I was there!

Vijay Saraswat
Feroze Shah Kotla
New Delhi
Saturday, December 10, 2005

Unbelievably, I was there! The day that Sachin broke the record for the most centuries by a batsman in Test Cricket History!

(Here is an account of the event by the excellent people from Cricinfo.)

The very first time in my life I watched a day of Test cricket in person! My flight from Paris landed early Friday morning. After waking up, and having tea with my parents, it struck me. Hey! I am in Faridabad! There is a Test Match starting at Feroze Shah Kotla tomorrow! I can actually attend in person!

It was an amazing experience. The crowd was a nervous wreck. A glorious, effortless caress, a short ball on leg stump meeting a perfectly horizontal bat to race away to fine leg for four. No power at all in the shot! Just an elegant redirection of energy. Three more singles and now Sachin is on 99. We stopped barracking Sourav Ganguly, the other batsman. (I must have been quite loud -- I screamed at him ... "ball ucchal gayi kya?" ... after he did an ugly two-step on a bouncer, and he turned and stared at me!). We are urging him to take a single and give Saa-chin the strike. Three balls to go in the over at the Delhi gate end. Sachin tucks one to backward square leg, and really wants to take that single, but Dada sends him back (wisely), a run out at that stage would have been disastrous. The Master is not happy. We can sense he wants this behind him. The next two balls are dots.

The light is fading fast, as it did when we played once at Shrub Oak, late into the evening, the sun setting over the western hills. I cant believe they are still out there. The umpires fiddle with the light meter. They decide to play on. The Master must really want this done. The crowd is electrified. The Young Man seated in front of me had earlier berated Sachin for playing it slow --- "jaake doob marna chhahiye [chullu bhar pani mein]" (he should go drown [in a palmful of water]). Runs had not been easy to come by for Sachin. He had made a hash of several sweep shots. Missed a few square cuts miserably. Survived two close LBW shouts. But he battled on. I had remarked to the Young Man ... if he crosses 40 he will get a hundred. In fact once he crossed 50, he let loose several gorgeous shots. Three effortless, balanced off-driven fours in a row against Murali (from the Delhi Gate end). And then, as I talked with Neeta (on the phone from Mahopac) a glorious straight-driven six that crashes high in the stands, dismissing Malinga Bandara's insipid offering, whipping the crowd up one more notch. Amazingly, he is middling everything, not looking like getting out at all. His ground shots race along the ground. He has started to hum.

Now Dada is at the Pavilion end, taking on Chaminda Vaas, the only real threat on the day, besides the peerless Murali. Can he even see the ball? A gorgeous cover drive for four ... yes he can! But we want a single!!!! Second ball. A dab to deep third man. Oh no, might go for four again. But the fielder races in and stops it just short.

The Master has the strike! Marvin Attaputtu, the Sri Lankan captain, senses the moment. Talks to the bowler, Vaas. Adjusts the field. Brings in third man from the boundary, short. Next ball on the off stump, good length. Steered to third man! If he had not just been brought up, that would have been The Single. Nice anticipation by Marvin!

I am standing on my seat. The Young Man has long since cast aside all thoughts of drowning and started to wave the Indian tiranga, and I need a better view. A cold rush of adrenaline courses through my body. God, please dont let him get out now! Something about the Covenant between God and Me about How the World Works would break if he were to get out now!

And then there it is! Ball slightly on middle and leg. Tucked in safely backward of square. Bread and butter shot. There is no fielder there!!!! Sachin is running down the track and realizes it. This is it, this is the single. Ganguly reaches the other end.

For the rest of my life, I will remember Sachin's face as he crosses the crease. Relief. Pride. Exhaustion. Steely strength. Himalayan expectations ... met yet again. In his 125th Test, almost a year since his 34th, one more century, 35, to take him past the world record established almost 19 years ago.

The most centuries by a batsman in Test Cricket History.

We are wild, delirious. All India swells with pride, fills with unadulterated joy.

What a person, what an accomplishment.

I will treasure the ticket for the match for the rest of my life.