Sachin announced himself to the world but taking on an experienced bowler like Abdul Qadir © Getty Images
Sachin Tendulkar (above) announced himself to the world by taking on an experienced bowler like Abdul Qadir © Getty Images

December 16, 1989. A young 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar, faced with an ask of absurd proportions took on the seasoned Abdul Qadir, hitting him for 28 runs in an over. Arunabha Sengupta relives the day that redefined the boundaries of possibilities for Indian cricket.

That was probably the first time that Sachin Tendulkar became the man who brought the nation to a standstill as he walked out to bat. Sachin Tendulkar: How much has the Master Blaster’s ODI retirement really affected India?

There had been heroes in Indian cricket, there had been great cricketers; but no one had redefined the boundaries of possibility by moving them way beyond the horizon of mortal eyes. Tendulkar’s opening partnerships with Ganguly and Sehwag among the best in ODI 

Before that he had been the supremely talented boy everyone had been wondering about. After this day he became simply the Boy Wonder.

The versions vary.

As ever so often happens, the distance in time renders the past hazy, the memories tricky. Hence, we can never be sure of the exact exchanges between the 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar and the 34-year-old Abdul Qadir. Sachin Tendulkar – Not just talent, but immaculate work ethic

Qadir has gone on television saying that he had asked the young lad to play his strokes freely since, after all, it was an exhibition match. Sachin Tendulkar’s savage attack that became the defining moment in India’s ODI 

A teenaged Tendulkar can be seen in flickering file-shots, tongue-tied, hesitant, bashful, managing to utter a few words that hints that the leg-spinner had told him he would not be able to take him for runs. Sachin Tendulkar – Miles ahead of the other greats in ODIs

Years down the line, in his somewhat sketchily ghosted autobiography, Tendulkar recalled that after he had struck the young Qadir protégé Mushtaq Ahmed for a couple of sixes, the older leggie had told him, “Bachche ko kya maar rahe ho? Dum hai to mujhe maarke dikhao.” (No big deal hitting a kid, if you have it in you try hitting me.)

The match, played in Arbab Niaz Stadium, Peshawar, was deemed unofficial, and hence very few accurate reports survive. Sachin Tendulkar – the man who changed ODIs and Indian cricket forever

What we do know is that there was some spectacular batting, and it established Tendulkar as a man who did not adhere to the confines of logical limits. During the Test series before the One-Day matches, he had impressed many and provided passing glimpses of the underlying magic. But here, as the Indian team was faced with a mountain their skipper thought was too steep to climb, the young man let himself go, giving full expression to his fantastic talent, and the result pitchforked him into the mindscape of millions.

Curious captaincy

The rains had rendered an official match impossible. However, the considerable number of fans who had weathered the elements had also softened the hearts of the administrators.

A 20-overs-a-side exhibition match was agreed upon. India bowled first, and a typical Saleem Malik onslaught left them faced with a huge target of 158.

Even during the Pakistan innings, it was clear that for some curious reason captain Kris Srikkanth was not keen on taking the match seriously. Salil Ankola bowled a brilliant couple of overs with the new ball, conceding just three runs while capturing a wicket. He was not given another bowl, the skipper preferring a put himself on (3-0-24-1).  Ankola’s opening partner, Vivek Razdan, bowled just two overs for a relatively inexpensive 11. Srikkanth opted for Arshad Ayub and Ajay Sharma, both of whom conceded 41 runs in their full four overs.

This lackadaisical approach to an international game on the part of the Indian captain would be more blatant in the second half of the game.

India started their chase with little conviction, albeit with plenty of style. In spite of the tough task of getting nearly eight runs an over, Srikkanth opted to come down the order. Raman Lamba was his strokeful self. WV Raman, playing his first major match of the tour, was full of elegance as he hooked a six with élan and stroked the ball to all parts of the ground.

