Little Master shows touches of genius before falling short

Tendulkar's failure to get 100th international century with a maiden ton at Lord's is met with mixed feelings by crowd wanting to see him make history
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The Independent Online

The Lord's buzz was fed by an acute sense of anticipation at the start of play. The sun was out, the ground was full and the only fruitful subject of conversation was not England's chances of bowling India out but whether the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar, would get his first hundred at Lord's at the eighth time of asking. If he did it would be a doublecelebration, because a hundred here would be his 100th hundred in international cricket.

India's openers lasted only 90 minutes. Tendulkar was applaudedas he walked through the Long Room, and on his way to the field MCC members gave him a standing ovation. It was the same before Don Bradman's last innings at The Oval in 1948, when the ovation so moved him that he failed to read a googly and was out second ball.

The first striking thing about Tendulkar is that he really is small – 5ft 5in – bulked out a bit by a short-sleeved sweater. He takes his guard without any fuss; the stance is classically upright; he looks composed and he does not get out second ball. Stuart Broad's first delivery has been wide of the leg stump and flies off for four byes; Tendulkar's first significant scoring stroke brings four overthrows. The second strikingthing about Tendulkar is the noise his bat makes as he hits the ball. The timing is so perfect that the sound is soft and in tune.

He strokes the ball through extra cover and the fielders don't bother to move. He plays the ball square off the back foot and the fielders stare and admire. When he gets a four off a thick edge, you assume he meant to steer the ball between second and fourth slip.

He is not infallible. Chris Tremlett causes minor discomfort, but he scores boundaries with ominous ease, and before long overtakes Rahul Dravid. Tremlett actually pierces the defence. Bowling from the Nursery End, he is using the Lord's slope to accentuate his outswing. Tendulkar plays and misses.

A momentary aberration, surely. When he is on 32 he has already hit six fours. His demeanour and his reputation are so persuasive that already his hundred seems inevitable.

But Broad is back and bowling well. For the first time this season he pitches the ball up, and when he replaces Tremlett at the Nursery End he draws Tendulkar forward, the ball moves away and takes an edge.

Graeme Swann at second slip takes a routine catch. The game is not over, far from it, but the story is over; Tendulkar out for 34 after spending only 80 minutes at the crease. England are elated. The crowd have mixed feelings, however. They had hoped for something memorable.

Out for 34, and that was not even his top score at Lord's (he got 37 in 2007) but it leaves him with more runs than anyone in Test history (14,726) at an average of just under 57. These statistics are one reason why India have entered their 100th Test against England as the top team in the world, and why it is that in the past 10 series between the teams, England have won six Tests and India 11. England have not won a series against India, either here or there, since 1996.

This would be a delightful surprise to the princely old geezers who first toured England 79 years ago. The team were organised – and paid for – by the Maharaja of Porbandar, who naturally appointed himself captain and played the early tour games.

His scores were 0, 2, 0, 2 and 2 before he did the decent thing and fell on his sword. Mihir Bose's excellent History of Indian Cricket observes: "The Maharaja was said to be the only first-class cricketer in England to have more Rolls Royces than runs." There was evidence of promise all those years ago. CK Nayudu was the first Indian cricketer to be named as one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year, but Bose tells us that India did not emerge from the shadow of English cricket until 1971, the annus mirabilis when India beat England at The Oval and won a series for the first time.

India bask in the sun now. It is not just the presence of Tendulkar. Dravid, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman are world-class. MS Dhoni is a admirable combination of keeper, batsman and captain. The bowling is not of the same quality, of course, especially when Zaheer Khan cannot bowl. They are fed by the admiration of the largest crowds in cricket.

India are formidable, but, as yesterday's play demonstrated, they are certainly not impregnable. England's aspiration to be the best test team in the world is not a fantasy,but they will need to be bloody good to pull it off.