There is a popular term in the arena of sports i.e. match winner. A player comes to be called a match winner only after playing several innings which exclusively win matches for the team. There was an outstanding player who somehow defined the art of match winning in his own way and he is none other than Sachin Tendulkar, someone who played the game with the dependencies of billions of people.
No other player in the history of cricket had such a striking fan following. When the command of your fingertips of turning the television switch on & off depended on a player, you understand the level he belonged to. It is not a great sign for the popularity of cricket as it’s more of a populist approach. Yet we can never overlook such a huge popularity of a player. Sachin, too, fulfilled the desire of the nation.
Semifinal between India & Australia:
It was 22nd day of April in 1998. And a normal April day in the middle-east region is notorious for the scorching heat of the blazing sun. That day, too, was no exception. But the heat was rising high owing to the decisive semi-final match between India and Australia of 1998 Coca-Cola Cup. The match what wasn’t merely another encounter between two potent opponents in ODI format, turned out to be an epic conflict in the history of the game. Through this blog I, Ritam Roy, will take you to that distant day of Sharjah which witnessed a true tale of cricketing genius which can compete with any tale of Arabian Nights.
The centre of attraction was a tri-nation cricket tournament where India, Australia and New Zealand participated in. After ten years it was the first time when Pakistan did not take part in a series played in Sharjah. Each team had to play two matches against each other to complete the programme. This particular format is known as Round Robin format.
Australia was on a Roll:
Before 22nd of April five ODIs were played. Australia won all of the matches they had played while India and New Zealand managed to amass only one victory each. A quick glance over the point table will show that net run rate of India had the edge over the Kiwis. Aussies had previously won five consecutive matches. They were in predominant form. The Indian team was also looking forward to take the match towards a clinching victory to ensure a spot in the final where the team was to counter the mighty Aussies.
However, the match began with the sun ablaze overhead. Australia winning the toss opted to bat first. Adam Gilchrist and Mark Waugh came to commence the innings for the Kangaroos. The left hander scored a quick 11 run but with the ending of 4th over the innings of, he also ceased which welcomed a young Ricky Ponting to the crease. The duo of Mark Waugh and Ponting who were in sound flow put on a 67-run partnership together playing some well executed shots.
The Probable beginning of Ponting-Harbhajan conflict:
In the 14th over Ponting welcomed 17-year-old Harbhajan Singh with a cut shot that resulted in boundary. Then he struck a glorious over boundary. But the end of the over saw the last laugh from the Indian off-spinner as Ricky in trying to step out, lost his wicket after being stumped out. This was perhaps the beginning of epic Ponting and Bhajji conflict.
Naturally young Harbhajan was excited and roaring in joy of sending Ponting to the dressing room. Aggravated by the celebration of Bhajji, Ponting threw some angry words, as was his custom, to Singh. But the matter did not worsen.
Soon, Kumble bowled Damien Martyn out who literally had no answer to that delivery. Michael Bevan came next. Both of the played swiftly to add 90 more runs to the scoreboard together. Indian bowlers were failing to thwart the partnership. And the job was done by part time bowler Sachin Tendulkar as he forced Mark Waugh to drive the ball only to be caught by Ganguly. Mark left the ground scoring a handy 81 run off 99 balls. Steve Waugh could not lust long in the crease. An excellent throw, that hit the wickets directly, of Tendulkar made Waugh leave the ground.
Bevan century took Australia to 284:
Amidst all that Bevan was playing his game responsibly and sensibly. His exquisite display of batting took him to century to once again prove why he is called the greatest finisher of all time. Darren Lehmann, made a cameo appearance, partnered with Bevan to add some quick runs. Thus, Australia ended their innings with 284 runs on board after losing 7 wickets. The total was undoubtedly handsome. And it was not going to be a cakewalk for India to chase the total. The Indian players had to face tremendous heat of the summer.
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) April 22, 2020
“Given the conditions in the month of April — the temperatures are really high and you can feel the heat going through your shoes and socks.” The words of Tendulkar in an interview could easily pains the weather of the Sharjah on that day. “The first thing you want to do is to put your feet in the ice bucket”.
India Started the Chase Anxiously:
With all the pressure and responsibility, the two partners Sachin & Sourav walked out to bat. The gallery was packed up with crowd and people were looking up to great encounter. At that time the pair was at its peak form. From the beginning they tried to hit boundaries and score runs to transfer the pressure from them to the bowlers in yellow jersey.
During the 8th over Sachin tried to hit a ball hard but it found the outside edge. People were anxious. Sachin could have been out. And the dream of reaching the final of the tournament would have faded. But such things did not happen. The ball landed safe.
