Sachin Tendulkar has been urged to play in the five-game one-day international (ODI) series against the West Indies "to get the monkey off his back" after he again failed to record his 100th international century.
Tendulkar, who has grown selective about playing in ODIs, stood on the brink of batting immortality at his home Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai yesterday but fell six runs short of reaching the three-figure milestone when his usually impeccable shot selection deserted him on a placid pitch.
Sanjay Manjrekar, a former teammate, wants Tendulkar to play in the ODI series, which starts on Tuesday, and get the century before India travel to Australia.
"India wants Tendulkar relaxed and confident [in Australia]. He should play the one dayers, get that monkey off his back and go to Australia with a free mind," Manjrekar told Neo Cricket channel.
"[Rahul] Dravid and Tendulkar will be key for India in those conditions against Australia."
The 32,000-seat venue In Mumbai sported a forlorn and empty expression on the first two days of the third West Indies Test as the tourists piled up 590 runs, but the ground became more densely populated on Thursday before it was packed to the brim yesterday morning in anticipation of seeing history being made.
Tendulkar whetted the Mumbai faithful's appetite too, cutting Fidel Edwards for a six to waltz into the 90s but the century was to elude him yet again.
Ravi Rampaul banged in a short and wide delivery, hardly the deadliest ball Tendulkar has faced in his two-decade-plus career. Tendulkar tried to punch it but instead edged the ball into the hands of Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain, at second slip.
A short groan echoed around the stadium before being replaced by an eerie silence as Tendulkar hung his head, sighed and trudged back to the pavilion.
Many believe it was pressure, and not Rampaul, which accounted for the 38-year-old "Little Master".
After all, this was the second time he fell in the 90s since scoring his 99th international century in a 50-over World Cup match against South Africa in March.
Since then, Tendulkar has hit six half-centuries - two in one-dayers and four in Tests - but has been unable to add to his 51 Test and 48 one-day centuries.
Twice previously he came close but fell leg before on both occasions.
Tendulkar, who has scored more than 33,000 international runs since his 1989 debut in Pakistan, was nine short of the 100-mark in The Oval Test in England in August when he tried to play across the line and was dismissed by Tim Bresnan.
In the second innings of the Delhi Test against the West Indies earlier this month, Tendulkar, batting fluently on 76, attempted a pull shot and was dismissed by a skidding Devendra Bishoo delivery that caught him plumb in front of wicket.
Six fifties in 16 innings since his 99th international century notwithstanding, there is a growing feeling that Tendulkar is finally showing signs of a pressure many thought he was immune to for a majority of his career.
MS Dhoni, the India captain, does not buy into the theory that the milestone has bogged down a batsman used to shouldering the expectation of a cricket-crazy country of 1.2 billion.
"If you are talking about the gentleman, the expectation has always been the size of Everest," Dhoni recently said in Delhi.
"Whatever he has done so far … right from the first two years of his career, he has been a star.
"If he comes on to the field and does not score 50, people think he has not scored. It's something he deals with each and every day.
"Any individual who comes close to any milestone … somehow it takes more time than usual. I think it's just round the corner. We just need to wait."
Tendulkar himself has dismissed the hype, terming his 100th international century as "just a number".
The fans, however, feel otherwise.
Many of them had no hesitation in hoping, in vain, for India to follow-on against the West Indies so that Tendulkar had another shot at the milestone on a batting paradise of a pitch.
However, a knock of 103 from Ravichandran Ashwin saw India close their first innings on 482, 106 runs behind the West Indies.