Sachin Tendulkar plays a shot past Allan Lamb and Robin Smith

Seventeen reasons why: Tendulkar's maiden Test hundred was simply evidence of greater things to come

© PA Photos/Getty Images

I Was There

When 'little toothpick' Sachin Tendulkar made his maiden Test hundred and saved a game

Thirty years ago, the Little Master announced his arrival with an unforgettable innings at Old Trafford

Interviews by Hemant Brar  |  

On their 1990 tour to England, India found themselves amid a summer of runs. They had lost the first Test, at Lord's, despite scoring 454 in their first innings. Now at Old Trafford, they were trying to keep the three-match series alive. England captain Graham Gooch didn't want another run fest, so he asked the groundsman for a quick and bouncy wicket, but a bout of cold weather spoiled these plans.

Graham Gooch, England captain: We were feeling good, having won the first Test. There were plenty of runs scored, but at Old Trafford we were hoping to get a hard, quick, bouncy wicket. With Devon Malcolm and Angus Fraser in our attack, that was the sort of wicket we wanted. I don't think we got that. It was quite a dry wicket, not a lot of bounce, which was a shame for us.

Angus Fraser, England fast bowler: The backdrop of this was that England had lost the Ashes in 1989, and all of sudden, English cricket was in crisis. Everyone was asking what needed to be done [to make things right]. Apparently the answer was that we needed better pitches and balls that would make bowlers work hard for their wickets. It was a nice warm summer - dry weather, flat pitches and balls with smoother seams. A perfect recipe for scoring a lot of runs.

England opted to bat after winning the toss. Gooch scored his fourth hundred in consecutive Tests and local boy Mike Atherton got a hundred of his own as the two added 225 for the first wicket. But once the opening stand was broken, Narendra Hirwani and 19-year-old debutant legspinner Anil Kumble kept striking at regular intervals. Robin Smith, though, stayed firm at one end and was on 52 when the eighth wicket fell. After that he cut loose.

"Lara was the best player I bowled at. And Azharuddin, during that summer, was probably the second best" Angus Fraser

Jack Russell, England wicketkeeper: Gooch was in a great vein of form, having scored 333 at Lord's. What people sometimes overlook is that he scored a hundred in the second innings as well. He was relentless, never satisfied. No score was enough. He should have beaten Sir Garfield Sobers' record of 365 not out, really. We were chatting about it in the dressing room under our breaths.

Robin Smith, along with Gordon Greenidge, was the fiercest cutter of a cricket ball I ever saw. They both played for Hampshire, so when you played against them in county cricket, you needed to be brave at gully. Smith was fearless, especially against the quick bowlers. Against spin he had to work a little harder.

By the time No. 11, Malcolm joined him, Smith had cruised to 76 with eyes set on a hundred.

Robin Smith, England batsman: I had visions of that [tour] match in the Caribbean a few months earlier, when I was left stranded on 99 not out after he [Malcolm] had a slog at Patrick Patterson. He must have been able to read my mind. The first thing he said when he got to the middle was, "Judgie, I've learned, don't worry. I'm a better player now, better technique. I'll see you through to the hundred. I've been working hard at my game." I said, "Devvy, mate, I've heard it before! Fantastic. Show me."

Malcolm proved an able ally this time. Not only did Smith reach his hundred, the two added 60 for the last wicket to take England to 519.

Fraser: India's bowling attack had Kapil Dev, who was nearer the end of his career than the start. Then there was [Manoj] Prabhakar and the spinners. We had bigger and more aggressive bowlers, and hoped to get a little bit more out of the surface. The plan was to try to hit the good length. I didn't really change my plan that often anyway. The pitch will help or it won't, but you keep your game plan as simple as you can, which is to hit the good length hard and see what happens.

Father of the daddy hundreds: Graham Gooch made 333 and 123 in the first Test at Lord's and he followed it up with 116 at Old Trafford

Father of the daddy hundreds: Graham Gooch made 333 and 123 in the first Test at Lord's and he followed it up with 116 at Old Trafford © Getty Images

Dilip Vengsarkar, India batsman: Fraser had a very good legcutter. While Devon Malcolm was more about bowling fast, Fraser focused on accuracy. He was a typical English bowler who excelled in English conditions.

Fraser reduced India to 57 for 3, getting Navjot Sidhu and Ravi Shastri caught at second slip by Gooch, and having Vengsarkar nick one to Russell.

Kiran More, India wicketkeeper: Fraser bowled good line and length and got that extra bounce. Sidhu was his bunny in this series. He got him out every time.

Fraser: After those early wickets, we were hoping to force the game, but [Mohammad] Azharuddin came and played brilliantly. He was in magnificent form. The hundred he got at Lord's, off just 80-odd balls, is one of the best I have seen.

