When Sachin Tendulkar was selected for his first tour with the Indian Test side in 1989, many feared for him. He seemed like just a little boy. He was one too, at just 16 years of age.
You felt that he was being pushed into the lion’s den, for that series was against arch rivals Pakistan with their fearsome battery of pacemen - Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. But the manner in which the kid squared up to these awesome fast bowlers showed that someone in the selection committee had a discerning eye.
Tendulkar lived up fully to the promise, and immediately carved out a permanent place in the Indian line-up. On the 1991-92 tour of Australia, preceding the fifth edition of the World Cup, he broke away from the rest, and pundits already began rating him as the team’s best batsman. The World Cup showed just why.
Here's a look back at all nine of Tendulkar’s record nine man-of-the-match awards in the World Cup.
1. Versus Pakistan, Sydney, 1992
The needle encounter with Pakistan created its own inevitable drama. Tendulkar chose the occasion to come into his own. He put on 46 for the fourth wicket with schoolmate Vinod Kambli, and combined with Kapil Dev to add another 60 for the sixth wicket.
Tendulkar’s unbeaten 54, comprising 3 boundaries in a stay of 62 deliveries, set up India’s victory, helping post a total that could be defended on the lively Sydney track. This match-winning performance won him his first World Cup man-of-the-match award.
2. Versus Zimbabwe, Hamilton, 1992
Tendulkar top-scored again in the next match. A fine 99-run stand with Sanjay Manjrekar took the rain-affected game away from Zimbabwe. His superb 81 off just 77 balls, studded with 8 fours and a six, earned him a second successive man-of-the-match prize.
3. Versus Kenya, Cuttack, 1996
There was a soft opening fixture with Kenya in the 1996 World Cup, and Tendulkar led the charge with a 163-run stand with Ajay Jadeja. It was not only India’s best opening partnership in the World Cup, surpassing the mark of 136 set up by Sunil Gavaskar and Krishnamachari Srikkanth against New Zealand in 1987, but also the country’s highest for any wicket hitherto in the premier event.
Tendulkar stepped on the pedal right from the start, hitting his first fifty off just 48 balls. He slowed visibly on the threshold of his first World Cup century, making doubly certain that he reached the coveted milestone.
This was his fifth hundred in one-day internationals, all of which had come in the previous 18 months after he began opening the innings. Still in no mood to throw away his wicket, he escorted his side to an easy victory.
Tendulkar’s unbeaten 127 from 138 deliveries was made up of 15 sizzling boundaries and one hit over the ropes. This was then India’s second-highest individual score in the World Cup after Kapil Dev’s 175 not out in 1983.
4. Versus West Indies, Gwalior, 1996
The next match at Gwalior was billed as a clash of the two star batsmen, Tendulkar and Brian Lara, and also a confrontation between Tendulkar and the great fast bowling pair of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. Neither of these things happened.
With the West Indies setting a modest target of 174, Tendulkar played a sedate innings, scoring 70 off 91 balls, having struck 8 fours before being run out. He had put on 79 crucial runs for the third wicket with Navjot Singh Sidhu.
This was Tendulkar's second man-of-the-match award in succession.
He became a trailblazer in the 1996 event, the first to score more than 500 runs in a single World Cup. He had a tremendous run of scores: 127 not out, 70, 90, 137, 3, 31 and 65; two centuries and three fifties in seven matches.
Tendulkar became the highest run-getter in any single World Cup with his 523 runs, averaging 87.16 - a mark that was to remain till he himself bettered it in 2003.
5. Versus Kenya, Bristol, 1999
The year 1999 was an unhappy one for Tendulkar in many ways. He developed back trouble in the early months, and for the first time a shadow was cast on his career. The contemptuous pull shot off the front foot had to be eliminated from his repertoire to ease the pressure on his back.
Then just as the World Cup began, his father passed away. Tendulkar had to return to India, missing the fixture with Zimbabwe. He rejoined the tournament in traumatic circumstances.
A debate followed about whether he should continue to open the innings in conditions where the ball moved around. As a result, he was shifted up and down the order. Tendulkar had opened in the first match against South Africa and raised 67 with Sourav Ganguly before he was caught behind off Lance Klusener for 28. He missed the second game due to his bereavement. India lost both the matches.
On his return from home, Tendulkar walked in at No. 4 to face the Kenyan attack, in a sombre frame of mind. But he put together his concentration, and got down to work like a true professional. Soon he was stroking the ball in his magical way.
Even the dark clouds lifted and made way for bright sunshine, as if in reverence to the little genius. Rahul Dravid too flowered in his company. Tendulkar stepped on the accelerator after reaching his half-century. He raced to his hundred in 84 balls, the fastest by an Indian in the World Cup until then, surpassing another legend Sunil Gavaskar’s century off 85 balls against New Zealand in 1987. Tendulkar’s second fifty came in only 30 balls.
