This one’s for Sachin too

Tendulkar's first Ranji quarterfinal appearance in 18 years is as much for Mumbai as it is for himself.

If Ambati Rayudu and Yusuf Pathan engaged in two batting stints, pace spearhead Murtuja Vahora bowled non-stop for close to an hour. Sporting their green practice jerseys, the rest of the visiting Baroda squad too were kept on their feet by the coaching staff, ensuring that the intensity in the net session on the eve of their quarterfinal clash was at fever-pitch at the Wankhede Stadium.

There was, however, a period of lull in between when the junior members of the party seemed particularly distracted. Not many could hold it against them though. For, some 100 meters away, stood in flesh-and-blood, the man they had grown up idolising if not worshipping. And during the half-hour or so that Sachin Tendulkar monopolized one of the Mumbai nets, cutting, driving, pulling, stretching back and forward in defence, not to forget adjusting his box with the customary groin flex, the Baroda team couldn't resist gaping in awe.

Considering that his first-class career has lasted close to 25 years, and especially since he's Tendulkar, almost any incidence involving him can be turned into trivia. Like, Sunday will be his first outing against Baroda in 12 years. More staggeringly, it will be Tendulkar's first appearance in a Ranji Trophy quarterfinal for 18 years. And it will also be just the fourth time that he will represent Mumbai in the last-eight stage. For the record, Tendulkar has scored 455 runs at 91 in Ranji quarterfinals so far, while he averages 69.85 in five matches against Baroda.

The statistics notwithstanding, the next five days at the Wankhede promise to be as crucial as any that Tendulkar has spent on a cricket field. Rarely has his form and technique been under scrutiny as over the last two months. Never before has cynicism regarding the 39-year-old's future in the game seemed so endemic.

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