Azharuddin put up yet another exhibition of scintillating strokeplay, while a dogged Sanjay Manjrekar held up the other end.

Vengsarkar: Azharuddin was at his peak. He negated the movement so well and as he was a wristy player, he had all the shots in his repertoire. Sanjay had scored heavily in Pakistan [the previous season] and he continued his form in England.

Gooch: It was quite difficult to set fields for Azhar because he could hit the ball both sides of the wicket and places where you wouldn't expect him to. He would hit straight balls through the off side and balls pitched outside off stump through the leg side.

Fraser: I didn't play against Sachin [Tendulkar] at his best, he was very young in this series, only 17 or something like that. [Brian] Lara was the best player I bowled at. And Azharuddin, during that summer, was probably the second best.

"He was so composed. I walked past him and saw his thin little arms holding this huge bat. I thought, 'How on earth do you lift that? It's almost as heavy as you!'" Robin Smith on the teenage Tendulkar

Azharuddin and Manjrekar's 189-run stand was eventually broken when offspinner Eddie Hemmings dismissed Manjrekar for 93. In walked Tendulkar.

Smith: In those days you knew very little about the opposition - there was no video analysis or anything like that - so we hadn't heard of him. When he came out to bat in the first Test, we all said, "Who's this little toothpick? We'll see the back of him pretty quickly."

Russell: He looked so young, which raised a few eyebrows of curiosity as we hadn't seen someone so young at that level. Although he didn't make many at Lord's [he scored 10 and 27], he immediately looked to have something special.

Fraser: There was an awareness that this lad was supposed to be worthwhile. I mean he arrived in England with a reputation that he was gonna be a superstar. But he was only 17, and there were other players in that Indian side who probably dominated our conversations more - the Vengsarkars, the Manjrekars, and obviously the Azharuddins. Even Ravi Shastri. There were some very fine batsmen in that Indian side before you came to Tendulkar.

While Azharuddin was going berserk - he got to his hundred in 155 balls, and 150 in 209 balls - it took Tendulkar almost an hour to get off the mark.

Vengsarkar: In England, you get all kinds of conditions. It might be cold, it might be swinging; if the sun is out, it becomes a good batting wicket. So it takes some time to adjust. In India, if you are set, you can drive on the rise, but you cannot do that in England. Because of the movement, you have to play a little late. You have to adapt to the conditions and that's what Sachin did.

Russell: He showed he had the patience to ride it through. You could see he had the temperament for the job, as if an old head on young shoulders.

During his 179, Mohammad Azharuddin became the first Indian batsman to score a hundred runs in a session

During his 179, Mohammad Azharuddin became the first Indian batsman to score a hundred runs in a session © PA Photos/Getty Images

Tendulkar scored a bit more freely after that but once Azharuddin was dismissed on 179, India slipped from 358 for 4 to 401 for 9, and Tendulkar was left with Narendra Hirwani, who averaged 4 with the bat.

Sachin Tendulkar, India batsman: Hirwani was always fun to bat with and when he came in he said to me at the wicket that he would be fine as long as the balls were pitched up. He said he had a problem facing bouncers and I assured him that the English bowlers would not bowl bouncers at him because he wasn't a recognised batsman.

He managed to bat on for a while and gradually gained in confidence. So much so that he suddenly charged out to Chris Lewis to give the ball a real whack. Chris' expression said it all… However, in charging out Hirwani had somehow broken his bat and it took a bit of time to get a replacement from the dressing room. Luckily, the few minutes that were lost in the bat change had a calming effect on Chris Lewis and Hirwani survived his innings unscathed.

India's innings came to an end when Tendulkar holed out to Hemmings for 68. Despite losing their last six wickets for 74 runs, India conceded only an 87-run lead. For England, Fraser picked up a five-wicket haul. The next day, a Sunday, was a rest day.

Gooch: It was evident [from that knock] that he was a promising young player with a huge amount of talent. You could see his temperament was good even at that age. You could see there was a star in the making.

When play resumed on Monday, Gooch fell cheaply in the second innings, but Atherton and Allan Lamb helped England extend their advantage.

"Some of us were standing at the balcony when Sachin and Manoj were batting. And Kiran made us stand there forever because the partnership was going on well" Anil Kumble

More: When you have the lead, you can always be aggressive. Allan Lamb had a different style of playing and he took his chances.

Gooch: Lambie was an experienced player by then, having made his debut for England eight years ago. He was a very attacking batsman, very adept at one-day cricket as well. We had to score runs quickly to move the game forward.

