Sachin Tendulkar is surely cricket's greatest batsman of the past twenty years, and maybe (in competition with Vivian Richards) the best of my lifetime. His genius, longevity and durability have given him records that may prove impossible to break. But the farcical pursuit of his "100th international hundred", which climaxed at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, Mirpur yesterday, is a blight that his illustrious legacy can do without.
Tendulkar's 100th hundred (49th in ODIs plus 51 in Tests but none in T20s) came up - 370 days after his 99th - during India's innings against host team Bangladesh in their Asia Cup one-day international yesterday. In accumulating his 100 he faced 138 deliveries. He was out for 114 having batted through almost 47 overs of the Indian innings. His individual strike-rate was 77.55 runs per hundred balls in a match where the prevailing rate was 97.65.
India lost the match by five wickets with four balls to spare. Bangladesh, the bottom-ranked team of this four-nation tournament, accepted the challenge of a 290 target with a solid ensemble batting effort by Tamim Iqbal, Jahurul Islam, Nasir Hossain, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim.
Bangladesh deserves credit for an outstanding win that would have been beyond their ambition so many times in the past. But was Tendulkar's sluggish milestone the difference on the day?
The fact is, of course, that Sachin Tendulkar has achieved so much and posted so many astonishing milestones that this crass 370-day media confection was completely unnecessary. The possibility that it undermined his performance on some occasions over the past year only adds to the absurdity. Tendulkar's legacy will be remembered equally with or without the artificial statistic of "combined international hundreds", against which no other cricketer is measured.
Tendulkar would have been a great of the game in any era, but he is fortunate to be playing at a time when the sport has evolved enormously as an international spectacle. When he debuted for India in 1989 at 16, one-day internationals were still little more than a sideshow to the Test tour. Test matches grew in number through the 1990s - exponentially with the return of South Africa, the admission of Zimbabwe and the acceptance of Sri Lanka - but ODIs exploded in number and significance as their value as television entertainment became recognised.
As perhaps the sport's biggest star, Tendulkar was a driver of the increased volume of international cricket that probably began in earnest with the 1996 World Cup. With opportunities that neither Don Bradman nor even Viv Richards had at their disposal, he has smashed records for most Tests (188), ODIs (462), Test runs (15470), ODI runs (18374), Test centuries (51), ODI centuries (49)... and that's without attempting to add records together to make further records.
Old-school stats are evolving out of relevance. Tendulkar's 24389 runs in first-class cricket has yet to match Sunil Gavaskar's Indian record of 25834 (and might never do so), while his 79 first-class hundreds - a concept that is confusing to many media outlets - is impossibly short of Jack Hobbs' 197, and not even a match for Mark Ramprakash, who will commence the new county season for Surrey on 114. The fact is that there just isn't time for Tendulkar to play "first-class" cricket beyond Test matches any more.
Evolution, though, is already sweeping past Sachin Tendulkar. While he has been a cornerstone of the Mumbai Indians' IPL lineup, he has only played one Twenty20 international, back in 2006 and in which he fitting scored Ten. (A statistic that conjures memories of Sir Garfield Sobers, whose only ODI innings, at age 37, for the West Indies was a duck.)
It seems unlikely that Tendulkar's career aggregate records will be broken as Twenty20 cricket - inevitably, I fear - pushes the longer, and less cost-effective, forms of the sport to one side. International T20 is more likely to grow in the number of participating nations, rather than the number of games that they each play. The real growth will be in the number and frequency of domestic T20 "premier leagues" worldwide.
How long will it before we await a future superstar's 100th Twenty20 hundred: IPL plus BPL plus Big Bash plus MiWay plus Friends Life plus...
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