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As the batting maestro, Sachin Tendulkar, celebrates his 41st birthday, Bharath Ramaraj looks back at some of his knocks that perhaps slipped under the radar.
Over a career spanning 24 long years, Sachin Tendulkar compiled knocks that were nothing less than treasured gems. Those timeless compositions from the bat of the expressionist painter are revered by cricket enthusiasts even now. However, there have also been glorious knocks compiled by Tendulkar that perhaps not many remember. Innings of surreal beauty played during times of crisis.
Let us look at some of those underrated innings essayed by Tendulkar.
Taking on Ambrose and Co: 44 at Port of Spain, 1996-97
On a track with variable bounce, India won the toss and chose to bat. Soon, the batsmen found out that it was a treacherous track. Tendulkar though, was the one who stood up to the challenge like an Atlas by playing a wide range of strokes. When other batsmen were struggling to put bat to ball, Tendulkar went about playing horizontal bat shots with gay abandon. He seemed to be coaxing it into gaps on a dicey track. It has to be remembered that opposition ranks had the likes of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop. In short, Tendulkar was batting in a dream-like state.
Unfortunately, just when Tendulkar was about to construct a soul-lifting masterpiece, he became a victim of a horrible decision. Even though the ball hit the shoulder and the catch was taken by Courtney Browne, he was ruled out by the umpire, Eddie Nichols. It was not the first time that he was at the wrong end of a terrible decision, and it was certainly not the last. The likes of Rahul Dravid and Navjot Singh Sidhu fondly rekindle memories of that excellent innings.
Taming Donald: 111 at Johannesburg in 1992-93
When India toured the Rainbow Nation in 1992-93, Tendulkar did not have the best of times as he kept getting starts only to lose his wicket. But in the Test match played at Wanderers, Johannesburg, he rose up to the challenge and played an incandescent innings.
Up against the likes of Allan Donald, Brian McMillan, Craig Mathews and company, he showcased wonderful balance to rock onto the back-foot and pierce gaps through the off-side with needlepoint precision. It was an innings where he used the true bounce on offer to great effect. It just shows Tendulkar’s immense ability to adapt to different conditions.
Standing tall amidst ruins: 97 at Mumbai in 1999-2000
By the dawn of the new century, India found themselves in depths of despair. They were whitewashed by Australia 3-0. To make it worse for the champion batsman, there was pressure on him. as he was the captain of the setup too.
When formidable foes South Africa arrived on the shores of India, they were expected to steamroll a side that was wallowing in mediocrity. With critics baying for his blood, Tendulkar walked out to bat at his home ground, the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai. On a turning track, Tendulkar started his innings rather sedately, before exploring every nook and cranny of the ground.
Despite losing wickets at regular intervals, Tendulkar kept his nerve. In fact, South African spinner, Nicky Boje was turning the ball surprisingly square and Tendulkar had to use every trick in the trade to keep him at bay. He was the eighth man out with the score reading 173 for the loss of eight wickets. Tragically for Tendulkar, he couldn’t complete his century and India lost the Test match.
That first World Cup win against Pakistan: 54 at SCG in 1991-92
When India meet Pakistan in any tournament or a bilateral series, there is sizzle of heightened anticipation. In the 1992 World Cup game played at SCG, arch-rivals India met Pakistan in a crucial encounter for the first time in the history of the tournament.
The 18-year old Tendulkar walked into bat with India struggling to up the ante. Tendulkar proceeded to play an innings of hypnotic beauty to lift the sagging spirits of Indian team. He was quick to rock onto the back-foot to play short-arm pulls against slow left-arm of Aamer Sohail and the leg-spin of Mushtaq Ahmed. With his flashing blade, he picked the length so quickly that Pakistani camp had no answer to it. India went onto win the game and Tendulkar played a key role in helping India script a famous victory.
Changing the complexion of the Test
West Indies, still undefeated in a series for a decade-and-a-half, had arrived in India in 1994 sans their strike bowler Ambrose, and captain Richie Richardson. Yet they had enough depth in the line-up to give the hosts a run for their money. In the first Test match played on a sporting wicket at Wankhede Stadium, the match was in a balance when India started their second innings.
Soon India was reduced to 11 for the loss of three wickets with Walsh and Kenny Benjamin bowling sustained short pitched stuff. Riding on Tendulkar’s brilliance though, India were able to engineer their way to a sizeable lead. Tendulkar played with poise and equanimity during his innings. Some of those back-foot punches were surreal to say the least. Here, one has to give credit to Sanjay Manjrekar as well for holding fort at the other end. The partnership stitched between Tendulkar and Manjrekar turned out to be the turning point of the game, as India won in the end by a convincing margin.
Tendulkar over his career constructed a trial of monumental knocks bathed in radiant sunshine. The above mentioned innings may not be rated very highly by cricket pundits, but if we scratch the surface, underneath, one can see that he played them during times of crisis.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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