Sachin Tendulkar's 134: 20 years since the birthday special at Sharjah
“This little man is the nearest thing to Bradman there’s ever been. What a player he is!” - Tony Greig
The little man in reference above is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar and the occasion was the finals of the Coca-Cola Cup at Sharjah against the Australians in 1998. Incidentally, it was also his 25th birthday and he gave such a gift to the nation which cannot be forgotten in this lifetime.
Desert Storm had subsided, but Sachin-storm hadn’t
Two days earlier, a 'desert storm' and Sachin-storm had struck Sharjah during the match between India and Australia. In what many consider to be one of Sachin’s best ODI hundreds, he had single-handedly taken India to the finals with an innings of 143 runs. And on this day, while the desert storm had subsided, Sachin-storm was still there.
As a 12-year-old boy, I was still going gaga over Sachin’s performance from the previous match and here he was ready for another masterclass. Australians were put into bat by Indian skipper Mohammad Azharuddin scored 272 runs courtesy half-centuries by Steve Waugh and Darren Lehman.
Right from the beginning of the Indian innings, it was evident that Sachin was a man on a mission. He also had luck by his side and this was evident when in a battle between birthday boys, an inside edge off the bowling of Damien Fleming (who was turning 28) in the fifth over just missed the stumps and the ball raced to the boundary.
Sachin never looked back from that point. He was quickly taking India closer to the trophy, first in the company of pinch-hitter Nayan Mongia and then with Azharuddin. Such was the impact of his innings from the previous match, that this seemed to be a sober knock.
While in reality, it was anything but sober. Even the commentators mentioned that Sachin was batting in a restrained manner when his score actually read as 97 runs off 99 balls.
“Just in case Sachin reaches a century, wish him a very happy birthday from Anjali & Sara”
Soon, he reached his 15th ODI century with a flick off the bowling of Tom Moody. And there was a sweet birthday wish from his wife Anjali and daughter Sara, which the commentators had received in the morning. Anjali had said, “Just in case Sachin reaches a century, wish him a very happy birthday from Anjali & Sara.”
“Ohh this is high, What a Six! What a six!”
Unfortunately, for the Australians, Sachin did not just stop at the century. When he hit Tom Moody for a straight six, Tony Greig had everyone in laughter with his following comments, “He has hit this one miles. The little man has hit the big fella. He is half his size.”
Yet again, when Sachin hit Michael Kasprowicz for a six, Tony Greig added spice to the shot with his lively commentary. He screamed, “Ohh this is high, What a Six! What a six! It’s bouncing on the roof!”
Sachin eventually got out to a controversial LBW decision for 134 runs off Kasprowicz’s bowling. But, by then, the Indians were just inches away from a famous victory. Ajay Jadeja and Hrishikesh Kanitkar ensured that India reached the target without any hiccups.
Sachin, who had scored 435 runs at an average of 87 in the tournament was the obvious choice for the man of the series award in addition to the man of the match award.
He got an Opel Astra as part of the man of the series award and the entire team had a victory lap in his car on the ground. I had only heard stories of such scenes from my father when Ravi Shastri had won an Audi as the Champions of Championship in the World Series in 1985. So, I was thrilled to say the least.
“I wish I could have many more birthdays like this. It is good for the country.”
In the presentation ceremony, Sachin said, “I wish I could have many more birthdays like this. It is good for the country”. Not only Sachin, but anyone would love to have such birthdays. But then, not everybody is Sachin. Twenty years since that storm in Sharjah and memories of that series still gives goosebumps to all cricket lovers.