Indian fans, especially those who are also fans of Sachin Tendulkar would vividly remember the agonising wait of almost a year for the Master Blaster to get his 100th international hundred. He got his 99th ton on March 12, 2011, in the World Cup group stage game against South Africa. The next century which brought up the much-anticipated landmark came on March 16, 2012.
But the 100th century, for which the whole country was waiting eagerly and for which the entire media of India had prepared special programs and shows kept getting delayed. Tendulkar didn't get a hundred in the quarter and semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup and failed to get it on the grandest stage of cricket – World Cup final, as well.
But there was no worry, everyone was confident that with his good form, the unprecedented milestone would come sooner rather than later. In the 4-Test series India played in England, Sachin failed to reach the landmark. The same thing happened in the 3-Test home series against West Indies. The hundredth hundred was now starting to bother Tendulkar like the proverbial monkey on the back rather than an alluring peak of achievement.
Sachin was showing clear signs of pressure and despite being in good form, was unable to get the big scores which he was attaining easily before. People started blaming the media for creating an unbearable hype. Strangely, fans started blaming Sachin for his team's bad results when he was one of the better performers in a faltering side.
Now, how would you feel if we told you that the man responsible for the miserable time Sachin and his fans had was Dinesh Karthik? Most of you would probably be wondering how Karthik even gets into this story. He was not even part of the team in this period.
Well, the wicketkeeper-batsman does come into the story but not because of anything he did in the year following India's World Cup triumph but something he did in 2009. Yes, we will have to go back to December of that year for explaining the role of Karthik, albeit unintentional, in Sachin's long wait for getting rid of the albatross around his neck which that landmark had become.
At that time, the Sri Lankan team was in India, on a tour where they played three Tests and a 5-match ODI series. The third ODI of that series was played on December 21 at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack. Sri Lanka had batted first and got an average score of 239, getting bowled out in 44.2 overs.
Sachin led the way in the chase and batted fluently without any difficulty. MS Dhoni wasn't playing in the series and Dinesh Karthik was his replacement. When the third wicket fell in India's innings, the latter came out to bat.
Meanwhile, as India was getting close to an easy victory, Tendulkar was making his way to a hundred. When the required runs for both India's win and Sachin's ton were in single digit, everyone expected Karthik to give as much strike as possible to the Little Master to facilitate his century.
But lo and behold! Suddenly, the keeper-batsman from Tamil Nadu charged down the wicket against a spinner and lofted him for six. Now, for Sachin to get a hundred, he had to hit a boundary. The task had become tougher. In the last over of the match, the 43rd of India's innings, a delivery down the leg side from Lasith Malinga went for four leg-byes to complete India's chase and leave Tendulkar at 96 not out.
Just imagine what would have happened if Karthik had not gone for the big hit. Sachin would have scored his hundred and would have eased his way to his 100th international ton in the 2011 World Cup when the entire focus would have been on India's journey to the title and not to this milestone.
Alas, that wasn't to be. One has to wonder whether Tendulkar thought about this missed opportunity during that year of painful wait for the completion of a century of centuries.