Sachin Tendulkar’s best bowling figures in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) came against Australia at Kochi in 1998. In pursuit of 309, Australia were cruising before Tendulkar rattled the middle-order with his spell of five for 32. Nishad Pai Vaidya recalls that performance.
“We didn’t lose to a team called India, we lost to a man called Sachin Tendulkar,” said the Australian Test skipper Mark Taylor after Tendulkar bludgeoned them into submission with his innings of 155 not out in the Chennai Test, 1998. It was to be the story that year as Tendulkar vs Australia took centre-stage, the Little Master stamping his authority over them with his mind-boggling batting. But on April fool’s day in 1998, he was to cast a spell with a ball in hand, which remained his best bowling effort in One-Day Internationals (ODI).
After India beat Australia in the Test series 2-1, the two teams moved into a triangular tournament — the third team being Zimbabwe. The first match of the tournament was between India and Australia at the Nehru Stadium, Kochi. The arena which was known for football matches was now hosting its first ODI. The Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin won the toss and elected to bat first on a relatively unknown surface.
India were riding high on their victory in the Test series, but were jolted early as Navjot Singh Sidhu edged Michael Kasprowicz to Adam Gilchrist in the second over. It got worse in the fourth over when Tendulkar (8) offered a catch to Ricky Ponting off Kasprowicz. India were 19 for two with Azharuddin in the middle. In partnership with Vinod Kambli, Azharuddin added stability to the Indian innings before the former was dismissed with the score on 80. Ajay Jadeja then turned things around with a sterling century and Hrishikesh Kanitkar chipped in with a brisk half-century to take India to 309 for five in their 50 overs. Back in those days, anything above 300 was a huge total. It was almost a psychological block as the belief was that it couldn’t be overhauled as often.
However, the Aussies are always up for a fight and they went all guns blazing. Adam Gilchrist’s 45-ball 61 put them on course as Australia got to their 100 inside 12 overs. However, once Gilchrist was dismissed in the 13th over, things started slowing down gradually. But his blitz had reduced the required rate and the Australians could go about it quite easily. Michael Bevan, the calm finisher, was entrusted with the task of seeing it through and continued with his fight after Ponting was out in the 20th over. Steve Waugh and Bevan then calmly went about their job and Australia looked on course with the score on 202 for three in 31 overs. Australia had penalised one over due to a slow over-rate during the Indian innings.
Then came the over that changed it all. Tendulkar had always been a tricky bowler as he could bowl seam-up, off-spin or leg-spin. Whenever he tried to turn, he would often extract a lot of movement off the pitch. He failed with the bat this time, but was determined to make up for it with the ball. And, the Kochi track did provide him the necessary assistance.
Bevan tried to reverse sweep the first ball of the 32nd over, but missed it. He then worked it towards square-leg to get Waugh back on strike. Tendulkar then gave it loop to invite Waugh to charge at him. The Australian captain obliged, reached the pitch of the ball and only managed to spoon a catch back to Tendulkar. The crowd suddenly came alive after a long time in waiting. Tendulkar then juggled with the ball, a wide smile beaming on his face. Was it the breakthrough that was to give India a window of opportunity? With 107 to get off 17.3 overs, it wasn’t a very difficult task. But, as the commentators noted that the heat could affect the batsmen and force them to play a tired shot.
Darren Lehmann and Bevan then rotated strike for the next four overs before Tendulkar broke through again. Coming around the wicket to the left-handed Lehmann, Tendulkar pitched it on line and the off-break straightened to hit him plumb in front. Now, Australia had half their side back in the hut with 223 in the 36th over. The noose had tightened gradually. To welcome the new man, Tom Moody, Tendulkar bowled a leg-break which turned prodigiously and had the batsman in a bit of trouble. He shaped to cut it, but nearly lobbed it back to Tendulkar.
Those wickets had halted Australia’s charge, although they had Bevan and Moody in the centre. When the 40th over began, Ausralia needed 75 off 60 — in need of another Bevan resurrection. The southpaw was warming up for an assault and India were still in danger while he was in the middle. Tendulkar conceded a few singles before firing one down Bevan’s pads. He had seen the batsman moving forward, so he darted it down the leg-side. The wicketkeeper, Nayan Mongia, juggled a bit before shattering the stumps to find Bevan miles out of his crease. India breathed a huge sigh of relief as the danger man was leaving the field.
It was now left to Moody and Damien Martyn with the required rate rising. Moody picked a few runs at the other end to regain some momentum for Australia. With Tendulkar dominating at one end, that was the only option Australia had. When the 42nd over commenced, Australia needed 57 off 48 deliveries. Tendulkar was back to spin his web. He bowled a loopy leg-break which drew Moody out of his crease. As he tried to hit it off the pitch, the ball spun away from him and Mongia found him short of the crease. Tendulkar had this cheeky smile, that of a magician.
As Tendulkar had taken a wicket off the last ball of his previous over and Moody fell off the first in the 42nd, he was on a hat-trick; and as luck would have it Tendulkar’s rival, Shane Warne, walked out to face that delivery. The ball was tossed up on a good-length and left Warne as he tried to cut. He got an edge onto Mongia’s gloves and it lobbed in the air. Jadeja ran in from point to take it, but it fell well short. Tendulkar had narrowly missed his hat-trick. His arms were on his head as he mulled what could have been. But he would have been happy to give Warne a taste of his own medicine as he bowled another leg-break to keep him at the crease.
By the time Tendulkar came to bowl his final over, Australia had lost Warne and were 259 for eight. All eyes were on him as a fifer was on offer. Martyn took strike as Tendulkar turned one across him into Mongia’s gloves. The ball pitched on middle and leg, and left the off-stump as Martyn was tentatively forward. The commentator said, “Shane Warne would be proud of that.” Tendulkar then gave another leg-break a bit of air. Martyn marched forward, reached for it and only holed out a catch to long-off as Javagal Srinath ran in to hold the chance. Tendulkar had five against Australia! Was there anything this man couldn’t do against them? He chuckled, almost as if he was surprised at his effort. His teammates gathered around him to celebrate. He finished with figures of 10-1-32-5. Quite remarkable for someone who wasn’t quite the strike-bowler.
Damien Fleming and Kasprowicz only delayed the inevitable before Srinath returned to finish off the innings. India sealed victory by 41 runs and despite Jadeja’s ton, it was Tendulkar who walked away with the Man of the Match award.
India 309 for 5 in 50 overs (Ajay Jadeja 105, Mohammad Azharuddin 82, Hrishikesh Kanitkar 57*; Michael Kasprowicz 3 for 50) beat Australia 268 in 45.5 overs (Michael Bevan 65, Adam Gilchrist 61; Sachin Tendulkar 5 for 32, Javagal Srinath 2 for 41) by 41 runs.
Man of the Match: Sachin Tendulkar
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)