By Thaleel Bhai
March 1 2005
This is the first in a two-part series looking back upon two great back-to-back one day innings by Sachin Tendulkar against Australia in the Coca Cola Cup of 1998.
There are plenty of reasons as to why Sachin Tendulkar is rated among the top batsmen to have ever played cricket - he's scored a staggering number of runs in tests and one-dayers, holds the world record for centuries in both forms of the game - but comparisons to the likes of Don Bradman and Viv Richards don't come purely because of statistics. More than the runs Tendulkar scored, it was the method in which he scored them - often dominating opposition attacks in manners few would have thought possible, with destructive shots all over the ground that could shatter even the confidence of even the top bowlers in the world.
In 1998, Tendulkar entered a rich vein of form with the Border-Gavaskar trophy being contested in India, where in three tests, the Little Master belted his way to 446 runs at a stunning average of 111.50, and a strike rate of over 80. But more than statistics, it was the manner in which he thrashed Shane Warne throughout the series that was remembered. Warne was savaged almost from the first moment as Tendulkar destroyed the legspinner's confidence with a stunning series of assaults that saw India take a comprehensive win in the series.
The form spread to the pyjama game right after - India, Australia and Zimbabwe faced off in the Pepsi Triangular, and in the first league contest against the Aussies, Tendulkar fell for 8... but proceeded to rip through the Aussie middle order with figures of 5 for 32 off ten overs. In the next league match up, Tendulkar belted a stunning hundred off 89 balls (with 7 sixes) to lead India to another victory - but the Men in Blue fell in the finals, as the talismanic Tendulkar failed (a rarity in the year) with both bat and ball, and the Aussies took the Pepsi Cup home.
The two teams weren't apart for too long as they next clashed in the Coca Cola Cup in Sharjah, another triangular that featured New Zealand as the third party instead of Zimbabwe. India began well by winning the first game by 15 runs, as a superb combined spell from Ajit Agarkar and Anil Kumble induced a collapse, and New Zealand fell, unable to chase a total of 220. When the two old rivals met a few days later, India were set a total of 265 to chase, and the Aussie nemesis again fired. Tendulkar fired away with a sparking 80 in 72 balls, but was unable to see his side to a win with the lack of support, as the next highest scorer was Hrishikesh Kanitkar (35), and nobody else even passed 20. After a loss to New Zealand in the following game, India were on the verge of elimination with a low net run rate for the tournament.
Only one league game remained, and India needed to either win, or lose but boost their net run rate nonetheless to qualify ahead of the Black Caps. The task was made all the more difficult, as Australia powered to a total of 284/7. A classy 81 from Mark Waugh supported Michael Bevan's run-a-ball 101, and at the halfway stage, Indian fans had their nerves on edge, knowing their team required 254 runs in 50 overs to overtake the Kiwis on the net-run-rate system. Chasing had not been the easiest of tasks in the series on pitches that usually became fairly slow, low and unconducive to strokeplay as the game wore on, and the Indian team, who were notoriously poor chasers at the time, had their work cut out for them. If the Indians were to reach the finals, something special was needed. All of India looked to one man to pull off what seemed like the impossible, and to bring India into the finals of the tournament.
The road to the finals:
India's hopes rested on a good start from the top opening combo in international cricket at the time, Saurav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar, both of whom had been among the runs recently. However, the two began sedately - with Damien Fleming and Michael Kasprowicz swinging the new ball well under lights with some good discipline, only 15 runs came off the first 5 overs, with Tendulkar only having 4 runs to his name off 15 balls. As Kasprowicz began his third over, Australia looked to be putting the Indians under some pressure, as Ganguly found himself unable to pierce the gaps, and finally took a single off the fourth delivery.
Tendulkar recognized the need for some immediate acceleration and as Kasprowicz ran in, the Little Master charged down the track and pulled the ball into the stands at midwicket. Kasprowicz responded by dropping his next delivery a touch shorter - but the Master was waiting for it on the back foot this time, and smashed it even further into the stands to suddenly move the score to 28/0. Ganguly joined in as he smashed Fleming through mid off for a superb four the next over, and suddenly, the Indian chase looked to be on. Just a few balls later though, a full, swinging delivery from Damien Fleming rapped Saurav Ganguly on the pads as he swung across the line and was adjudged LBW.
