Sachin Tendulkar scored 90, but India failed to chase down a total of the target of 258 set by Australia in the in the 1996 ICC World Cup clash at Wankhede © Getty Images

By Ram Narayanan

Sachin Tendulkar has faced the accusation of not being a match-winner by a section of the cricket fans. Only those who view things superficially can make such allegations. The fact is, only because of his tenacity and skills India lost gracefully many of the matches — especially in the 1990s — that is cited as an example to lampoon Tendulkar. If anything, it’s his teammates who let Tendulkar and the team down at such moments. There have been many instances where India, as a team, collectively slipped being in advantageous positions. Tendulkar’s crime was making a match of it and not going down collectively with the team.

Here is a list of few matches, the results of which would have left Tendulkar wondering what else he should have done to earn a victory for his team.

Wills World Cup 1996 : India vs Australia

A second consecutive hundred by Mark Waugh helped Australia finish their innings at 258, leaving Mohammad Azharuddin and his men to climb a mountain against the likes of Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming and Shane Warne. A solid start was imperative, but India lost Ajay Jadeja and Vinod Kambli with just seven runs on the board. Tendulkar came in and launched a counterattack. He spared none of the Australian bowlers. In one eventful over from McGrath, he hit the Aussie for three successive fours. It was clearly Tendulkar vs Australia. When Azharuddin fell, the three Indian batsmen dismissed had contributed a total of 11 runs between them in a score of 70 for three! Tendulkar was getting very little support at the other end. With the Indian score on 143, Tendulkar took a calculated risk and advanced down the pitch to Mark Waugh and got stumped. Once he was out for 90 runs of just 84 balls, an innings which contained as much as 14 boundaries and a six, the rest of the Indian side made a mess of the remaining target to get themselves all out for 242 runs — 16 runs short of the required score.

It was heart breaking for 24-year old Tendulkar, who was let down by the rest of the specialist batsmen in the side, barring Sanjay Manjrekar.

Wills World Cup 1996 : India vs Sri Lanka semi-final at Kolkata

If there was ever an infamous cricket match in the World Cup history, the first thing which would come to anyone’s mind is the semi-final match between India and Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in 1996 at Kolkata, (then Calcutta). The first thing which was very puzzling to understand was Azharuddin’s decision to put Sri Lanka in after winning the toss even when he was fully aware of the fact that the pitch was going to turn squarer during the second innings. Even if a captain could not read the pitch well, it was always better to bat first in a match which was as important as a semi-final. The fact that Sri Lankans used to operate with spinners and part timers, more often than not, did not augur well too for India.

To this day one cannot understand why Azharuddin to put Sri Lanka in after winning the toss, even when he was fully aware of the fact that the pitch was going to turn square in the second innings. With Sri Lanka having the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Dharmasena, Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva to exploit ideal conditions, India were always going to be in trouble when they came into chase.

A brilliant 66 by Aravinda  Silva, and useful knocks by Roshan Mahanama, Arjuna Ranatunga and Hashan Tillekeratne enabled Sri Lanka to score 251 for eight in their allotted 50 overs. Yet again the onus of anchoring his side home fell on Tendulkar. On a treacherous turner, where no one else could get going, Tendulkar

batted admirably to take India to 98 when he became the second Indian wicket to fall — stumped by Romesh Kaluwitharana off Jayasuriya. He had done his job by scoring 65 of those runs, leaving the task of scoring 153 runs for victory on the rest of the team. But what happened after his departure was shocking. India lost six more wickets for just 22 runs and the volatile Kolkata crowd turned violent. When appeals to the irate fans bore no result, match referee Clive Lloyd stopped the game and awarded the match to Sri Lanka.

India vs England Sharjah Cup 1997

The first match of the Akai-Singer Trophy at Sharjah in 1997 between India and England would go down in history as the first-ever day-night One-Day International (ODI) played in the desert.

Tendulkar  won the toss and opted to field first. Alec Stewart scored the first century under lights in Sharjah which helped his team to set a target of 251. In order to strengthen the middle order, Tendulkar demoted himself to No.4. He came to bat 64 for two and played a watchfully, without compromising on the required run-rate. When India were just 18 runs short of victory, Tendulkar went down the wicket to Mathew Fleming, missed and was stumped by Stewart. Rajesh Chauhan and Javagal Srinath were good enough to get the 18 runs. But that was not to be. The next two wickets fell for just 11 runs as England romped home. Tendulkar’s captain’s knock, which should have otherwise given him a Man of the Match award, yielded nothing in the end.
Chennai Test 1999: India vs Pakistan

A score of 227 runs was all that was needed for India to win when the stumps were down during the third day’s play of the first Test. Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid survived the last few overs of the third day and gave themselves two full days to achieve a relatively easier target. When play resumed the following morning, Wasim Akram dismissed Rahul Dravid with one that swung in sharply. Off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq got rid of Azharuddin and Ganguly cheaply. With five wickets down for 82, Indians found themselves too far behind the target. They needed something special from their master batsman to get anywhere closer to the victory. Tendulkar came up with just that.  He played a very patient innings with the intention of staying at the wicket as long as possible. Fortunately, he had a specialist batsman in Nayan Mongia as his partner who gave him good support. That helped him in approaching the innings without taking too much of risks. When Mongia was out caught behind of the bowling of Akram, India’s score stood at 218 for six.

Tendulkar’s 405-minute stay at the wicket did more harm than good as he had to bat with an excruciating back pain. When India were just 16 runs away from the target, the agony and anguish seemed to have got to him, and in an urge to finish off the match quickly, he went for a big hit over long to be foxed by a Saqlain Mushtaq’s doosra. The leading edge off the bat flew over to mid-off which was gracefully accepted by Akram. A stupendous effort of Tendulkar, who scored a valiant 136 runs was duly applauded by everyone, including the Pakistani fielders. A decent approach to batting was all it required for India to seal the win over their arch rivals. It simply went unavailable for them once Tendulkar left the batting crease. The next three wickets were down for just four more runs and the hosts fell short of just 13 runs in reaching the target set, leaving Tendulkar distraught in the dressing room.

(Ram Narayanan got hooked on to cricket as a five-year old hearing the tales of Don Bradman, Lala Amarnath, Vijay Hazare and Garry Sobers, among others, from his grandfather. A Test match cricket devotee, his love for the traditional format was enhanced further watching the TV series on Bodyline)