The partnership reached mammoth proportions, the pair still not separated after having added 237 runs when the innings ended. This was the highest for any wicket in the World Cup, breaking the previous record of 207 - also for the third wicket, set by Mark and Steve Waugh, coincidentally against Kenya in 1996. It was also a record for the third wicket in all one-day internationals, beating the previous best of 230 by Pakistanis Saeed Anwar and Ijaz Ahmed against India in 1998.
Tendulkar was unbeaten with an explosive 140 off 101 balls, slamming 3 sixes and 16 fours in a man-of-the-match performance.
6. Versus Zimbabwe, Harare, 2003
As the Indian side sought to redeem itself in the 2003 World Cup, it faced Zimbabwe who were no longer the force they were four years earlier. Tendulkar and his young clone Virender Sehwag put their bowling to the sword in a rousing 99-run opening stand in 100 deliveries.
The master continued to blaze away after the apprentice was dismissed. Dinesh Mongia was essentially a bystander in a 43-run second-wicket partnership.
A delivery from left-arm spinner Grant Flower eventually rolled on to the stumps off Tendulkar’s defensive blade. He left, having hit 81 off 91 balls with 10 exquisite boundaries. India triumphed easily and Tendulkar wrested his sixth man-of-the-match award in the World Cup, the highest at that stage, breaking away from the pack of Vivian Richards, Graham Gooch and Lance Klusener.
7. Versus Namibia, Pietermaritzburg, 2003
As the Indian campaign gained momentum, there was a picnic before the stern tests. The Namibians were in no position to challenge an indignant side hungry for success. Sehwag dazzled briefly, and once Sourav Ganguly joined Tendulkar, there was a deluge.
Though Tendulkar was not at his fluent best, the pair just waded into the amateur trundlers. Dropped at 32, the little champion perhaps found it hard to motivate himself against the pop-gun attack, but bludgeoned it nonetheless. He raised his 34th ODI hundred, racing still far ahead of the rest. It was his fourth ton in the premier event, the most at that stage alongside Mark Waugh.
The second-wicket stand logged up 244 runs before Tendulkar was out, having crashed 152 off 151 deliveries with 18 hits to the fence. This was his highest score in the World Cup, and the partnership was the second-best ever for any wicket in the tournament after the 318-run Ganguly-Dravid duet of 1999.
Tendulkar picked up his second consecutive man-of-the-match prize, his third such feat in the World Cup.
8. Versus Pakistan, Centurion, 2003
If India were getting their act together in this tournament, the Pakistani side was not. But in the mother of all cricketing battles, form counts for little. The team that soaks in the pressure better on the day invariably triumphs.
This contest had two entire nations transfixed. Plane-loads of spectators took off for South Africa, television ratings soared, and almost every other activity came to a standstill.
Pakistan seized the initiative with a score of 273 for seven. But Tendulkar was not going to let go this opportunity to display his class as well as temperament. The great Wasim Akram opened the bowling and Tendulkar drove the third delivery off the back foot through the covers into the pickets.
Sehwag also got into the act. From then on there was only one team in the match. Shoaib Akhtar came on at the other end. Tendulkar blasted him for a six and two fours off the last three balls. The Rawalpindi Express conceded 18 runs off his first over and was promptly taken off. Tendulkar had established his ascendancy.
It took only five overs to rattle up 50 on the board. Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly were dismissed off successive balls but Tendulkar zoomed to his own fifty in a matter of 37 balls. Mohammad Kaif helped put on a brisk 102 in 15.5 overs.
Though cramps began to hamper Tendulkar, he refused a runner till he could hardly move. Meanwhile, he brought up his 12,000th run in ODIs, playing his 300th innings in 309 matches. He now stood alone on a pedestal, the second-placed Mohammad Azharuddin parked more than 2,600 runs behind.
When Akhtar let go a nasty bouncer the decapitated Tendulkar could only instinctively fend a catch to point. He fell for a magnificent 98, having faced just 75 deliveries and rocketed 12 fours and a six. This was arguably Tendulkar’s best innings in the World Cup.
India had raced to 177 for four in the 28th over. Dravid and Yuvraj Singh just had to bat sensibly from then on, which they did. India maintained their hundred percent World Cup record over Pakistan.
There was only one claimant for the gold watch awarded to the man-of-the-match. Tendulkar had now walked away with three such glittering prizes in the last four matches.
Enthralled by his next innings against Sri Lanka, Australian great Greg Chappell wrote in his column in The Hindu: “Make no mistake, Tendulkar is a genius! Tendulkar’s combination of deft touches and raw power is virtually unmatched in the game today. Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Brian Lara can certainly match his power though they don’t quite match his exquisite skill and versatility.
