The torture of a tremendous feat

3/18/2012 - Cricket

Friday afternoon in Dubai, I hailed down a taxi to head to the International Cricket Council's Global Cricket Academy to watch the USA face Ireland in a Twenty20 cricket match. After I climbed in, I noticed the driver's car radio was tuned in to India's One-Day International match in the Asia Cup against Bangladesh.

Gautam Gambhir had just gotten out and Sachin Tendulkar was inching his way toward finally ending his yearlong quest to become the first cricketer to score a 100 runs for the 100th time in an international match. It didn't matter that my driver was from Lahore and supports his home country of Pakistan. If you are a fan of cricket, chances are you are a fan of Tendulkar.

With a score of 114 versus Bangladesh, the 38-year-old batting legend Tendulkar achieved the milestone. Just as massive as the accomplishment was the weight of manufactured hype and hope from worldwide cricket media and fans desperate to see the feat happen, just another example of the tremendous burden of expectations Tendulkar has carried throughout his career.

When India defeated Sri Lanka to win the World Cup last April, bringing an end to 28 years of frustration since its 1983 triumph over the West Indies, it appeared Tendulkar would get to spend the twilight of his career basking in the glow of that triumph. Instead, the glow rapidly transformed back into a harsh glare, the spotlight seemingly more intense than it had ever been on Tendulkar, all for an impressive yet peculiar statistical achievement.

Several people have compared his career to that Greek mythology's Atlas. For more than two decades, Tendulkar had been tasked with holding up the Indian team as it went through years of mediocrity before ascending to the world No. 1 ranking in Test cricket and being crowned 50-over World Cup champion.

For the past 12 months, though, it was as if Tendulkar had turned into Prometheus. The anticipation over the event of getting his 100th century turned to torture for Tendulkar, the Indian team and fans. A team that was a mile high after the World Cup took a steep fall when it was swept on back-to-back Test tours of England and Australia.

Tendulkar's moment deserved to happen on a grand stage. Many had predicted it would occur at Lord's in London, the spiritual home of cricket. When it didn't happen there, or at any of the other stops on India's tour of England, the next guess was that it was destined to happen on his home ground in Mumbai at the Wankhede Stadium when India hosted the West Indies. Tendulkar was on 94, one shot away from the magic mark, before getting out. Fear not, it would happen in Australia at one of the country's grand venues such as the Sydney Cricket Ground, where he had scored three Test centuries on previous visits. The Australia tour came and went, but the wait continued.

Finally, it happened on Friday in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The sheen of the achievement wasn't quite as glossy as it could have been had it happened at Lord's, Wankhede or the SCG. Four hours later, the Bangladesh side did its best to steal Tendulkar's thunder when it pulled off a major upset, beating India by five wickets. From the painstakingly long wait, to the venue where it occurred, to the end result of the match in which it happened, the script for Tendulkar's 100th hundred was about as far away from anything Hollywood or Bollywood could have penned.

Had it happened on any other day, Bangladesh's win would have been headline news in the cricket world. But when I opened my hotel room door Saturday morning, I picked up the newspaper to see Tendulkar's image splashed across the front page with no mention of Bangladesh's victory. "Master of Centuries" it read. Indeed "The Little Master" remains a giant.

Peter Della Penna is an American born and raised cricket journalist who writes for ESPNcricinfo.com and DreamCricket.com. His work has also appeared in "The Wisden Cricketer" and Wisden Cricketers Almanack.