Master Blaster, Super star, Icon, Legend are big words reserved for big individuals, but somehow when I think of which of these words would help best describe Sachin, I find these a bit short to really define the individual who has been the biggest entertainer for the past 24 years. The closest a word comes to describe him is “Phenomenon” and that is what I consider him. As countless tributes have already been written about Sachin for his batting prowess and his cricketing skills, I will stick to some moments that simply helped define Sachin for me!!
I still remember that fateful day in 1989 when an eagerly awaited ODI match-up between India and Pakistan was abandoned due to bad light and was replaced by an exhibition 20-20 match. After Pakistan had blitzed 157, Indian chase had almost been snuffed out. With 69 runs needed of 5 overs which was unthinkable in those days, a 16 year old boy stepped onto take strike. I was sitting in front of my TV, nibbling on some delightful snacks with a complete distate in my mouth thanks to what I was seeing on the screen. On came the world’s premier leg-spinner of that time probably in the last legs of his career. What happened next was 6,0,4,6,6,6. After the kid had blitzed a 18-ball 53, India still ended up losing, but managed to at least come close. I realized that my snacks were lying cold as I had hardly touched them and instead was glued to something that I had felt for the first time in my fledgling career of following Indian cricket team. Here was a 16-year old boy not willing to give up and willing to take on the best of the world not by defending, but by attacking. Since that day, I have stopped counting how many times I have left my snacks unattended while watching the great man bat, and after that quietly eating the cold snacks relishing the memories of the shots he played during the match!!
For those who will like to relive that moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7hGLMzD2G8 (The poor quality of the clip is in line with the video quality of those days!!)
On 27th March 1994, I put on the TV and saw that Sachin was batting. An immediate feeling of hopelessness came over me as that meant that the top order had again been decimated and India was again fighting to save the match. But there seemed to be something strange with the way he was simply going after the bowling. Then the score flashed in front of me and India were 40 odd for no loss. So what was Sachin doing at the top of the innings? Were we chasing an impossible target? Then the commentator announced “The way Sachin is playing is amazing. We will like to tell the spectators that India is only chasing 143 in 50 overs.” After that it was just pure magic as I just sat watching Sachin redefine how to attack from the outset and completely decimate your opposition. When he got out for 82 with the fastest hundred in sight, it was just a minor irritant in an morning of joy!! I think for the next couple of weeks, this innings was the sole topic of discussion in my cricket group!! Can we bat with gay abandon? What about the cricketing rules of giving respect to bowlers? Over the years, I have lost count of how many of our cricketing discussions have centered around an exceptional innings of this one man.
You can enjoy this gem of an innings at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfXtkwv2WS8
On 6th March 1998, the all conquering Aussie cricket team set their feet on Indian soil hoping to conquer the last bastion. There was talk of how Warne will be their trump card and how finally he will fulfill his destiny as a spinner as the best spin playing nation. At 2-126, Sachin walked into bat and he promptly hit Warne for a four, but Warne got him caught immediately after and the media went gung ho that Warne’s pre-tournament talk was true and this time India will succumb. After India had conceded a 71 run first innings lead, Sachin this time walked in with score at 115-2, India having a slender lead, but the match was still Australia’s to win. What followed next was a masterclass of how to dominate a test match. His unbeaten 191 ball 155 at an amazing strike rate of 81.15 against Warne and co left the Aussies gasping for breath. India came back to win the match comfortably by 179 runs. All of Warne’s pre-series dreams suddenly turned into nightmares of Sachin running down the pitch and lofting him for a six!! The media that started the series talking about Warne’s preparation, ended the series talking about Sachin’s preparations of having a leg-spinner bowl to him on the rough outside the leg stump.
On 22nd April 1998, Australia had amassed 284 in the final group game of the Coca-Cola Cup. India needed to score at least 254 of the 50 overs to qualify for the finals. When in 29th over Jadeja fell with Indian score on 138 with Sachin having scored the bulk of the runs, it looked like another bleak day for Indian cricket. But the cricketing gods had something else in mind, they sent a desert storm into the stadium which meant that the match was truncated to 46 overs and India’s revised target was 237 to qualify for the finals and 276 to win. Against a bowling lineup consisting of Shane Warne, Fleming, Tom Moody and Kasprowicz, Sachin and VVS Laxman had to score these runs at roughly 8 an over. Sachin then delivered one of the master class in hitting which to this day is referred as the Operation Desert Storm. When Sachin got out on 242, India had a chance not just to qualify for the finals, but to even probably win the match. But after his dismissal India failed to cross the line. In the very next match another pure magical innings of 134 out of 131 helped India beat Australia in the finals. The Amul ad of Tendu, Ten Don’t captured the nation’s thoughts of the Indian cricket team brilliantly!! Over the years, I have lost count of how many times I have pinned the hopes of my country on this one person and how many times he has successfully delivered!!
