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April 22, 1998. The day of the first desert storm. Arunabha Sengupta revisits the day Sachin Tendulkar launched into a murderous assault on the Australian bowlers to take India into the Coca-Cola Cup final.
That was the innings that left Michael Kasprowicz in trauma. Not for the last time, Shane Warne was in a state of bemused helplessness. Towards the end of it, Damien Fleming was in denial. And throughout, Tony Greig in paroxysms of delight. It was the innings that led Sanjay Manjrekar to realise that perhaps he was looking at the second best batsman in the history of the game after Don Bradman.
It left a captain of Steve Waugh’s calibre wondering about the fickleness of life, the impermanence of things.
There was the interruption that reduced the target from 285 in 50 overs to 276 in 46. More importantly they needed 237 to qualify for the final against Australia, to inch ahead of New Zealand and prevent it from becoming an all-antipode affair. The Duckworth-Lewis rain rule was used due to sand storm in the desert. And then arrived the desert storm itself, from the magical bat of the Master.
Kasprowicz was the first to be blown away. Tendulkar skipped down the track as if playing an old fashioned lob bowler, and launched an attempted slower ball cross batted over the deep mid-wicket. The next ball was the standard fast bowler’s retaliation. The bouncer was pulled over square-leg for another six. When Kasprowicz strayed slightly on the legs, he was delicately tickled fine for four. And when nothing was wrong, the ball short of good length and just outside the off-stump, following every coaching manual in the world, Tendulkar responded with a defensive bat and off it raced through the covers for a boundary.
A push down the ground took him to fifty. Tony Greig gushed, “When it’s tough, the tough get going.”
In came Warne, in a much-awaited battle of the titans, the first round of the cricketing version of the Ali-Frazier bout. The pitch was providing some help to his leg-spinners. And Tendulkar drove him, flat batted through the covers, the ball blazing away through the outfield. As was to happen so very often down the years, Warne just blinked and wondered what to do next.
In he came again, round the wicket, turning it from the rough. Tendulkar came down the wicket, the heavy bat meeting the ball moments after it had landed, and the ball rebounded off the advertisement hoardings beyond long on. It was a quick knock-out.
But, the medium-pacers made it dicey. Tom Moody got Nayan Mongia and Mohammad Azharuddin. Steve Waugh induced a snick off Ajay Jadeja. India slumped to 138 for four, still nearly a hundred needed to qualify. Things were tight. Kasprowicz was brought back. Tendulkar responded with a straight hit that bounced just in front of the sight-screen.
Steve Waugh was launched over his head. And amidst all the miraculous strikes, Tendulkar was running furiously between the wickets, calling for two even before the ball struck the bat. With one such nudge past the square leg, he sprinted back for the second to notch his hundred. It had come off 111 balls, with five fours and three sixes.
The equation for qualifying was still steep. Fleming charged in, bowling faster with frustration. Tendulkar stepped across the stumps and sent it to the fine-leg fence. “They are dancing in the aisles in Sharjah,” announced Tony Greig.
And off the first ball of the next over by Steve Waugh, Tendulkar danced down the wicket and hit him straight down the ground. “All the way for six, what a player!” was the version of an ecstatic Greig. Only 18 were now required from 29 balls to reach the final, 57 to win the match.
When in the next over Tendulkar moved outside his leg-stump smashed Fleming for another straight six, it was evident the master had set himself up for the bigger challenge. Greig’s enthusiasm overflowed out of his microphone across the world and on millions of television sets was heard the infectious excitement, “Way over the top and into the crowds again. Sachin Tendulkar wants to win this match!”
A clip off the legs ensured the Indian qualification. The next ball was played inside out past cover for four. The unbelievable win looked on the cards. Only 34 remained to be scored off 20 balls.
Well, it did not happen that day. The next ball was short and an attempted pull was taken behind the wicket. Tendulkar had fallen after 143 from 131 balls, with nine fours and five sixes. The gallant hero walked back after a landmark One-Day International (ODI) innings, the entire stadium standing as one to cheer him back to the dressing room.
To get an indication of the value of the knock in Indian context, we can do well to note that only eight more runs were scored in the remaining three overs after his dismissal. Single-handedly, Tendulkar had achieved the seemingly impossible.
Yes, the Australians won the match, but it took a while for them to recover from the assault. And two days later, they would revisit the nightmare. Steve Waugh’s men would face the full blaze of the Tendulkar class again. The little man would perform an encore in the final, and India would go wild on his 25th birthday.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix
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