When Lamba fell, the captain decided to send Ajay Sharma at No 3. Curious choice to say the least, with Mohammad Azharuddin, Tendulkar and Srikkanth himself in the ranks, apart from the hero of the Test series Sanjay Manjrekar. If entertaining the crowd was the intent rather than going for a win, one wonders how many wanted to watch Sharma rather than Azharuddin or Tendulkar. The skipper’s obsession with Sharma during the entire match was plain baffling.

When the second wicket fell at 79, the skipper made his guest appearance at the wicket. The asking rate was sky-high, and Srikkanth was quite satisfied to have a bit of fun. A couple of half-hearted reverse sweeps were flashed, and none connected. He was not very interested in going for a win.

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At 88, Sharma fell to Mushtaq. Five overs remained and there were 70 more runs to get. According to Tendulkar’s autobiography, “[Srikkanth] suggested we should dig in and get some batting practice for the following games. I was determined to go for the bowling and felt we still had a chance to make a match of it if we played our shots.”

After Srikkanth had played and missed through an over, Mushtaq ran in again. And Tendulkar hit him for two consecutive sixes over long on, the second stroke shattering the glass of the dressing-room window. There followed bemused looks from the Pakistani cricketers; and, of course, the words from Qadir to Tendulkar, retold in so many versions.

And then, with over 40 runs to win in two remaining overs, Qadir came in again. The first ball was tossed up, and the teenager struck him over long-on. The leg-spinner followed the flight of the ball as it cleared the fence and walked thoughtfully back to his bowling mark.

The following ball was a dot. Normalcy restored to an extent, Qadir returned to his bowling mark and started on his curiously curved run up. The ball was widish outside the off-stump.  Tendulkar came down the wicket to slam him over cover for four.

The equation was still very much in the realms of impossibility. Qadir turned again, summoning up all his experience, and pitched it on the middle stump. The youngster came down the track, and lofted it straight back over his head for another massive six. The crowd murmured in excitement. Something special was being witnessed.

In came Qadir again, and Tendulkar struck him against the spin, hard and high, towards the long-on boundary. The ball spiralled in the air, within reach of the fielder on the ropes. The catch was difficult but possible. But the attempt was spilled and the result was the third six.

In a television interview, Qadir later recalled the fielder as Azeem Hafeez. Unfortunately, Hafeez  had last played for Pakistan in 1985, and had lost his place in the side after the advent of Wasim Akram. Tendulkar does not mention this chance at all in his autobiography, and somehow the third six is struck over long-off in his account.

As we had mentioned in the tale of Sydney Barnes and Herbie Taylor, memories can be tricky.

Having conceded three sixes already, and a boundary to boot, Qadir turned for the last time, and this time pitched outside the off stump. Tendulkar stretched out and struck him over long-off for the fourth six of the over. The great leg-spinner was taken for 28. The target suddenly looked extremely achievable. A dazed Qadir slowly made his way to the outfield.

In the end, India were beaten by four runs. Not for the last time Tendulkar’s sublime heroics ended up in a losing cause, the men at the other end — in this case one solitary man, the skipper — undoing all his great work. As Tendulkar walked back undefeated on an 18-ball 53, Srikkanth accompanied him with his personal collection reading 13 not out.

“Watching him from the other end, I was astonished at the kind of shots he played and especially the way he took on Qadir. It is unfortunate that that match isn’t an official ODI, for it was one of the best innings I have seen,” Srikkanth lamented later. Well, if it had been an official ODI, Srikkanth would have probably been a bit more serious about going for the runs.

However, irrespective of the result, the match, telecast live in India, brought about a new dawn in the saga of cricket in the country. This writer remembers the following morning, when the incredible strokes were analysed and mimicked in every street corner, in thousands of conversations. Cricket would never be the same again.

Since then Sachin Tendulkar brought India to a standstill whenever he walked out to bat. The countrymen expected miracles, because they knew he was capable of performing them.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 157 for 4 in 20 overs (Mansoor Akhtar 53, Saleem Malik 75) beat India 153 for 3 in 20 overs (WV Raman 42, Sachin Tendulkar 53*) by 4 runs.

(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)