"The versatility is an innate, instinctive skill. Bradman used the laws of physics better than anyone else, then or now. He used the energy created by the bowler and redirected the ball with brilliant footwork and incredible wrist work. Tendulkar goes closest to emulating him, but has the added advantage - delivered by the heavier modern bat - of being able to block the ball back past the faster bowlers more quickly than it was delivered.
"Tendulkar’s innings of 97 was as intimidating to most of the Sri Lankan bowlers, as it was for the Pakistanis at Centurion Park.” There could be no greater tribute, coming as it did from a player who was himself one of the finest batsmen in history.
India lost to the unstoppable Australians in the final but Tendulkar won the Golden Bat, his award for being adjudged the player-of-the-tournament, which was presented to him by none other than Sir Garfield Sobers. In two World Cups - 1996 and 2003 - Tendulkar was the leading run-getter of the tournament.
His 673 runs in 11 matches in the 2003 event laid down a new benchmark in the World Cup, and his aggregate of 1732 was then far ahead of the rest, none of whom had topped 1100.
9. Versus Pakistan, Mohali, 2011
Next came the high-voltage encounter at Mohali, the World Cup 2011 semi-final between India and Pakistan - a heart-stopper in the extreme, watched by the prime ministers of both countries. Two overs produced 6 runs, and then Sehwag turned on Umar Gul, bludgeoning him for 5 boundaries in the 3rd over.
Sehwag continued on his merry way, having had most of the strike. He fell leg-before at 48, having crashed 9 boundaries in his 38 off 25 balls.
With Sehwag’s departure, Tendulkar held centre-stage. He soon added three quick boundaries to an earlier one, but this hurricane start had camouflaged the uneven character of the wicket.
As the ball lost its shine and hardness, it began to grip the surface and lose pace. Run-making became a struggle, which was reflected in Tendulkar’s resilient and fortunate innings. The Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) helped him survive leg-before-wicket and stumping appeals off successive Saeed Ajmal deliveries.
Misbah-ul-Haq also dropped him at mid-wicket and an edge found no fielder at slip, the ball running away to the boundary.
Gautam Gambhir was not so lucky, being stumped after having helped put on 68 in 13 overs. Soon Tendulkar was put down by Younis Khan.
Carrying on the battle nevertheless, Tendulkar stroked two delightful boundaries to raise a fortuitous fifty, having taken on 67 deliveries. As Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh departed off consecutive balls from left-armer Wahab Riaz, Tendulkar had two more slices of luck.
Wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal did not pouch an edge and his brother Umar failed to latch on to a pull. Eventually, Tendulkar drove uppishly at Ajmal and the captain Shahid Afridi latched on jubilantly.
The Little Master had held his concentration through 115 deliveries in this tumultuous journey, having struck 11 fours in his 85 runs. He had scrapped all the way through, helping India total 260 for nine.
In a match of such significance, and on a wicket of this nature, it was a winning score. Pakistan fell 29 runs short and a relieved Indian team marched into the final.
Tendulkar finally won a man-of-the-match award in a tournament in which two of his centuries resulted in a tie and a defeat.
The World Cup 2011 triumph was the crowning glory to Tendulkar’s exemplary cricket career, and for the Indian team which in the past decade had risen to No. 1 in the world both in Tests and ODIs. The celebrations, the fireworks, uncorking of champagne, tooting of car horns, singing, dancing and merriment were as much for India’s exhilarating triumph as for Tendulkar’s awe-inspiring accomplishments.
No one could have written a better script, and no folk hero deserved more accolades than this lovable character received on the memorable night of 2nd April 2011. His teammates paid him glowing tributes and hoisted him on his soldiers as a whole country leaped with joy. He finished this tournament as the second-highest rungetter with 482 to his credit, averaging 53.55 and striking at 91.98 per 100 balls. Only Tillakaratne Dilshan, who touched 500 runs, scored more.
That Tendulkar sustained his brilliant performances through six World Cups, in adversity and in triumph, is a mind-boggling thought. To state the obvious, Tendulkar is by far the highest run-getter in the World Cup with 2278 runs at an average of 56.95 and a strike-rate of 88.98. To add to his 6 hundreds are an amazing 15 fifties, including 3 nineties.
He has an incredible nine man-of-the-match awards. No one else has more than five. In the World Cup arena too, Tendulkar has lived up to his reputation as one of the greatest batsmen to grace this fascinating game.
The lone man to aggregate 15,000 runs in Test matches and a record 51 hundreds at an average of nearly 54, and the only one to hit up 18,000 runs in ODIs and yet another record 49 centuries at an average of almost 45 and strike-rate in excess of 86, this inimitable character has set seemingly impossible benchmarks for coming generations to strive for. He helped India scale the pinnacle in Tests as well as one-dayers. The only remaining team goal, to wrest the ICC World Cup, was also achieved in 2011.
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