The Aussies did not have to wait long to break the partnership. In the following over Ganguly got out for an LBW. The opening partnership could not add more than 38 runs. Nayan Mongia, the next to partner Sachin seemed to be in a good touch hitting some glorious 4s and also 6. His pairing with master blaster consolidated in people the hope of making it to the total.
Tendulkar was in his Usual Form:
Sachin was in heavenly form. It is hardly possible to express the actual exhibition of his batting up to the hilt. One can realize it the best once someone devours it with own eyes. There was scarcely any orthodox shot that he was not playing. His cover drives, flicks were aesthetic and delicate. If one observes carefully, he/she will explore Tendulkar was standing even righter to the leg stump while playing Shane Warne.
It was giving him extra room to play his desired shots. He was seeping the deliveries of the greatest leg spinner of all time with ease and grace. He was also playing cut shots and many other extremely delicious shots. And to all of the batting mastery Shane Warne had only one expression-bewilderment. He was stunned to see him play as usually. And this astonishment often resulted in his standing open mouthed. And one comparison, I would rather say observation, that I am eager to make is about the batting style of Sachin and Lara.
India was Getting Close to the Chase:
Unlike Lara, Sachin had a simple yet neat and clean batting style which, I believe, helped him to remain more focused on the game. Whatever that may be, both of them are the paragons of the game. And both their respective nations depended heavily on them. But the story did not sweet for very long.
Nayan Mongia who was looking good got to depart when the score was 107 on board. A settled partnership was successfully broken. The focus once again was set on the God of the cricket as his calibre was undisputed and it could substantialize the incredible.
The Indian skipper Mohammed Azharuddin could not contribute much to the total as he closed his innings for 14 runs only before being bowled out while trying to play a cover drive followed by quick return of Ajay Jadeja. Impatience was building on the batsmen. Sachin tried to complete hasty running between the wickets multiple times when Azhar was in the crease. It was VVS Laxman’s turn to accompany the man already in the crease.
DESERT STORM 🌪️ #OnThisDay in 1998, Sachin Tendulkar smashed a 💥 143 off 131 balls against Australia to seal India's place in the final of the Sharjah Cup!
Do you remember the battle between these legends? pic.twitter.com/6SZVckZWwv
— ICC (@ICC) April 22, 2020
An Unusual Desert Strom Arrived:
But all of a sudden, a gusty wind waved through the city. It was not a normal wind as it bore with it tons of desert sand. Yes, a desert storm was raging in. The power of that seemingly normal storm is beyond any imagination of someone who has not faced it. Sachin Tendulkar said that the storm had the power to blow him away. That’s why he was intending to hug Adam Gilchrist. For obvious reason the game remained suspended until the storm lost its vigour. “I had never seen a sand-storm in my life.” the words of Sachin on that unusual scenes. “It was like being in a Hollywood movie.”
When the game was resumed, the over limit was reduced to 46 and India got a target of 276 to chase. But 237 runs were needed to qualify for the final.
Sachin was adamant. He hit some huge sixes straight. He took on every bowler including Steve Waugh. He was stepping out and hitting the ball with sheer class. He was playing not only with strong determination but also with intelligence. On the other end Laxman was also doing his work properly. Another amazing trait of the partnership was running between the wickets. It was superb. There was a time when 48 runs were required off 24 balls to win the match.
A Fabulous Tendulkar Century took India over the Line:
But the target for qualifying to the final became quite easy. Sachin had already completed his century when India was 194 for 4 before being dropped on 219/4. He was trying his best to take India to the final defeating Australia in the semi-final.
It was the 4th ball of the 42nd over when India successfully crossed the line for going to the final. But that could not happen. Sachin was caught by Gilchrist after a failed attempt to play hook shot of Damien Flaming. The Indian innings ended with 250/5 on the scoreboard. India could not win the match but they made it to the final. Sachin departed the ground with flying colours as he singlehandedly took India to the finals. That night they left for the hotel very late.
I have heard people say that whenever Sachin scored a century, India lost the match. It is a criminally wrong concept. Sachin was a match winner. He had the ability to turn the course of a match at any moment. He had the ability to win a match for India singlehandedly. It was like a fairy tale with a strong moral of determination and hard work. That day there came two storms in the ground. Nature brought one and the young little man brought another. The game showed us how a calm and composed player could be so aggressive with the bat. India went on to win the final and the series on 25th birthday of Tendulkar, perhaps the perfect birthday gift for him.
Australia 284/7 (M Bevan 101*, M Waugh 81, V Prasad 2-41) beat India 250/5 (S Tendulkar 143, N Mongia 35, T Moody 2-40, D Fleming 2-46) by 26-runs (revised target).