Lamb had struggled against Hirwani in the first innings, but this time around, he took on the legspinner, even hitting him for two consecutive sixes during his 109 off just 141 balls. Atherton was quieter in comparison, scoring 74 off 165. By the end of day four, England had stretched their lead to 377, but they batted for another 25 minutes on the final day before declaring.

Gooch: Maybe that was a mistake looking back (laughs).

Fraser: We were one up in the series. With India having such a strong batting line-up, why give them a sniff? We could set attacking fields and go about it that way. It wasn't a pitch where we felt we were going to bowl them out.

Set an improbable 408 to win in 88 overs, India once again lost Sidhu and Shastri early. Manjrekar scored his second half-century of the match, but Hemmings got him and Azharuddin caught in leg-side traps. At 127 for 5, India were staring at another big defeat.

Anil Kumble, India legspinner: While it was a good batting surface and there wasn't much help for bowlers, the pressure of batting on the fifth day is always there. So, irrespective of the pitch, it wasn't easy to save the match, especially when all the experienced batsmen had got out.

More: The ball was turning but not that much. It was slow turn. England, though, were charged up as they could smell another victory.

When England needed quick second-innings runs to declare, Allan Lamb was their man - his 141-ball 109 helped them set India a target of 408

When England needed quick second-innings runs to declare, Allan Lamb was their man - his 141-ball 109 helped them set India a target of 408 Eric Shaw / © PA Photos/Getty Images

It could have been six down when Tendulkar skipped down the ground against Hemmings only to offer a return catch.

Tendulkar: The ball had hit the outside part of my bat and spooned back to Hemmings, who failed to hold on to it. I learnt my lesson and decided not to play any more uppish strokes. At the same time I was determined to play some shots and not go into my shell.

Tendulkar and Kapil added 56 before Hemmings bowled the latter to make it 183 for 6. With two and a half hours still left, Prabhakar joined Tendulkar at the crease.

More: Everybody in the dressing room was tense. I was supposed to be the next man in after Manoj and was slightly under pressure because if a wicket were to fall, there were enough overs for a result. When your team is trying to save a Test and you are batting next, you always have butterflies in your stomach.

But Tendulkar and Prabhakar showed great determination and England's attacking field, with a packed slip cordon, allowed them to keep the score ticking over. In one Lewis over, Tendulkar hit three fours to bring up his half-century.

Tendulkar: Most of my scoring strokes were in the nature of punches played with minimum risk. My fifty came up but it did not excite me. The match was far from saved and that was the goal.

Russell: The biggest thing for me standing a few feet behind him was that he seemed to have so much time against the pace bowlers. He was a quick reader of the length and that's what stood him apart. Of course, it goes without saying he looked a top player of spin as well, again, manoeuvring the length to suit his needs.

"The crowd stood to applaud but I was extremely uncomfortable about acknowledging them. I had never been in that position before and was acutely embarrassed about raising my bat to the stadium" Tendulkar on getting to his century

More: The focus was on saving the Test, but the way Sachin was playing, the shots he played, it was unbelievable. England had attacking fields with no mid-off and mid-on, and Sachin was hitting them straight down the ground.

Smith: He played one shot that's among the best I've ever seen. Devon was bowling really quick and got one to kick from a length towards Tendulkar's chest. He got on the back foot, kept his left elbow nice and high, and drove it back past Dev [Malcolm] for four. You usually pull or cut off that length. You certainly don't get on your toes and hit it back from where it came for four. Not unless you're a genius, that is. Barry Richards used to do exactly the same thing in our back garden in Durban.

Kumble: Some of us were standing at the balcony when Sachin and Manoj were batting. And Kiran made us stand there forever because the partnership was going on well. We always had this superstition within the group, so we stood there till the end of the match.

More: Bishan Singh Bedi [India's coach] tried to get up from his seat a couple of times, but I made him sit and said, "Paaji, you cannot move till the last over is bowled." I myself had a cricket ball in my hand and was tossing it all the time.

All of these superstitions seemed to have worked when Prabhakar, batting on 30, edged Fraser but Gooch was late to react at second slip and grassed the chance. Tendulkar, meanwhile, was closing in on his maiden Test hundred.

Tendulkar: When I passed 90, it was obvious that the thought of scoring a hundred would start to affect me. After all, it would be my first international century and the crowd had already started expecting it from me. I reminded myself of what had happened in New Zealand and was conscious not to repeat the same mistake. There was still some time left in the day's play and England could press for victory if I got out.

Although Tendulkar was focused on saving the Test, his innings had plenty of attractive attacking strokes, especially off the back foot

Although Tendulkar was focused on saving the Test, his innings had plenty of attractive attacking strokes, especially off the back foot © PA Photos

Fraser: We tried some short stuff at the young man. I was sort of fast-medium or medium-fast, but Devon could be quite quick on his day.