The last two years had seen pinch hitting become a major fad, with India trying the likes of Sunil Joshi and Javagal Srinath at the top of the order at various stages, and this time, Azharuddin again chose to take a risk by promoting Nayan Mongia. After playing himself in quickly, Mongia saw the need to push the score along - it was only 39/1 after 10 overs - and in the 11th over, threw the bat at one outside off, sending it to the cover fence. With the field up for another few overs, Mongia then slogged Kasprowicz over midwicket for another boundary, before turning the strike over to Tendulkar, who took another two fours off Kasprowicz. 12 overs had passed, and the score was back up to a par standard; 60/1.
With 21 runs coming off the last 2 overs, Steve Waugh saw the need to take a gamble, and brought on Shane Warne. Warne had been massacred by Tendulkar a short while ago, but with the field up and Mongia on strike, Waugh hoped that Warne could either strangle the batsman with a few dot balls and induce a rash shot, or take a vital wicket. Five dot balls began the over with Warne getting some good turn, and Mongia struggling to get him off the square - but the keeper finally eked out a single to third man off the last ball. Mongia had moved to 11 off 17, and as Tom Moody replaced the expensive Kasprowicz at the other end, Mongia saw the need to play a few shots and push the rate back up.
Before Moody could settle into his line and length, Mongia immediately went after him, first hitting him over mid off for four, and smashing his next delivery just wide of the sightscreen for a straight six. However, Warne came back with another tight over, and with Moody finding his radar right after, the scoring rate again dropped. Only a couple more boundaries were hit in the next 7 overs, and after 20 overs, the score was 93 - with the Indian batsmen again starting to look under pressure. A boundary off the first ball of Warne's next over relieved the pressure somewhat, as nine came off the over, but India suffered a major blow just after. Trying to clear midwicket, Mongia again slogged Moody across the line - but didn't get the necessary elevation as Mark Waugh took a simple catch.
The wicket and the arrival of Azharuddin at the crease ensured too many runs wouldn't come from the next few overs - and Steve Waugh, Moody and Warne bowled the next few with good discipline to only allow a trickle of singles here and there. With the required rate increasing, a greater sense of urgency was evident as Tendulkar began to take a few riskier singles, tempting a number of throws at the stumps that could have had him in some trouble - but eventually, Azharuddin at the other end went for the inevitable big shot. With Moody having kept a tight line for some time, Azhar finally threw his bat and tried to smash one through the off side, only to inside edge it back onto his stumps.
India were 135/3 in the 28th over, and the new man, Ajay Jadeja, soon followed Azhar back to the pavilion in the next over. After a few dot balls from Waugh, Jadeja was immediately put under a good deal of pressure, and threw his bat at one outside off stump. The resulting thick edge was the sort that would head to a first slip or for four in most one dayers, but Adam Gilchrist dived full length to his right to take a spectacular catch. India were now 138/4, and the run rate needed was getting higher and higher; almost at 7 an over, as VVS Laxman walked out.
Laxman had just barely begun playing himself in, when after 31 overs, with the score at 143, play was interrupted by a sandstorm as the Indian fans began to worry even further. Had the game ended there, New Zealand would have advanced on net run rate - but the storm soon changed direction after 25 minutes, meaning play would resume. As the storm died down, the calculators came out with the spectators still wondering how much more India would need to qualify. As the players finally returned to the field, it was announced that four overs and nine runs would be removed from the main target - and India would need 276 in 46 overs to win, and 237 to qualify for the finals.
The big worry for most fans was how Tendulkar would bat - would the break have affected his concentration, and would he need to play himself in again? With only Kanitkar was left to come in, and Laxman not looking fluent - it was up to Tendulkar alone to score the majority of the remaining runs if India were to make the finals. Tendulkar knew the massive task on his shoulders, and with the run rate required, knew something special was needed from him... and not for the first or last time, Tendulkar delivered.
Kasprowicz took the ball for the first over after the resumption of play, and started well, conceding only two in his first five deliveries. The sixth though was picked up on the half volley by Tendulkar, who smashed it straight back over Kasprowicz's head and into the sightscreen for a massive six. Warne immediately was brought on to try and once again tighten things up, and conceded just two in the following over. It was an enthralling battle between bat and ball, as Tendulkar was looking to step the pace up and find the boundary more often - and in anticipation of the charge and loft, Warne began to bowl quicker and flatter to try and keep the Little Master under pressure.
