Virat Kohli and his men, with a 2-1 lead in the four-Test series against Australia, will begin their final step towards history on Thursday in Sydney. A draw is all they require to become the first Indian team to win a Test series on Australian soil.
Fourteen years ago, at the same venue, their predecessors, led by Sourav Ganguly, came close in accomplishing this feat. They were held to a draw by the Australians and the series ended at 1-1. But not before Steve Waugh (in his last Test) and his men were tormented and threatened by a familiar foe.
Sachin Tendulkar, in his autobiography Playing It My Way, says he took his family out for dinner at a Malaysian restaurant on the eve of the 2004 Sydney Test – the last of the four-match series against Australia. They ordered “noodles, chicken and a host of other dishes.”
The great man, susceptible to superstition, perhaps thought the dishes contained magic. For, he returned to the same restaurant, this time without his family (who’d returned to India), after the first day’s play, unbeaten on 73 – just nine runs short of his previous five innings put together. He ordered the same dishes.
The next day he returned to order the same dishes after going past his highest Test score.
The noodles and chicken did contain magic, maybe? For, it looked like Sachin couldn’t be dismissed at all in that innings. He wasn’t. But he had to stop at 241 the next day when India declared at a mammoth 705/7.
It wasn’t magic, though. The innings was a salvation for his steadfast penance. Thrice in the series, before erecting the monument at Sydney, he got out caught by the ‘keeper, nicking an away-going delivery. So, he decided not to play the cover-drive that innings. And, he did not: for 436 balls, 613 minutes. There wasn’t a six; just 33 fours, most of them along the ground. This was the boy who’d survived several intense 15-minute sessions in late-evenings at Shivaji Park against many bowlers, backed by 60-70 fielders.
The Sydney Test of 2004 ended in a draw. But it remains unravaged by time because of Sachin, who made an unbeaten 60 in the second innings.
“It was a real test,” says Sachin, in his autobiography, of the edifice he constructed in the first innings. “Even when balls were there for the drive, I let them go. It was all totally against my instincts and it left me drained but immensely satisfied.”
Watch the highlights of Sachin’s 241:-