Friday, March 16, 2012

Waiting for Sachin. Now what?

Every so often someone at the BBC has to go through the tapes prepared for broadcast after the death of a major royal or former Prime Minister and check that the people they have interviewed have not died. There was a close call in 2002 when someone spotted just before transmission that Lord Longford was singing the Queen Mother's praises despite having shuffled off his mortal coil a year earlier.

I thought about that this morning when Sachin Tendulkar finally made his 100th international century for India, 370 days after his 99th, and newspapers and television stations began to push out all the material they had started to compile more than a year ago.

I've been trying to keep The Times's stats bundle on Tendulkar updated through his 33 hundredless innings, but amid the reams of commentary and hours of footage that are being pumped out around the world today there might be the odd error that gets through. A reference to something that was accurate in March 2011 but is now an anachronism, a talking head interviewed who is now silent.

Indeed, as Ali Martin of The Sun noted on Twitter, this has already happened. The BBC are showing praise for Tendulkar's achievement from Andrew Strauss, which was clearly filmed at a sponsor's event last November. A little misleading of the Beeb...

Between Tendulkar's 99th century, made the day after a tsunami struck Japan, and his 100th, Libya's government fell, Prince William got married, Ratko Mladic was arrested, Alastair Cook got married, the US space shuttle programme ended, Syria went psycho, Greece flirted with financial oblivion, four cricketers were jailed for corruption and England became the world's No 1 Test side.

Three great but evil men died - Muammar Gadaffi, Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il - and a whole Test XI of former cricketers, including Basil D'Oliveira, the Nawab of Pataudi and Graham Dilley. Time rolled on swiftly while Tendulkar was becalmed on 99.

I spoke to Mark Ramprakash in January, two thirds of the way through Tendulkar's barren patch in terms of innings played, and we discussed the lengthy - but not that lengthy - drought that the Surrey and former England batsman endured in 2008 when trying to move from 99 to 100 first-class centuries, a landmark that will probably never be reached again given how few first-class matches are played by international cricketers (even Tendulkar is only on 78 fc hundreds).

The expectation and attention on Ramprakash was far less severe than it has been on Tendulkar, but it still brought pressure. Like Tendulkar, Ramprakash had reached 99 hundreds at a great lick, with six in the space of nine innings. And then form deserted him.

It would be three months - half the county season - before he made another century. Every day he showed up at a ground, there would be Sky Sports to ask whether today would be his day. It grew wearying.

And then suddenly the wait was over. Ramprakash made 112 at Headingley and celebrated rather quaintly with a cup of tea and a slice of fruitcake with his mother in the pavilion (I feel for her, like Tendulkar's family, having to travel round to watch the elusive landmark).

"The next day felt like an anticlimax," Ramprakash told me. "I'd had three months of being asked the same question, so there was excitement and relief, but then you wonder: 'what next?'."

What happened next for Ramprakash was an unbeaten 200 in his next innings, 178 in the one after that and 127 two innings later. The monkey off his back, he could score freely again. I fully expect Tendulkar to embark on one of the most fruitful periods of his career, starting on Sunday against Pakistan.

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