Grunting in line with umpire Paul Reiffel,Angelo Mathews hit the deck with mighty force. But the ball stayed lower than expected,confusing even the man arched 22 yards away. Planted high on his backfoot,Sachin Tendulkar tried to roll the leather through the square on the off side,but the odd bouncing ball clipped his under edge,missed the woodwork by a varnish and slipped under keeper Kumar Sangakkaras gloves for four.
Another edgy stroke by Tendulkar, cried Tom Moody up in the commentators booth. But hell take them whichever way they come. Mathews stared at the batsman,but Tendulkar who had moved on to his highest ODI score of 37 at the WACA with that edged boundary just smiled. When Tendulkar had scored the Test equivalent in Perth back in 1991,the umpire and the commentator were still bowlers from the opposition. The man currently bowling was three years old.
The Sri Lankan all-rounder perhaps had no idea of any of those stats,and was wearing diapers when Tendulkar made his bones in international cricket with that knock of 114. But 21 years later,Mathews was soon about to bowl the ball that made Tendulkar bid farewell to one of his most cherished grounds in the universe of cricket.
It was here that a 17-year old child prodigy turned into a superstar by standing strong to the likes of Craig McDermott,Merv Hughes,Mike Whitney,Moody and Reiffel the bowling attack during the fifth Test of his first tour in 1990-91. While Whitney dismissed him for what would remain his highest innings on this ground in six attempts,bowler Reiffel and catcher Moody tag-teamed to remove him in the second innings for 5.
While both Reiffel and Moody were present at the WACA on Wednesday in different avatars,Tendulkar entered and left the ground a cricketer. But unlike many other grounds that will continue to host him during the tri-series in Australia such as Adelaide,Brisbane,Sydney and Hobart Tendulkar would never play on the ground where he scored his favourite century ever again. And everyone was aware of that.
So for probably the first time since he arrived on his last tour of Australia in December,the yearning for a Tendulkar ton wasnt so much about it being an international landmark – the century of centuries – but more so for him to finish off on a high on the ground where his legend had first taken root.
Two runs away from his half century in the 19th over of the chase,Mathews bellowed an appeal from the pit of his lungs after the ball crashed into Tendulkars pads. Just as it was given not out,the small but guttural crowds rose to their feet,while the usually stiff-necked members under the Lillee-Marsh Stand did the same. Even Tendulkar sighed out in the middle. The next ball,however,his final dismissal on this ground wouldnt need the umpires decision.
As Tendulkar tried to run Mathews from outside leg down to third-man,he chopped the ball on to his best covered stump for 48 his highest one-day score on this ground by a distance. Umpire Reiffel raised his finger in the middle,while Moody called the moment from the confines of the studio.
In hindsight,it wasnt too different from all those years ago.