Sachin Tendulkar takes a breather during his epic innings 98 against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup match at Centurion, South Africa © Getty Images
On March 1, 2003 Sachin Tendulkar scored an iconic 98 to guide India to yet another World Cup victory over Pakistan. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the greatest innings in the history of the World Cup.
Has it really been over a decade? It seems only yesterday.
Did that six over third-man really happen? Was it not a dream?
It looked so surreal.
Let’s go back in time. India and Pakistan were meeting in a World Cup for the fourth time. Pakistan were unable to win a single one of the previous encounters, and their last World Cup encounter had happened when the two countries had actually been at war with each other.
The tone was electric. It was simply not another match. As the men, clad in blue and green, ran down the long stairwell — there are 64 steps in all — of SuperSport Park, billions of viewers across both countries felt the same goosebumps. Indians and Pakistanis around the world stood up in respect in front of their television when the players lined up on the ground when the national anthems of the two countries were being played.
The atmosphere on the ground was so heavy with passion and adrenaline that each spectators felt tremors passing through their spine. It was as if every spectator had been metamorphosed into a cricketer playing in the match; it was not a battle of eleven versus eleven anymore – it was a team of millions taking on another. And the neutrals — people from countries other than the two involved — could not concentrate in whatever they were doing. Everyone in the world of cricket was entranced by the one contest that toys with the hormones of billions — India versus Pakistan.
The Pakistani spectators roared in glee when Waqar Younis won the toss. Saeed Anwar, the veteran of many a battle, walked out to open with Taufeeq Umar. Zaheer Khan steamed in, and the match got underway.
After a solid start, Taufeeq was bowled by Zaheer in the 11th over. Abdur Razzaq, promoted to No. 3, hung around, but soon edged one to Rahul Dravid off Ashish Nehra. Inzamam-ul-Haq was run out, not for the first time, and though Yousuf Youhana (not yet Mohammad Yousuf) did not get big scores, Pakistan still reached 195 for 4 after 40 overs, with Anwar past his hundred.
It was then that Sourav Ganguly brought back Nehra back, who immediately pegged back Anwar’s off-stump for 101. Shahid Afridi walked in to fill the breach. In a masterstroke, Ganguly introduced got Dinesh Mongia into the attack. Bowling slow through the air, Mongia had Afridi skying one to Anil Kumble. Younis Khan and Rashid Latif then added 48 runs in 40 balls, Wasim Akram hit a couple of lusty blows, and Pakistan reached a formidable 273 for 7. Zaheer and Javagal Srinath had made up for the indifferent bowling of Nehra, and with the occasional bowlers also doing well, India did well to peg Pakistan back in the final overs when 290 had seemed inevitable.
India’s target: 274 off 300 balls
Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar walked out to being India’s reply. After watching a couple of balls carefully, Wasim bowled one slightly short of a good-length. With lightning-fast footwork, Tendulkar moved on to the back-foot and punched it past extra-cover for a boundary. A billion Indians, crouched in front of the television, cheered nervously, waiting with bated breath for Wasim’s comeback. After Tendulkar took a single, Sehwag hit Wasim to third-man for another four.
9 runs from the first over.
Shoaib Akhtar shared the new ball with Wasim. Shoaib — the fastest bowler in the world, the man his captain (one of the greatest fast bowlers of all times himself) had considered to be a worthier bowling partner to Wasim than himself.
Shoaib steamed in from his very, very long run-up for his first over. His first five balls had three wides, Tendulkar was back on strike. Shoaib pitched one outside off-stump. It was short. Tendulkar reached out for it. The ball flew, almost impossibly, over third-man for six. It went like a missile that not only brought six runs to the Little Master, but shattered Pakistan’s confidence a long way.
The Tendulkar six is almost as iconic as Javed Miandad’s last-ball six against India at Sharjah in 1986.
A billion Indians, suppressing their pent-up emotions despite Wasim’s expensive first over, now erupted in disbelief. The cheer was echoed from the tallest of skyscrapers to the people huddled in front of the small television sets with cable connection drafted in at a discount just for the World Cup. The entire nation cheered in unison. The tone of the chase was set in that one single stroke by Tendulkar.
The great man walked up to Sehwag. Then, they nodded at each other, smiled and went back to their respective positions. Shoaib pitched the next ball up; Tendulkar shuffled across a bit and let his bat kiss the ball; it raced like a white speck to the square-leg boundary. Shoaib pitched the next one up as well, and Tendulkar shuffled again. Bat met ball, the television spectators saw the full blade of the MRF logo, and the ball sped past mid-on towards the sight-screen for another four. Shoaib was wrecked in his first over.
After another decent over from Wasim, Waqar came along to replace Shoaib. Sehwag delivered a potent upper-cut off his first delivery, and the ball flew over point for six. After they crossed over, Tendulkar flicked Waqar off his hips for four. Sehwag hit Wasim for 2 fours in the next over. At the end of 5 overs, India were fifty without loss.
The match, though, was far from over. In the fourth ball of the next over Waqar had Sehwag caught by Afridi at short extra-cover, and followed it by trapping Ganguly leg-before off the next ball. Pakistan were back in the match with that double-blow as Mohammad Kaif was promoted to join Tendulkar.
Tendulkar did not stop. Kaif turned out to be the perfect foil; he hung around, blunting the Pakistani fast bowlers, while Tendulkar kept on scoring runs. He hit Waqar through mid-wicket — the right wrist simply rolling over to guide the ball — and four more were added to the total as Kaif ran hard to ensure the fourth run.
There followed a back-foot cover drive off Wasim — so magical that even the Pakistani spectators stood up to applaud. The horns and bugles echoed in a loud chorus across the ground. It seemed that the dismissals of Sehwag and Ganguly were trivial matters that had been dealt with effortlessly.
