, despite his unbelievable record, it is his failure rather than his great successes that interests people right now. His latest attempt came in the Asia cup on Tuesday, when he was dismissed for six, eliciting a tweet from an English cricket writer of long standing: ‘can someone just lob a few throw-downs to Tendulkar and get this ridiculous thing out of the way?’
‘This ridiculous thing’ , of course, is Tendulkar’s quest for his hundredth international hundred, a made up statistic given that it combines completely different forms of the game, but one that will probably never be challenged again. It is now just over a year since Tendulkar last scored a hundred. That came during the World Cup in Nagpur against South Africa, and the manner of it, freewheeling and exhilarating at the start and the finish, was in great contrast to the careworn batsman that has gone to the crease on most of the 367 days since then.
I am indebted to Benedict Bermange, SkySport’s superb cricket statistician, for working out that this is Tendulkar’s longest wait for a hundred since the gap between his very first- scored at Manchester in August 1990 and his second in Sydney, 511 days later. Never, between then and now, has Tendulkar had to wait for more than a year to celebrate three figures. What this obsession has done, then, is take a hardened, seasoned professional back to his sometimes uncertain youth. Recently he has been batting like a novice learning the ropes rather than someone who has learnt them better than virtually everyone in history.