The greatest sportsmen thrive in the biggest arenas. Those who perform sterling deeds in these cauldrons are the ones who are remembered forever.
So often did Sachin Tendulkar pound the bowlers into submission, and dominate top-class attacks to win matches off his own explosive bat. But has there been something like this? Consider the scene. It is a high-voltage match in the World Cup, no less, against arch-rivals Pakistan, who desperately need a win in order to qualify for the next stage. And the target is 274. This is not for the faint-hearted, or for those with ordinary ability. But then, it is really just the sort of challenge that the greats of sport revel in. Tendulkar once again rose to the occasion, stamping his pedigree on cricket’s big show of 2003.
He said he came out to bat with a blank mind. He also stated that the moment he stroked Wasim Akram through the covers right off the sweet spot, he knew it was going to be his day. It took just three deliveries for the genius to realise what a beauty of a wicket it was and that his own Midas touch was intact enough to enable him essay yet another glittering inning. His partner Virender Sehwag too dared to square-cut the last ball of that opening over off the front foot for another four.
The pacy Shoaib Akhtar came on at the other end and promptly hurled a wide down the leg-side. The fourth ball was fast and short outside the off-stump, and Tendulkar got under it. His furious slash and the speed of the ball sent it sailing into the stands at backward point. The incensed, though seemingly chastened, speedster pitched the next one up but the direction was just a bit awry on the other side, and the little blaster whipped it to the square-leg boundary. The last delivery looked a good one but Tendulkar, now master of the situation, drove it past mid-on for another four. He had established ascendancy in a matter of two overs. Akhtar was taken off after one over that cost 18 runs. The stands were abuzz. This was indeed going to be electric.
The fifty came up in five overs. Waqar Younis dismissed Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly at 53 off successive deliveries. Tendulkar was in a different zone, zooming to his own fifty in 37 balls. He treated every bowler with disdain, flicking Waqar, executing a sweetly timed straight drive off Abdul Razzaq, and crafting a skillful on-drive to Shahid Afridi’s leg-spin, to recount a few of his dozen exquisite boundaries. His only real blemish was when he drove a bit early and Razzaq grassed the ball at mid-off.
Mohammad Kaif helped add 102. Tendulkar got cramps but refused a runner till he was almost immobile. “Only I know how hard I have hit the ball and where it will go. A runner cannot anticipate this,” he explained. A man with immense faith in his own prowess would not risk someone to ruin his precious innings. Now hobbling, he fended at a vicious Akhtar bouncer and was caught on the off-side for 98. He had faced just 75 deliveries and hit 12 fours and a six. India were already 177 in the 28th over, with the bowling decimated. Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh ushered in an easy win. Writing in The Times of India, Wasim Akram saluted the maestro: “He has a great eye, but on this pitch, he seemed to have all the time in the world to select the right shot and play it to perfection…..he showed that he is capable of unforgettable strokeplay, which makes him the larger-than-life figure he is.” It was another page in the saga of Sachin Tendulkar.
Pakistan: 273 for 7 wickets (50 overs), India 276 for 4 wickets (45.4 overs) (CWC 2003)
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