It is not often that Sachin Tendulkar is overshadowed. And if that happens before his adoring home crowd, as it did at the Wankhede Stadium, there is an acute sense of disbelief. It is not that Tendulkar failed in this game. He made a fine 90. But on this day the silken-smooth touch of Mark Waugh and incisive pace bowling of Damien Fleming proved too much for the Indians, the little maestro included.
Mark Waugh's batting was like a cool breeze against your face on a hot summer evening. It made you want to just sit back and enjoy it. Often you wonder how he did it, as every gentle stroke struck a chord in your heart. He was arguably the most graceful batsman of the modern era, perhaps even more so than that elegant English left-hander, David Gower. When Mark Waugh was on song, there was no music sweeter on the cricket field. He said about his uncomplicated approach: "Concentrate on each ball and stay cool. Just keep it simple and take every ball as it comes." During most of the 1996 contest, he was in breathtaking form. He reeled off three centuries, the first to get so many in one World Cup.
India were at the receiving end of one such hundred. As he played his ever-so-refined flicks, drives, and cuts, skipper Mark Taylor joined in the revelry. The opening stand realised 103 in 21.5 overs. Even in the attack, there was nothing crude about Mark Waugh's methods. This was demonstrated when he smashed Venkatapathy Raju for sixes over mid-wicket and then straight back. He played so late and with such precise timing that it seemed completely effortless. The piece-de-resistance was a tremendous pull over the ropes off paceman Javagal Srinath. This was Mark Waugh at his best. He simply dismissed the bowlers, becoming the first player to hit two successive centuries in the World Cup. He seemed unstoppable in this mood and was out the only way that he possibly could on this day - through a runout. His 126 put India under huge pressure, as he departed having faced just 135 balls and stroked 8 fours and 3 sixes.
If Mark Waugh was the epitome of grace, Damien Fleming had little pretensions to being a cricketer of style. His action resembled a concrete mixer one finds at construction sites. Unlike Waugh, he did not even look athletic. But when it came to bowling, particularly in the One-dayers, Fleming could be an awkward customer. He packed a lot of power in those shoulders as they went rolling one after the other in his delivery stride. He was very accurate, and made the ball skid and move sideways just enough to beat the bat. It was difficult to score off him, and he could often be penetrative.
This was one such day. Ajay Jadeja found to his chagrin that the ball had shot through and rapped his pads. With the total still on 7, Vinod Kambli had no clue as the ball moved just a little and crashed into the stumps. Tendulkar tried to assume charge but Fleming returned to disturb Mohammad Azharuddin's stumps off the bottom edge. Again the ball had hurried through. That made it 70 for three. Fleming was not through yet. He knocked back Anil Kumble's stumps and had Javagal Srinath caught to pick up a rare One-day five-wicket haul. His five for 36 off 9 overs sealed the victory for Australia.
It was an inspired performance by Mark Waugh and Damien Fleming, two cricketers very dissimilar but coming together to hand the hosts a stunning defeat in a crucial encounter.
Australia: 258 all out (50 overs), India: 242 all out (48 overs) (CWC 1996)
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