Sachin Tendulkar had a ball that day at New Wanderers © Getty Images
Sachin Tendulkar had a ball that day at New Wanderers © Getty Images

December 1, 2006. Till then sceptic towards the 20-over format of the sport, India had not played a single T20I. It also meant that Sachin Tendulkar, already the man with most international matches in history, was yet to play a single T20I. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the day when India played their first T20I.

It sounds almost impossible today that India were, at one point of time, not too keen to play Twenty20 matches. Indeed, the first 9 T20I matches featured 9 Test teams (the ninth involved Zimbabwe and Bangladesh), but India were yet to make their T20I debut.

Thus, when they were to play their first T20I, they were probably circumspect to some extent. Going into the match at New Wanderers, Sachin Tendulkar had played 132 Tests and 373 ODIs, in other words, a total of 505 international matches. He had gone past Steve Waugh’s record tally of 493 earlier that year at Wankhede Stadium. India had lost that Test by a humiliating 212-run margin, and Tendulkar was booed at his home ground, after he capitulated meekly to Shaun Udal in the fourth innings.

The three-hour history

The tour started with the Indians pitted against Rest of South Africa. The tourists lost by 37 runs. The first ODI at New Wanderers was washed out without a ball being bowled, but South Africa thrashed India in the next three: they won by 157 runs at Kingsmead, by 106 runs at Newlands, and by 80 runs at St George’s Park.

Nobody gave India a chance, going into the T20I. Rahul Dravid, the captain, opted out of the contest, and Virender Sehwag became India’s first T20I captain.

The pitch was greenish and the sky slightly overcast, but Graeme Smith risked it: he decided to bat, and went out to open with Loots Bosman. Zaheer Khan started with an excellent over, but Smith soon increased the run rate, taking 13 off the second over, bowled by S Sreesanth.

The last ball of the third over was over-pitched outside off: Bosman poked at it, and Tendulkar took the catch at first slip. Sreesanth redeemed himself somewhat in his next over, and with Zaheer bowling beautifully, the score read 31 for 2 after 5 overs.

Sehwag introduced Ajit Agarkar; the first ball was wide outside off; Herschelle Gibbs flashed hard; and the ball went straight to Suresh Raina at cover. Agarkar — probably India’s best strike bowler in limited-overs cricket till then — started his T20I career with a wicket-maiden.

Zaheer bowled out, but not before he trapped his “bunny” Smith leg-before. Zaheer’s figures read an exceptional 4-0-15-2. AB de Villiers, still in his early days, uppercut Agarkar for six, but two balls later the Mumbaikar produced a peach that curved away, took the edge, and went into MS Dhoni’s waiting gloves. 41 for 4.

The onus fell on Justin Kemp, who smashed Irfan Pathan for two boundaries in three balls. Then Agarkar, bowling superbly (2.3-1-10-2), tore a groin muscle and left the ground. He took no further part in the match. He was replaced by Tendulkar, and Kemp immediately pounced upon him, smashing him to leg for four first ball.

It started drizzling in the 12th over, and despite the slippery ball, Tendulkar bowled a straight delivery that skidded through and rapped Kemp on the pads. Brian Jerling’s finger went up; and the great man exploded in unadulterated, almost juvenile joy. It was a moment to behold: in his 17-year career there was hardly anything Tendulkar had not achieved till then (of course, he would move on to greater things in his post-2007 days that followed). But the sheer ecstasy of his first T20I wicket was something to see.

Albie Morkel went for the big hits, eventually top-scoring with an 18-ball 27. Johan van der Wath made sure South Africa played all their overs. Then Harbhajan Singh overstepped, and thus followed that novel concept — the free hit — which is an all-too-familiar concept now.

On came Harbhajan, sending it flat; Peterson went for the almighty slog, only to be caught by Dinesh Karthik at long-on. Unfortunately, the batsmen had crossed; Peterson had completely forgotten about the free hit; as Karthik’s throw came in, Harbhajan whipped the bails off. Sehwag summoned Tendulkar to bowl the last over: he conceded 5.

South Africa finished on 126 for 9 — a competitive score on a damp New Wanderers pitch, more so because of the fact that South Africa were undefeated that summer.

A stuttering chase

Sehwag and Tendulkar had a cautious yet confident start against van der Wath and Charl Langeveldt, taking 17 off the first 3 overs. The last ball of the second over was a no-ball, which resulted in a free hit. Tendulkar had a go at the next ball and edged to de Villiers, but it did not matter. Then came the fourth over: Tendulkar pushed the first ball through wide mid-off to the fence; slashed the third over extra-cover for four more; and dragged the fifth on to the stumps.

India needed 98 from 84 balls at the end of the Powerplay. Smith brought on debutant Tyron Henderson, and Sehwag smashed him for six and four, following with fours off Roger Telemachus and Henderson. The target came down to 67 off 66 balls.

Then Dinesh Mongia pushed one to mid-off and turned his back on Sehwag, leaving him stranded midway. Mongia tried to make amends with two boundaries, but Langeveldt struck when Dhoni played on.

Mongia kept playing his strokes, the most attractive of which was a lofted cover-drive into the stands off Albie Morkel. Dinesh Karthik supported well, but some tight bowling from Morkel and Telemachus pegged the runs back: 29 from 24.

Dinesh Karthik shifted across and chipped Telemachus over short fine-leg. Six more runs came off the over. 19 from 18.

Robin Peterson, still not used by Smith, was now introduced. Mongia tried to sweep the first and reverse-sweep the second but missed both; Langeveldt held the skier at mid-on next ball. Three runs followed. 16 from 12.

Van der Wath started with a wide ball, and Karthik steered deftly: the ball beat de Villiers’ big gloves and a diving Henderson to the fence. But van der Wath pulled back, conceding three more from the last five balls. 9 from 6.

Peterson tossed the first one up on off-and-middle; Karthik bent down on one knee and slog-swept with all he had, and the ball cleared the fence. Despite the dot ball that followed, the six sealed the match. Karthik and Suresh Raina finished things off with three singles with a ball to spare. It was the first victory for India on the tour. It was a win in their first T20I as well.

What followed?

– South Africa won the fifth ODI at Centurion by 9 wickets, sealing the series 4-0.

– India won the first Test at New Wanderers, but South Africa clinched the series with hard-fought victories at Kingsmead and Newlands. – Domestic T20 in India started that season. The tournament was named after Syed Mushtaq Ali. – Less than a year after the match, India lifted the inaugural ICC World T20 — once again in South Africa.

– A few months after India’s World T20 triumph, IPL took off, changing the tone and calendar of world cricket subsequently.

– Tendulkar did not play another T20I.

Brief scores: South Africa 126 for 9 in 20 overs (Albie Morkel 27; Zaheer Khan 2 for 15, Ajit Agarkar 2 for 10) lost to India 127 for 4 in 19.5 overs (Virender Sehwag 34, Dinesh Mongia 38, Dinesh Karthik 31*; Charl Langeveldt 2 for 20) by 6 wickets with 1 ball to spare.

Man of the Match: Dinesh Karthik.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)