However, after a mammoth innings of self-restraint, the Little Master was soon back where he belonged once again at the summit of the world game.
The Australia vs. India series in 2003/04 was one of the most memorable in recent times, as the two best teams in the world went head-to-head across four seesaw contests, with the scoreline level at 1-1 going into the fourth and final Test at the SCG.
However, remarkably for the tourists, who were famously poor travellers, India were somehow standing toe-to-toe with their hosts without a single contribution from their best batsman.
Tendulkar had only managed scores of 0, 1, 37, 0 and 44 leading into the final Test, and unusually for the India No. 4, he had been dismissed on a number of occasions driving at wide balls outside his off stump, deliveries that were normally bread and butter for the world’s best batsman.
In fact, in the previous match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which Australia had won by nine wickets to square the series, Tendulkar had been out in both innings in that very same fashion.
And so when he strode to the wicket 20 minutes after lunch on Day 1 with the score on 128 for two following the loss of two quick wickets, with Australia’s tail up and the home team sensing blood, what then proceeded to happen was one of the all-time great Test-match innings—though not in the usual sense.
As what the Little Master produced over the course of his 613-minute knock—lasting 436 balls—for his beloved fans both in the crowd that day and the millions watching back home in India, was an innings of such self-restraint, monk-like patience and sheer willpower that few who witnessed it will ever forget it.
Tendulkar had decided that to avoid being dismissed caught behind the wicket again, he would simply not play any drives whatsoever outside his off stump at all during his innings. Period.
And the little man was as good as his word too, religiously shouldering arms to ball after ball as the Aussie seamers attempted to play on his patience by continually trying to entice him to unfurl one of his favourite off-side drives off either front or back foot.
But Tendulkar just would not be tempted, and when the Australia paceman then moved their line of attack toward middle and off, the batsman inevitably used his iron-like wrists to constantly whip the ball through the vacant on side.
Meanwhile when Brett Lee and Co. then overcorrected their angles again to now aim at off stump, or just outside off, Tendulkar responded by bringing out his signature on drive down the ground to the left of a motionless mid-on fieldsman.
In total, Tendulkar hit 33 boundaries in his unbeaten 241 across the first three days at the SCG, but quite incredibly not a single one of those fours was hit through the covers, with the great man later explaining:
“I had got out a couple of times to balls bowled outside the off stump.
“So I decided not to play the cover-drive. They were bowling consistently outside the off stump, and I decided to leave all those balls. Then they had to bowl to me and I used the pace of the ball.
“I would put this innings right at the top of my hundreds. I had a plan and I am happy I could execute it well. I am happy that I was able to maintain the discipline throughout the innings. Things had gone wrong a couple of times with my shot selection, and I knew I had to cut out a few strokes.”
Tendulkar, now freed from the stresses and strains of the previous weeks, then came out and scored a breezy unbeaten 60 in the second innings, too, as India declared in a vain attempt to force the win that would give them a historic win Down Under.
And so having gone into the decider under huge pressure, with many even questioning his future in the Test-match arena as he neared the end of one of the least productive tours in his long, distinguished career after making just 82 runs in five innings, Tendulkar then ended up with 383 runs to his name in the series at an average of 76.60.