In the first innings, Malcolm had pinged Tendulkar on the back of his shoulder with a bouncer. Now Fraser could have had him with one.

Tendulkar: I ducked under it with my bat held above my head like a periscope. The ball hit the back of the bat and went along the ground to fine leg. It could have gone straight into the hands of any of the close-in fielders or to the wicketkeeper. But it didn't. I was glad and thanked God for the reprieve.

Soon after, Tendulkar pushed Fraser through mid-off for three to bring up his century. At 17 years and 112 days, he became the second youngest, after Mushtaq Mohammad, to score a Test hundred.

Tendulkar: The crowd stood to applaud but I was extremely uncomfortable about acknowledging them. I had never been in that position before and was acutely embarrassed about raising my bat to the stadium.

Vengsarkar: There were a lot of shots he played off the back foot, including the one with which he brought up his hundred. I think he really matured on that tour and came into his own.

"At the press conference, Tendulkar surprised us with his high-pitched voice, which made him seem like a 14-year-old... and when the sponsor's award of a jeroboam of champagne was handed to him, he gently protested: 'But I do not drink!'" Journalist David Frith

Gooch: He had great balance, he moved his feet backward and forward. He had a good head position, good timing, and the time to play his shots. He never looked ruffled. And he had a good temperament. So all the important skills you need to be a big run-maker were there.

Fraser: To score a hundred at the age of 17 and to bat the way he did was really impressive. He batted magnificently and you realised he was the real deal. But to think he was going to score 100 international hundreds, I mean you wouldn't have said that about anybody.

Smith: He was so composed. I walked past him and saw his thin little arms holding this huge bat. I thought, "How on earth do you lift that? It's almost as heavy as you!"

When two of the mandatory 20 overs were remaining, the players decided to shake hands. The seventh-wicket stand between Tendulkar (119 not out) and Prabhakar (67 not out) had been worth 160.

Gooch: It was a brilliant innings by Sachin because when you are trying to save the game, there is pressure about keeping a positive attitude as well as being resolute in defence. To see his team through, it was a great testament to his character, of which we saw for the next 20 years.

Fraser: Some batsmen look different at the end of their careers than they do at the start. Their technique evolves. But you look at Tendulkar at the start and you look at Tendulkar at the end, he was almost the same.

More: Saving a Test match from that situation was like a win. The way Sachin batted was outstanding, but I give credit to Manoj also. He went in and didn't get bogged down.

Angus Fraser's copy of the full scorecard of the Test, signed by the centurions and the five-for taker, Fraser himself

Angus Fraser's copy of the full scorecard of the Test, signed by the centurions and the five-for taker, Fraser himself © Angus Fraser

In all, 1614 runs were scored across four innings, the second-most in a Test in England till date. The match featured six centuries - Azharuddin's being the biggest and most flamboyant, and Atherton's fetching the loudest cheer, but Player-of-the-Match adjudicator David Lloyd deemed Tendulkar's trumped them all.

David Frith, journalist covering the Test: At the press conference that evening, Tendulkar surprised us with his high-pitched voice, which made him seem like a 14-year-old, and by his poise as the questions flowed. He handled the inquisition as if he'd done this many times before. And, most memorably, when the sponsor's [Player-of-the-Match] award of a jeroboam of champagne was handed to him, he gently protested: "But I do not drink!"

Tendulkar: In the end I brought the bottle home with me to Mumbai and finally opened it on the occasion of my daughter Sara's first birthday in 1998.

After the Test, Gooch said Tendulkar "played like an old pro". Frith wrote in Wisden Cricket Monthly: "A smile came readily to his unrazored face, and already those with rich imaginations were envisaging the sophisticated grown-up face and the deeper voice which would respond to questions at some far distant press conference to mark his breaking of [Sunil] Gavaskar's Test records."

Fraser: A while ago I was watching that partnership. It's sort of notoriety for myself because I was the bowler off whom he scored the 100th run of his first hundred, but Richie Benaud's commentary on the BBC was a very welcome piece. Benaud says something like "We'll see a lot more centuries flow from his bat".

While Tendulkar received numerous accolades, Fraser too got himself a souvenir.

Fraser: The full scorecard of this Test hangs on a wall of my home. Signed by Sachin. I obtained it after the Test as I had got a five-for and got it signed by all those who had scored hundreds or taken five-fors [Fraser was the only bowler to take a five-for].

Robin Smith's quotes from The Judge: More Than Just a Game (Robin Smith and Rob Smyth, Vintage Publishing, 2019). Sachin Tendulkar's quotes from Playing It My Way: My Autobiography (Sachin Tendulkar, Hodder & Stoughton, 2014)

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

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