Instead of trying to go after Warne who wasn't allowing many scoring opportunities, Tendulkar opted to work the spinner around for the singles and targeted Kasprowicz instead, and after a couple of overs that saw some aggressive running between the wickets, Tendulkar finally pulled Kasper over mid on for another boundary. Steve Waugh was quick to notice Tendulkar's tactic, and after Warne's next over, he brought himself back on. Laxman immediately turned the strike over, and Tendulkar promptly took charge - coming down the ground to Waugh and smashing him back over his head for another four. With the Little Master finding the boundary with a regularity now and the two rotating the strike well with some good running, the required rate for the qualifying target seemed to be under control - and things looked even better as Laxman ended Waugh's over with another four down to fine leg. The partnership had reached 50 in 55 balls and Damien Fleming returned to the attack.
A handful of singles and twos were taken as Tendulkar reached his century - but another 42 runs were needed off as many balls just for India to reach the finals. However, with Tendulkar having reached the landmark, the spectators expected him to cut loose and step up the scoring with a few more risks - and Tendulkar began to look for the boundaries with more frequency, deliberately edging Waugh past Gilchrist for four and whipping Fleming through square leg for another boundary in his next over. Two productive overs had lowered the target to 24 off 30 balls, but Tendulkar looked as if he planned on overtaking the target right away.
As Waugh began his next over, Tendulkar again went over the top and lofted another straight six into the stands to bring India even closer. The Little Master went for a big slog over midwicket the next ball, looking to clear Damien Martyn at deep midwicket - but he didn't seem to have gotten enough distance in the shot. To the relief of every Indian watching, Martyn grabbed at the ball and spilled what should have been a simple catch, allowing the ball to roll over the ropes for four to add insult to injury. A couple more twos followed, and the over was ended by a single, as Tendulkar looked to be playing more sensibly with the intention of crossing the target.
Fifteen had come off Waugh's over, and only nine were needed to qualify - but with the rate Tendulkar was scoring at, the match-winning target of 48 runs in 24 balls was suddenly starting to look possible - and it was becoming clear that Tendulkar had the final target in mind as well . Fleming ran in to bowl the next over, and the Master backed away to leg, before swinging the willow yet again and sending another ball into the stands behind the bowler. A handful of singles saw India overtake the target - but Tendulkar made his intentions of winning the game clear as he continued to flog the bowling, smashing Fleming over cover for another boundary.
India needed 32 off 19 balls, but any hopes they had of a victory quickly died the next ball. Tendulkar swung the bat at a short ball down leg; Gilchrist caught it behind the wicket and both bowler and keeper jumped up in an appeal. Umpire Ian Robinson stood motionless for a moment - but Tendulkar turned briefly to check whether the catch had been taken cleanly, and then began to walk back to the pavilion, dismissed for a stunning 143 in just 131 balls - with the last 43 runs coming off just 21 deliveries.
It was an innings of the highest quality, with a stunning display of destructive hitting at the end as Tendulkar ensured that India crossed the qualifying target with ease and would meet Australia in the finals two days later. Yet, more than just taking India to the finals, Tendulkar had suddenly given the team and country the belief that they could very well win the trophy. After having struggled in their previous three games, the Indian side was suddenly rejuvenated with hope. Australia, since the Pepsi Cup final, had looked invincible - but even in their victory, Tendulkar's stunning onslaught after the storm had struck, showed that the Aussies could very well be beaten if the Master Blaster fired again. The Indian team wasn't the only one believing it, as the panic in the Aussies' faces in the midst of the onslaught showed their worries. Damien Fleming, Michael Kasprowicz and Steve Waugh's responses towards the end of Tendulkar's masterclass seemed to say it all - and all India awaited the final two days later, incidentally on April 24th - Tendulkar's 25th birthday.
The rest of the innings, of course, was an anticlimax. Few players can match Tendulkar, and a scratchy looking Laxman and Hrishikesh Kanitkar could only work the ball around in the final 3 overs for an additional 8 runs as India finished up with 250/5 on the scoreboard after 46 overs. The fans though didn't care about the loss - a few fireworks went off back home, while the Indians in Sharjah celebrated at the fact that their side would be in the final - and now had a chance to topple the Aussies in the big match. The only thing on their minds was the Little Master - could he repeat his heroics and see that the Men in Blue returned home with the Coca Cola Cup?