The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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How a challenge spurred Tendulkar

It was surprising that the little champion took the last innings of the series to notch up the three-figure mark. The West Indies attack, with due respect, is a pretty ordinary one and when you are as talented as Sachin Tendulkar, it is possible that the mental challenge is not there.

Why does he have such a superb record against Australia' Simply because he likes the questions asked by McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and company. The menace in this varied attack stimulates him, challenges him, and makes him want to show who is the boss. So he plays well above his potential and that has reduced someone as great as Shane Warne to having nightmares about bowling to the bonzer!

It also explains why he has no century against Zimbabwe there, for he simply has not been felt challenged by their attack and it also explains his uncharacteristic dismissals in the 30s and 40s earlier in this series.

Every batsman relishes scoring a century. But if he has played for a few years and got a dozen or so under his belt, there has to be something extra that will get the juices going. It could be the pitch, it could be a physical injury like in Chennai against Pakistan, it could be the previous history against the opposition or it could be the situation.

That the team was in dire straits was the challenge at the Eden Gardens and straightaway one could see the gait change, the sparkle come in the eyes and the tell-tale sign when the little champion is excited ó the vigorous flexing of his legs just before taking his stance.

The computer in the mind had stored the mode of his dismissals in the previous innings of the series. They had all occurred because he had reached out to meet those deliveries rather than waiting for them to come onto the bat. He was playing at the ball early, not late, as he does normally. It was a mental aberration and once the computer had informed the mind about it and the mind was alert and not sluggish, there was no way that error was going to be repeated.

So late was the ball played that the bowler, especially Powell, must have thought that he had got his man out, only to find seconds later the ball burning the grass on its way to the advertising boards.

For years the Eden Gardens crowd had waited patiently for this. He had provided them cameos but they wanted the full works and their patience was rewarded. The shots were played all round the Gardens as if to touch every blade of grass previously left untouched.

The trademark straight drive was there as was the flick off the pads where the bat finishes in exactly the opposite direction from the stance. There was the late cut as well and the big stride extra cover drive off the spinners. It was what Eden Gardens was waiting for.

It was no surprise that V.V.S. Laxman this time played a second fiddle to Tendulkar during the rescue act. Before he retires from the game, VVS must take some turf from the Eden and keep it as a memento of his revival as a Test player. There are some grounds where a player feels he can do no wrong and Eden Gardens is one such for Laxman.

Harbhajan Singh was the deserving Man of the Series and his bowling with all the cunning and variation is a joy to behold as he weaves his web around the batsmen. It is not just the number of wickets he takes but who he gets that is crucial. And he invariably gets the top order and thatís what makes him special.

Their improved performance in this Test will give the West Indies more confidence as they take on India in the upcoming one-day series. That will be much closer than the Tests, thatís for sure!

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