Tendulkar's 49th Test ton leaves Ponting, and rest of the world, in his wake

Little Master's hunger for runs shows no sign of being sated. In fact, despite his age, he's sharper than ever. Amol Rajan reports
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The Independent Online

It is not entirely true, as his most ardent admirers are wont to suggest, that when a 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar made his debut against Pakistan in 1989, he entered the Test arena unannounced. Two years earlier he had scored 326 not out in a schools match, setting a world-record third-wicket stand of 664 with that great disappointment of the modern game, Vinod Kambli. Yet even those who sensed back then that he was a prodigal talent, seemingly touched by divinity, never imagined he would reach the landmark he passed this week.

In scoring an unbeaten 191 in the second Test of India's series against Australia in Bangalore yesterday, Tendulkar emphatically declared that he is in the form of his life – a point confirmed by his beating Graeme Swann to the ICC Player of the Year award last week. At 37, that is more than most batsmen can boast; but then none of them have passed the 14,000-run barrier, as India's hero did on Sunday. India finished yesterday on 435 for 5, chasing Australia's first innings of 478.

Despite not scoring a one-day international hundred until his 79th match in the shorter game, he has now hit more centuries in both Tests (49) and ODIs (46) than any other player. His 14,164 runs in Tests, to go with 17,598 in ODIs, make him the most prolific run-scorer in international history, and yet he shows no sign of relenting. Yesterday's 49th Test century took him 10 clear of his nearest rival, Ricky Ponting, who watched helplessly from the middle as the runs kept coming.

Not part of the victorious Indian World Twenty20 team of 2007, he seemed certain to bow out a few years ago, understandably exhausted from two decades as the most famous man in a nation of over a billion souls. Yet, rather than slow down, he is, if anything, accelerating: it took him only 12 innings to get from 13,000 to 14,000 runs in Tests, with an average of 84. In this calendar year, he has scored 1,000 runs for a record sixth time (Brian Lara, Ponting and Matthew Hayden have done it five times), and averages 87.

It is a salutary lesson for those batsmen who retire in their mid-thirties, thinking their best days are gone. Only Ponting, of those still playing, comes anywhere close in quality, and even he is not 36 until December. There is nothing mysterious about either player's method; but what Tendulkar does better than any player since Don Bradman is execute basic techniques with flawless proficiency.

He uses a heavy bat (around 3lb 2oz) and, having taken a leg stump guard, shuffles first his back and then front foot over middle stump. Within the crease his movements are small but certain. He never makes a great lunge forward, and if he has a signature stroke, it is the forcing drive off the back foot. He plays the ball exceptionally late and rarely, if ever, hooks, rightly thinking it the hardest stroke to control. His grip is unconventionally low on the handle, and turned inward, the remnant of his first adventures with a bat as a toddler.

Bradman, asked what he did for pre-season training, responded that he made sure he had some double centuries under his belt. Tendulkar obeys the same maxim. Intense practice and preparation are sacred to him. When Shane Warne first toured India, Tendulkar roughed up a patch outside leg stump in the nets, and got a bunch of local boys to pitch the ball there for a whole day. He played several hundred sweep shots, and needed treatment for a sore back. But in the Test series, he nullified Warne using exactly that stroke.

Bowlers, especially Australians and South Africans, have tried to counter him by bowling wide of off-stump and packing that side of the field. But his patience is legendary. Against Australia in 2004, he kept being caught in the covers while driving. So he cut the cover drive out of his game for his next innings – and scored a double hundred.

As he has come of age during India's economic miracle, his spotless record and unfailing integrity have made him his country's favourite son. He adorns endless billboards, earns a reputed $15m (£9.4m) each year, and drives his Ferrari at night time to avoid scrutiny. He lives with his wife and two children in a gated compound in Mumbai, the city in which he grew up with his uncle.

You will search the archives in vain for a dressing-room bust-up, drinking binge or profanity for which he is responsible. His politeness has never left him. When, in 1992, he became the first non-white player at Yorkshire, Geoff Boycott remarked that this charming young Indian insisted on calling him Mr Boycott.

"As far as me chasing Sachin..." Ponting said sarcastically of his great rival a fortnight ago, "I was actually expecting that he might have retired before now." Kapil Dev, India's finest all-rounder, still insists Tendulkar has not fulfilled his talent. On current form, and much to his opponents' dismay, the Little Master appears to agree.

Masterful Tendulkar

* Tendulkar's unbeaten 191 against Australia yesterday put him 10 Test centuries ahead of his nearest rival

Top five century-makers in Tests

Span 100s

1 S R Tendulkar (India)1989- 49

2 R T Ponting (Aus)1995-39

3 J H Kallis (SA)1995- 35

4 S M Gavaskar (India)1971-8734

5 B C Lara (WI)1990-0634

Top five runscorers in Tests

1 S R Tendulkar (India)1989-14,164

2 R T Ponting (Aus)1995-12,178

3 B C Lara (WI)1990-0611,953

4 R Dravid (India)1996-11,581

5 A R Border (Aus)1978-9411,174