Sachin Tendulkar's 140 was © Getty Images
Sachin Tendulkar (right) called this innings one of his most cherished ones © Getty Images

Sachin Tendulkar scored an emotional 140 not out against Kenya on May 23, 1999, in the World Cup. In the backdrop of his father’s demise, Tendulkar returned to the World Cup with India in trouble, and pumped life into the campaign with a remarkable century. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at one of the most emotional innings ever played by Tendulkar.

Sportsmen are human after all! At times, their extraordinary feats on the field of play tend to fuel that invincible aura, which supposedly puts them far ahead of their race. It isn’t that they aren’t human, but they only handle certain aspects of life better than others. Turn the clock back to the 1999 World Cup when Sachin Tendulkar smashed 140 not out against Kenya at the County Ground in Bristol. The little master put behind the sorrow of losing his father a few days before the game, and scored a crucial hundred to keep India afloat in the World Cup.

The backdrop

The year 1999 was a tough one for Tendulkar. Earlier in the season, his back had given way during the remarkable 136 against Pakistan in Chennai. Despite the pain, Tendulkar arrived in England for the World Cup. “Every time I trained, my back would get stiff and I would need a cooling-off period for it to settle down,” Tendulkar wrote in his book Playing It My Way.

India faced South Africa in their first game and were beaten thanks to Jacques Kallis’ heroics. On the eve of the second game against Zimbabwe, Tendulkar got the news of his father Ramesh’s passing. Ramesh Tendulkar was an eminent Marathi writer and was revered by his son. As India got ready to face Zimbabwe on May 19, Tendulkar was on the way back home for his father’s funeral. Brijesh Patel, India’s manager for the tournament, told BBC, “Sachin is in a state of shock, he was very close to his father. His death was unexpected although he had been ill earlier but had recovered. Sachin flew home this morning but we hope to get him back to play against Kenya on Sunday or, in the worst case, next Wednesday against Sri Lanka.”

While Tendulkar was home, India slumped to an embarrassing defeat against Zimbabwe. Two games, two losses! This meant that India had to win their last three games to have any chance of qualifying for the Super Sixes. With the team in need of their talisman, Tendulkar flew back to England to answer their calls and inject some life into the campaign. “After spending four days in India, I returned to England to rejoin the team on the eve of the match against Kenya. That, it seemed to me, was what my father would have wanted me to do, and that’s what prompted the decision to return to London to play the remaining World Cup matches,” Tendulkar wrote. Despite that intense love for the game, the loss of his father meant that he wasn’t there mentally. He even confessed to donning dark eyewear to shield his tears.

The match

With the focus on the Indian team, Kenya won the toss and put India in to bat. When Tendulkar was away, Sadagoppan Ramesh had scored a fifty in the game against Zimbabwe. Sourav Ganguly too had performed against South Africa. Rahul Dravid held the important spot at No. 3. This meant that Tendulkar went down to No. 4 on comeback. Ramesh had helped India off to a solid stand with 44 before he was the second man dismissed in the 21st over when Tendulkar walked out to join Dravid.

In typical Tendulkar fashion, he walked out adjusting his gloves, not bothered by all the noise around. The fans welcomed their hero back into the arena. Tendulkar was literally walking into a new field, for he hadn’t seen life without his father’s watchful presence. Tendulkar had to contend with that tough fact along with the niggling back injury and the possibility of India facing eviction from the big event. The opposition may have been a lowly Kenya, but the pressure seemed enormous. In the toughest of times, even the weaker sides may seem mighty.

Tendulkar started calmly and got into flow with a drive down the ground off Thomas Odoyo for a four. Forming a good stand with Dravid, Tendulkar kept working the strike over. The glorious drives and paddle sweeps also made an appearance as he warmed up for a big innings. He signalled his intentions in the 30th over when he lofted Kenya captain Aasif Karim over long-on for a massive six.

In the 35th over, he knocked one down the ground to move to fifty amidst huge cheers. He looked up to the sky and raised that bat to the heavens for the very first time. It had taken him 54 balls to get to the milestone. Carnage was to follow as the next 47 balls he faced were to fetch him 90 runs.

Picking his opportunities, Tendulkar lofted against the line on the leg-side. There was some calm within, but one could sense his sorrow. His body language reflected his hurt and anguish; batting was a way to mourn and let out the overwhelming emotions. Tendulkar’s assault took India closer to a run-a-ball as the last 10 overs approached. Dravid held one end up, but kept the pace of the innings going.

Tendulkar’s strokeplay through the leg-side was dominant; dismissive even. By the 44th over, he had sped away to 98. He drove the gentle medium-pace of Steve Tikolo through mid-off and set off for a quick two. This was the first ton of that World Cup. Tendulkar completed the 100th run and looked up to the heavens. The crowd and his teammates stood up to applaud the effort. Though Tendulkar was never exuberant in celebrations, this one was a lot more subdued even by his standards. Dravid came over, patted his teammate as he went back to take strike. The first ball after his ton was worked to fine-leg for a four. India had moved to 264 for 2 in 44 overs.

Post a ton came a few delightful strokes through the off-side. Maurice Odumbe was first driven through cover for a four and a couple of overs later, Tendulkar waited for the loopy delivery and guided it through third-man on the full for another boundary. Tendulkar had a small smile as he punched Dravid’s gloves. Odumbe then bore the brunt of a reverse-sweep.

Tendulkar finished the innings with a six over mid-wicket off the last ball. India had piled 329 for 2 in their 50 overs, with Tendulkar remaining unbeaten on 140 off 101 balls. Little did anyone notice that Dravid had also hit 104 off 109 deliveries. The two batsmen shook hands as they headed back and Dravid patted his teammate for the brilliant effort.

Writing in his book, Tendulkar expressed, “Though I managed to score a hundred in the match against Kenya — which remains one of my most cherished centuries, one I dedicated to my father — my mind was not always on the game.”

What followed?

- India won the game by 94 runs. Debasis Mohanty’s 4 for 56 played a role in restricting the Kenyan fight. Tendulkar was named Man of the Match.

- India beat Sri Lanka and England to make it to the Super Sixes, where they could only record the customary victory against Pakistan. Tendulkar returned to the opening spot for the Super Sixes and scored an important 45 against Pakistan.

- India were knocked out after the Super Sixes.

- Tendulkar made it a habit to look to the heavens on reaching any milestone.

Brief scores:

India 329 for 2 in 50 overs (Rahul Dravid 104*, Sachin Tendulkar 140*; Martin Suji 1 for 26) beat Kenya 235 for 7 in 50 overs (Kennedy Otieno 56, Steve Tikolo 58; Debasis Mohanty 4 for 56) by 94 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_45)