Cricket: Great monument of a batsman of genius

THIS IS the most unpredictable of sports, but few people in the Nevil Road ground yesterday doubted that Sachin Tendulkar would build some special cricketing monument to his father, Ramesh. And to those who witnessed his innings, it will remain as real as any tribute carved in stone. He flew home last Wednesday, while his team-mates lost to Zimbabwe. He returned hurriedly to serve a nation desperately in need of him and at 12.25pm yesterday he went back to work.

By this time Kenya were aware that they were playing against the crowd as well. India had brought her flags, whistles, bells, drums and leather throats to Bristol, and when a lone Kenyan standard was paraded around the perimeter it was greeted with a chorus of subcontinental raspberries. There were legions of children among the biggest Bristol crowd since Bradman's day, and they were all delightedly failing the Tebbit test.

The convention in India decrees a 13-day period of mourning, but while Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the tributes to Ramesh Tendulkar, the greatest batsman in the world had to wrestle with grief, family wishes and his perceived duty to his country. Those who packed the ground already knew the result of his private debate, and there was respect mixed with deafening jubilation when he entered the arena.

As Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid built India's record third-wicket partnership, and their highest World Cup total, they achieved a beautiful cricketing crescendo. There was no joy in Tendulkar's heart but he was not going to fail. For a very short while he tested the pace of the pitch, the thud of the ball. Two lovely fours, a drive and a lissom clip to backward point loosened his wrists, and when he hit Kenya's skipper, Aasif Karim, over long on for his first six he knew that Karim had placed a man there. So he simply, effortlessly, hit the ball a little higher. And when he reached three figures Tendulkar glanced skywards, as if to check that his father was watching.

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