But Tendulkar did not achieve what he had ultimately set out to do, which was to save, then win the match. His first objective was realised: India avoided an innings defeat. But he had hoped to bat long enough to set England between 200 and 220 to win, and he was 100 short of that target.
Like all fine cricketers, Tendulkar was not inclined to blame the pitch for the condition his side find themselves in. "The bounce was not consistent, but if the batsmen stayed there, they scored runs. Today I was quite comfortable." And the rest of us watched entranced.
A second reason was that an England team was winning a Test match in a little more than three days. David Lloyd, the coach, was delighted. "We're nobody's soft touch," he boasted after the match. He deployed words like "controlled aggression" and added: "It's a big boys' game."
Neither the umpire, David Shepherd, nor the match referee, Cameron Smith, thought the aggression had been sufficiently controlled during an incident in which Chris Lewis was convinced that Tendulkar had been caught at the wicket. Tendulkar touched his sweatshirt - to suggest that the ball had touched that rather than his bat. Lewis was clearly not convinced, and Atherton said they had an umpire to decide what the ball hit.
Shepherd wagged his finger sharply at the England captain, who talked back. During the interval between innings, Cameron Smith talked first to Shepherd and then to Atherton. T`he message was that they should cool it. Having agreed to do so, the referee said that was the end of the affair. This looks like one controversy that will not escalate.
It had been a fine day's play, but at the start of it, the ticket touts were having such a thin time yesterday that you could even feel a bit sorry for them. Anyone who wanted to see the Test only had to fork out pounds 29 for the cheapest seats, and there was plenty of room for them. An unusually deferential tout offered me a pounds 32 ticket for pounds 25 and dropped the price to pounds 20 when I seemed to have misheard him. It would have been a bargain.
The English fans were so elated by the sight of their team on top that they sang Jerusalem and God Save what sounded like the Queen. They shouted support of an lbw appeal like an echo, and rose exuberantly when England scored at Wembley. But it did not matter which team the spectators were supporting for them feel fortunate - privileged even - to watch Sachin Tendulkar showing how to bat on a wicket of variable bounce.
Don Bradman has declared that Tendulkar is the batsman who reminds him most of himself, but there was a difference between them yesterday. Bradman accumulated his runs remorselessly, scoring off almost every ball. Tendulkar scored his runs faultlessly, fast, and - until Min Patel tied him down for a while - mostly in boundaries (19 fours), as though he intended to show England's bowlers that Indian batsmen are not a bunch of patsies. By bringing up his century with a thrilling straight six, Tendulkar confirmed his sense of occasion.
It was worth every penny.
First Test scoreboard
(India won toss)
INDIA - First Innings 214 (J Srinath 52; D G Cork 4-51, A D Mullally 3-60).
ENGLAND - First Innings 313 (N Hussain 128; J Srinath 4-103, B K V Prasad 4-4-71).
INDIA - Second Innings
V Rathore c Hick b Cork 7
(21 min, 11 balls, 1 four; second slip dives low to left, but doubts whether ball carried)
A D Jadeja c Russell b Lewis 6
(37 min, 27 balls, 1 four; clear edge to wicketkeeper)
N R Mongia c Hussain b Cork 9
(49 min, 36 balls, 1 four; diving gully catches thick-edged flash)
S R Tendulkar c Thorpe b Lewis 122
(264 min, 176 balls, 19 fours, 1 six; skied hook off top edge to midwicket)
*M Azharuddin b Mullally 0
(5 min, 3 balls; flicks to leg and misses straight delivery)
S Joshi c Russell b Mullally 12
(20 min, 15 balls, 1 four; plays down wrong line and give inside edge to wicketkeeper)
S V Manjrekar c Knight b Lewis 18
(100 min, 64 balls, 2 fours; fends steep bouncer to fourth slip)
A Kumble run out (Knight-Hick) 15
(70 min, 54 balls, 2 fours; starts run from bowler's end and ball thrown from square leg)
J Srinath lbw b Lewis 1
(17 min, 114 balls; played back and missed)
P Mhambrey not out 15
(28 min, 20 balls, 2 fours; bowled offering minimal resistance)
B K V Prasad not out 0
(16 min, 6 balls)
Extras (b4 lb9 nb1) 14
Total (319 min, 70.4 overs) 219
Fall: 1-15 (Rathore) 2-17 (Jadeja) 3-35 (Mongia) 4-36 (Azharuddin) 5- 68 (Joshi) 6-127 (Manjrekar) 7-185 (Kumble) 8-193 (Srinath) 9-208 (Tendulkar) 10-219 (Mhambrey).
Bowling: Lewis 22.4-6-72-5 (8-3-19-1, 2-1-5-0, 5-0-22-1, 7.4-2-26-3); Cork 19-5-40-2 (9-4-19-2, 5-1-7-0, 3-0-8-0, 2-0-6-0); Mullally 15-4-43- 2 (nb1) (11-2-41-2, 4-2-2-0); Irani 2-0-21-0 (one spell); Patel 8-3-18- 0 (3-1-6-0, 3-1-7-0, 2-1-5-0); Hick 4-1-12-0 (one spell).
Progress: Second day: Rain stopped play 5.47pm; close 5-0 (Rathore 5, Jadeja 0) 2.2 overs. Third day: 50: 87 min, 18.3 overs. Lunch: 89-5 (Tendulkar 50, Manjrekar 2) 28 overs. 100: 152 min, 32.4 overs. 150: 217 min, 46.2 overs. Tea: 170-6 (Tendulkar 101, Kumble 4) 56 overs. 200: 296 mins, 65.5 overs.
Tendulkar's 50: 86 mins, 50 balls, 10 fours. 100: 209 mins, 139 balls, 17 fours, 1 six.
ENGLAND - Second Innings
N V Knight lbw b Prasad 14
(39 min, 29 balls. 1 four; short ball hit top of pad roll)
*M A Atherton not out 29
(89 min, 59 balls, 1 four)
N Hussain not out 18
(49 min, 40 balls, 2 fours)
Extras (b4 lb7 w1) 12
Total (for 1, 89 min, 21 overs) 73
Fall: 1-37 (Knight).
To bat: G A Hick, G P Thorpe, R C Irani, R C Russell, C C Lewis, D G Cork, M M Patel, A D Mullally.
Bowling (to date): Srinath 8-2-18-0 (6-2 14-0, 2-0-4-0); Prasad 8-0-18- 0, Kumble 5-3-9-0.
Umpires: D B Hair and D R Shepherd.
TV Replay Umpire: A A Jones. Match Referee: C W Smith.