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Amidst the lows and sporadic highs of his twilight years, Sachin has had to tune out a chorus of voices telling him when to retire
The ball, hit solidly, went straight to the cover fielder, but something about the length of the batsman’s front-foot stride seemed to please Sunil Gavaskar. “Look at that,” he said. “Just look at that. Any young player watching this match, that is how you play the cover drive.”
This was perhaps the 7349th time that Gavaskar had uttered those exact words in a commentary box. This time, he followed it up by observing that Sachin Tendulkar was “looking really good this morning,” or words to that effect.
“Avlo than machi,” said my flatmate. “That’s it. Next ball out.” The same words, in various languages, were no doubt being said at that very moment in living rooms all over India.
It was November 25, 2011, and India were playing the West Indies at the Wankhede. Tendulkar, resuming his innings on Day Four, had raced from 67 to 94 in 19 balls. He was within six runs of his 52nd Test century. He was within six runs of his 100th international hundred. This was his 16th innings since his 99th.
Of all the moments he could have chosen for putting the commentator’s curse on Tendulkar, Gavaskar had chosen this one.
My flatmate was wrong. Tendulkar survived the next ball.
But not the one after that.
A little less than a month later, spectators at Canberra’s Manuka Oval rose from their seats as the umpires walked out to begin the post-tea session. Next onto the field were the Cricket Australia Chairman’s XI. Behind them came not Sachin Tendulkar, batting on 92, and VVS Laxman, batting on 57, but Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, both batting on 0. The crowd groaned.
It was a practice match, and eight more runs wouldn’t have ended Tendulkar’s wait. But talk of a jinx floated uneasily around Manuka. He had been out in the nineties in two of his last six Test innings. A hundred, any hundred, would break that sequence.