For those who have not seen this Amul classic check this out: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_9t-3O0lZsKk/SWOeebwrpzI/AAAAAAAAAGw/jjJGe5VrvJE/s320/amul_tendu_tendont.gif
On 31st January 1999, I remember waking up in the morning and praying for a Sachin special as that was the only thing that stood that could prevent a marauding Pakistani victory at Chennai. Playing against Saqlain who was at his very best at this time with his doosras wrecking havoc in the minds of the best of the batsmen, Sachin played yet another of his masterly innings compiling a classic 136 off 273 balls. What made the innings so much greater was that he was fighting back spasms and required treatment every now and then. Unfortunately, for the master, he fell 17 runs short of the target. His wicket left India at 254/7 and India was bowled out for 258 losing the match by 13 runs to leave one of the most hurtful memories of the glittering career. This was one innings where the weight of the nation’s expectations literally broke his back. Over the years, I have lost the count when a winnable cause suddenly became an insurmountable feat once Sachin got out!!
For those who still can see this painful effort check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QewO3vrPXjw
On 1st March 2003, India was playing arguably the most important match of the ICC World Cup. It was a league match alright, but India was playing against Pakistan. A bowling attack that had the likes of Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis, Afridi and Razzaq. Especially Shoaib with his loud mouth had ear-marked Tendulkar as his prime target. Little did he know that a short while later he was going to the hunted and not the hunter!! After Pakistan setup 273 on the board, it looked like the target would be too much for India given Pakistan’s bowling lineup. Sachin knew something special was required and decided that this was one of those few times in his career when he would take strike to the first ball of the innings – a statement of intent right away!! After hitting a boundary of Wasim’s first over, Sachin decided to show Shoaib his place in the bowling ghosts that Sachin had laid to rest. On his fourth ball, Sachin swerved back and smashed it over the offside fence for a six that not only laid the gauntlet, but also punctured a hole through Shoaib’s humungous ego. What followed next was a lesson from the master that Shoaib probably never forget. Though Sachin missed his century in the match, his innings was good enough to secure victory for India. I was in Indore during this period and I still remember the celebrations in the hostel for each and every shot. I also remember the celebrations at Rajwada after the victory where I thought every soul in Indore had descended there to celebrate the win. Over the years, many bowlers learned the hard way that it is better not to shoot with the mouth at Sachin else their career obituaries would follow shortly.
For seeing one of the shots of the century, check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AaR9Su1Va0
On 2nd January 2004, Sachin held another of his masterclasses for the masses. One of the worst thing that can happen to an individual in his or her career is when your strengths are used against you. Aussies had found that Sachin’s penchant of driving in the air through the offside which was one of his strengths could be used against him. So after a dismal string of scores, it looked like Sachin was over and out. Instead Sachin had different ideas, he simply decided he is not going to play in the offside. Through an innings of 241 carved out of 436 balls, the Aussies tried to entice him to play that shot, but he had simply shut shop on that shot. The discipline, the focus and the determination that was required to execute this innings simply puts it as one of the best of Sachin’s innings. Over the years, while the cricketing world at large treated him as a God, Sachin continued to labour like a hardworking man to ensure that it was not his stature, but the stature of his feats that would be talked about.
I just realized that I have so far only reached 2004, while there are 9 more years of his career when he gave us more and more nuggets like the first ODI 200, 100 hundreds and almost all other batting records in the books, I would like to stop this article at this point. I was lucky to be in the stadium at Indore when Sachin became the first person to score 10000 runs in ODI and he celebrated it with a spectacular 139 runs of 125 balls that day. In a country that is extremely divided over the issues of religion, caste and society as our politicians would like us to believe, here was a man who transcended all these boundaries. For the period of time when he had the willow in his hand all of them prayed and prayed to just one God, the God of Cricket as he was holding court.
Now, that he has stepped aside, I along with my fellow Indians eagerly await the next God to step up to the plate and do what Sachin has done for the past 24 years.