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It seems that the merest sniff of an imminent Australian arrival can bring out the best in Sachin Tendulkar. It was vintage Tendulkar at the Wankhede Stadium on Friday, and his assault against a star-studded Rest of India (ROI) bowling line-up had veterans believe that the clock could be turned back, even as his dominance over the opponents of the day tugged them through memory the lane of assaults dating back to at least a decade ago.
Starting with a gentle push off medium-pacer Ishwar Pandey for four, the ROI bowlers had only the briefest of respite as Tendulkar took his time to settle down, before launching into what turned out to be a memorable innings for the Wankhede faithful. With his unbeaten 140, Tendulkar equalled Sunil Gavaskar at the top of the Indian tree with 81 first class centuries.
It was a trademark Tendulkar innings with a sumptuous spread ó the straight drive, the cover drive, the back-foot punch, the slog-sweep, the paddle sweep and classy inside-out strokes against the spinners. His struggles against Australia and England had lent a nervous edge to the experience of watching him struggle. He might not be his old belligerent self anymore. But after what seemed like an eternity, Tendulkar was back to displaying all his strokes.
He had appeared in four first-class games for Mumbai this season but had hardly looked this confident, except probably during his century against Railways in the Ranji opener. Amidst the young, promising talent in both teams, Tendulkar in fact never looked like someone who will turn 40 in 10 weeks, and his tormented recent past looked like a long time ago. Rumours of slowing reflexes and leaden feet were dismissed in a huff. His innings had come just before Australia's arrival in India for a four-Test series, and it couldn't have come at a better time.