And then, within his score on 32, Tendulkar tried to loft Wasim over mid-off, Razzaq leapt to catch him, but spilled the chance. It was not a difficult one at all. Wasim uttered a few words to Razzaq. The microphones did not relay the exact words, but the tone was obvious. Tendulkar then flicked Waqar to bring up his fifty, and four overthrows during his second run got him a six. The fifty had come off 37 balls. He punched the air, and celebrated his fifty with an exhilaration one typically associates with his hundreds. He looked really happy.
But he had to go on. There was a lot of work still to be done. Waqar was punched off the back-foot through extra-cover for four; Kaif got going too, cover-driving Waqar for another elegant four. Tendulkar flicked Waqar for four to bring up the hundred for India.
With the score on 126 for 2, Tendulkar suffered from cramps. For a while, everything seemed to be fine. After a few minutes of massaging, he was back to business, hitting one from Razzaq straight past the bowler for four. However, Tendulkar looked to be in discomfort once again, stretching his legs to get things back to normal.
Sachin Tendulkar receives medical attention in the 2003 Pool A match against Pakistan at Centurion © Getty Images
He ran normally, though, and flicked Shahid Afridi past mid-wicket for a powerful four to bring up his 12,000th ODI run. Kaif pulled a horrible long-hop from Afridi for another four. The 100-run partnership for the third wicket came up soon afterwards, Kaif’s contribution being only 31. It was then that Kaif dragged one from Afridi on to his stumps. At 155 for 3 after 21.4 overs, the match was still under India’s control.
Dravid walked out. The situation was tailor-made for him — all he needed was to be at the wicket and provide the strike to Tendulkar. The great man, meanwhile, seemed unperturbed as he drove Razzaq off the back-foot through extra-cover for another four. The pain kept coming back to deter him — he now had cramps at more frequent intervals, especially when running for hard-pressed singles.
With the score on 177, Tendulkar could not bear it anymore, and Sehwag walked out as his runner. This was the first that Tendulkar had a runner in any format of the game. As Shoaib steamed in, Tendulkar took guard — two short of a well-deserved hundred.
Shoaib attempted a bouncer; the ball was pitched short, and darted at Tendulkar’s ribcage at express pace. The ball was probably a tad too quick for him. He tried to fend it off, but the ball took the bat and lobbed to a diving Younis Khan at point. It was a fitting end to one of the greatest World Cup innings of all time. Dejected and crestfallen, he walked back to the pavilion, his bat held high to acknowledge the relentless cheer of the crowd which was elated at having witnessed batsmanship of this quality. Tendulkar’s 98 came off 75 balls.
The people dancing, celebrating, making merry in the streets and alleys of India suddenly came to a halt. What now? Can Dravid guide them through? Can Yuvraj Singh support him? True, there were only 97 runs to be scored off 134 balls, but would the batsmen be able to score them off the Pakistan pace battery?
The tension hung in mid-air across the ground; across the two countries; across the heart of billions; across the world…
Yuvraj opened his account in the same over with a deft flick past mid-wicket for four, and the tension was eased. Dravid and Yuvraj were on course. Waqar kept on changing his bowlers, but the Indian batsmen could not be parted. Shoaib steamed in, attempted a bouncer that ended in five wides, but still kept on coming at the batsmen with an unbelievable intensity.
Yuvraj cover-drove Waqar for a regal four, and pushed one to mid-off to bring up the 200. Soon afterwards, Dravid glanced Waqar elegantly for a four. This was immediately followed by another Yuvraj cover-drive — this time off Afridi. The result was the same.
As the two gained confidence, fatigue began to show in Dravid’s batting. It was then that Yuvraj took control of the situation. His front-foot drives in the ‘V’ stamped India’s authority on the match. Dravid, worn out, battered by his role of a makeshift wicket-keeper, hung on, taking singles to support Yuvraj as India inched closer and closer towards the target.
Then, Waqar brought back Shoaib for one final burst. To stop Yuvraj, Shoaib moved the cover a bit to the left and the mid-off a bit to his right. Yuvraj still managed to bisect them and extract four runs from a clinically executed cover-drive. The 250 of the Indian innings came up, and victory was within sight. The fire-crackers that had gone quiet after Tendulkar’s dismissal were now in full flow.
Dravid walked up to Yuvraj; it was extremely crucial that the young batsman did not get carried away, and went on to finish the job at hand. Waqar brought himself on, and Yuvraj hit yet another cover-drive for four more runs to bring India within 4 runs of the target. He pushed the ball to point to bring up his fifty — an innings that proved to be the final nail in the coffins of Pakistan.
Then, Waqar bounced, and Dravid pulled. As the bat came down in an arc to thwack the ball, time seemed to stop for a moment: the ball culminated in the only result possible. Dravid took his helmet off and rejoiced in glory, a rare display of emotions gleaming up his otherwise stony face; Yuvraj rushed to hug him; the Indians celebrated in the dressing-room. The crowd’s cheer drowned Tendulkar’s voice during the Man of the Match award.
Back home, a million crackers lit up the night skies in India. People rushed out on the streets and talked about the match, about the chase, and about once-in-a-lifetime innings they have been fortunate enough to see. They kept on discussing Tendulkar, the six that had set the momentum, each of his twelve fours, the pedigree of the innings.
It has been over a decade. The discussions have not ceased.
Brief scores: Pakistan 273 for 7 in 50 overs (Saeed Anwar 101, Younis Khan 32; Zaheer Khan 2 for 46, Ashish Nehra 2 for 74) lost to India 276 for 4 in 45.4 overs (Sachin Tendulkar 98, Yuvraj Singh 50*, Rahul Dravid 44*, Mohammad Kaif 35; Waqar Younis 2 for 71) by 6 wickets with 26 balls to spare.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)