The Little Master's first outing as an opener in ODIs
- How Sachin Tendulkar's career took off after opening the batting against NZ for the first time
Patience and optimism are the order of the day. In order to be successful, a sportsman requires keen observation of the dynamics of the game and the awareness of the incessantly targeted team balance. A player often needs to alter his/her natural game in order to fit into the team's model of a "perfect" campaign. It may involve curbing one's natural instincts of attacking from ball one, rotating the strike in middle overs, or slogging in the final overs. While the aforementioned qualities may indemnify against an athlete's stint with the team, they almost never guarantee a long-lasting legacy.
Grabbing the opportunities with both hands as and when they present themselves makes a major difference in an athlete's outlook towards the game and towards his team. While all this may appear a little bland right now, everything will make sense when we see things from the perspective of the Little Master himself.
India's tour of New Zealand in 1994 will forever be cherished as the birth of India's greatest opener in ODIs. India started their tour by competing in the one-off test match between the two sides. The match that ended in a draw featured Stephen Fleming from New Zealand making his debut while Kapil Dev from India was playing in his last test match.
The commencement of the ODI series was not an auspicious one. India lost the first match in a closely fought contest as New Zealand emerged victorious by 28 runs. This implied that India had their backs against the wall coming into the second ODI.
In the second match at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat first. The Indian bowlers stepped up and pushed New Zealand onto the backfoot by dismissing half their side for just 34 runs on the board. Chris Cairns then combined with Adam Parore to take NZ to 142 in their allotted 50 overs. A very manageable total for India by all means.
India's regular opener Navjot Singh Sidhu woke up with a stiff neck before the start of the match. The absence of a reserve regular opener meant that India had to alter their batting line up so as to find the perfect combination. The then Indian captain Md Azharuddin always held Sachin Tendulkar in high regards. He stated that Sachin's consistency of scoring 40s and 50s at the number 5 and 6 positions made him a force to reckon with. A young Sachin approached his captain and Ajit Wadekar and pleaded with them to allow him to open the innings. He reasoned that he could attack the opposition right from the word go and the field restrictions in the first 15 overs were perfectly suited for his style of batting. After a little deliberation, they caved into his demands.
Sachin delivered exactly what he had promised. Opening the innings with Ajay Jadeja, he unleashed an onslaught that only a few could have foreseen. A target of 143 was not a huge one, but Sachin's blitzkriegs made the total seem much less than it actually was. He was particularly severe on NZ's more reliable bowler Gavin Larsen who was famously known for keeping the opposition's run rate under control. Perhaps that day the script had been written differently. Sachin scored 2 fours and a six while batting against the NZ bowler for the first time in the match. He was eventually out for an exhilarating 82 off just 49 balls. An interesting aspect of his gameplay was his use of the crease and precise footwork to deliveries that were in his batting arc.
Before the second ODI on 27 March 1994, Tendulkar had featured in 78 ODIs for India mostly as a number 5 and number 6 batsman. His ability to take the risk by putting his position in the side on the line made him the Superstar of the 90s and 2000s Indian Cricket team.
Although he had to wait for around 5 years to bat at his preferred position in the side, there was absolutely no looking back for the man, a class-apart.