The other day, I was travelling in a jam-packed Mumbai local, also termed as the “lifeline” of Mumbai. The local was a Borivali fast, which I boarded from the source station, Churchgate. The fast local got utterly occupied within the span of just three stations. I was lucky enough to get a window seat though. Surrounding me, stood all the jealous souls- Jealous of a teenager, who was sitting comfortably at a window seat, rather than offering them his seat. I seriously wanted to offer my seat to one of the jealous soul, but my inner demon made me hesitant.
I was engulfed in my own little world, and was listening to numbers of Billy X; when suddenly the name “SACHIN TENDULKAR” caught my attention. The very name that has brought glory to a nation for 24 long years and made its people proud. And the very name, that has inspired billions to take cricket more seriously. I can proudly say that I am one among those billions.
The name was mouthed by a few middle aged men, who were discussing the news of Sachin’s retirement from all forms of cricket. From their expressions, it seemed that they never wanted the Master to bid adieu to the game. One of the gentlemen, dressed in a formal outfit, gone- horribly - wrong, said in a stern voice, “MERE HISAAB SE USKA SHARJAH WALA BATTING SAB SE ACCHA THA”. (The innings played by Sachin in Sharjah was the best). He was countered by another fellow, who was in his twilight years, “NAHI NAHI! WHO SAB TO THEEK HAI! PAR USKA SABSE BADIYA BATTING WOH 2003 MEIN THA PAKISTAN KE SAAMNE.” (The innings played in the 2003 World Cup against Pakistan was the best). These people, who didn’t even know each other a few minutes ago , were arguing as though they were blood brothers. After all, they too were ardent believers of “SACHINSM”, like me.
As I witnessed them arguing, several nostalgic moments hovered around in my mind that had Sachin as the protagonist. Who could forget that moment, when India won the 2011 World Cup, and Sachin, like a galvanised school boy sprinted towards his team? The entity that had carried the burden of a nation for more than two decades tirelessly, had finally got a chance to live his dream. That image of Sachin sprinting had been etched in my memory forever. After all, that was the first time, when tears of joy and elation had bordered my eyes.
As I thought about his unforgettable knocks, I too somewhere felt that some of his innings outclassed his own innings. That thought motivated me to write down this article, and in this article, I list down Sachin’s top 5 ODI Innings that are my personal favourite.
Vs Pakistan- 141 (135) at Rawalpindi
This innings was a part of the epic 2004 series, which resumed bilateral ties between the two archrivals- India and Pakistan. The ODI was the second of the series, and India went into this ODI with a 1-0 lead. But boy, Pakistan fought fire with fire in the second outing of the series. Batting first, Pakistan posted a mammoth total of 329 (The total is considered to be relatively moderate these days). From Pakistan everyone contributed with the bat, but Shahid Afridi did the bulk of the damage; scoring 80 from 58 balls. The target was always going to be a steep one but the little master had plans of his own. The Indian innings started steadily with 50 being crossed at more than run a ball. In the ninth over, Shoaib Akhtar casted Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman followed soon.
But the little man stood there, with fire in his belly. His orthodox strokes and sweeps of the off-spinners kept the Indian spirits high. The required run rate kept on mounting, but Sachin stood firm, like a rigid mountain. Rahul Dravid was the only batsman that supported the little master well. In the due course, Sachin bought up his first ton in Pakistan and received a round of applause from the entire crowd. Soon after getting to his ton, Sachin changed gears and launched into the Pakistan attack. The man, was extremely brutal towards Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq.
In my opinion, this innings features in my personal favourite as chasing a total in excess of 300, against a quality attack was never easy. The scoreboard pressure always keeps on mounting, and in this case, Sachin was the one, who did bulk of the scoring and the damage. But as fate would have it, Sachin was dismissed in the 39th over of the game , and was caught by Razzaq on the bowling of Shoaib Malik.
Though India lost by a narrow margin, this innings will always hold a special value. Scoring against Pakistan in their own backyard had never been an easy task, but Sachin as always, proved his critics wrong. On a personal note, I remember watching this innings under high fever of about 3*, and as Sachin dictated terms to the bowlers, my body seemed to be getting liberated from the fever. Eventually, Sachin got out, and India lost the match; and the fever returned to haunt me.
Vs Pakistan- 98 (75) at Centurion
“INTENSE”. “HIGH PRESSURE”. “TENSE”.
The above was a list of the possible adjectives that come to my mind, to describe the game stage. Once again against archrivals Pakistan, but this time in a pressure cooker situation during the 2003 World Cup. The game, as anticipated, was a total sell out and Centurion in South Africa was the lucky venue to host the game. The match was integral to both the sides in terms of advancing further into the tournament. The 22 yard strip was a belter, and Pakistani skipper Waqar Younis had no hesitation in batting first.
Pakistan got off to a decent start, opener Saeed Anwar keeping his brilliant record against India intact. Saeed made a classy ton and took Pakistan to a more than respectable total of 273.
The target was always going to be tricky, and batting second against the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar was far from an easy task. But as people call him, the little master, took India off to a blistering start, along with swashbuckling opener Virender Sehwag.
The pressure during this game was at the highest possible level and playing well against Pakistan in a World Cup was a matter of national pride for Indians. The four hit by Sachin off Wasim Akram in the very first over, was an indication of what was to follow. The classy straight drives and punches were evident in this innings and the lethal fast bowling trio were hammered for plenty. The fifty came up in the sixth over.
The most treasured moment during this inning came when Sachin cut a wide delivery outside off, of the nippy Shoaib Akhtar, and sent it sailing way back over third man. The six hit by Sachin is one of the most trending videos on YouTube till date. The six was followed by an elegant punch off the back foot that raced to the boundary.
Sachin carried on his inning in the same fashion, and no bowler was spared. Shahid Afridi, brought into the attack to slow down things too was hammered. However, while playing effortlessly, Sachin was a victim of cramps, and a runner too was arranged. That didn’t cease the little master from carrying on his graceful knock. As Sachin neared a ton, the racing heartbeats off his fans were brought to an abrupt halt, as a quick bouncer from Shoaib Akhtar caught Sachin off-guard, and took the edge off his bat. The edge was happily accepted by Younis Khan, stationed at Point. 98 off 75 balls was the final score.
However, these 98 runs were a part of a classy inning that was played under tremendous pressure. Till date, no World Cup inning has been able to match the class and elegance of the knock that Sachin played. The runs scored by Sachin only make one understand of the great man’s calibre and ability to demolish any bowling attack, under any circumstance. The final outcome was the one that was desired, as India won with 26 balls to spare. It is highly unlikely that an innings of this magnitude and elegance will be ever played again in a World Cup Match, and at the grand stage.
Vs South Africa- 200* (147) at Gwalior
“THE FIRST MAN ON THE PLANET TO REACH 200; AND IT’S THE SUPERMAN FROM INDIA.” These words mouthed by Ravi Shastri to announce the master-blaster’s feat, take cricket lovers into a new eternity all together. There were very few individuals who endorsed the argument that scoring a double century in ODI’s was a possibility. And once again like all the previous occasions, the little master proved his die-hard fans right.
This inning played was as flawless as ever, which included an array of drives, punches and glances, played all over the ground. Not even a single shot played in this wonderful knock came close to a desperate slog. All the shots were played with ridiculous ease and with the minimum effort. There came a point in the innings when the South African spearhead Dale Steyn (in his prime) could do nothing; but just smile at a boundary scored of him by the great man. Jacques Kallis, the South African skipper in that game, took to sledging to stop the brutal force of the cricketing God, but that was to no avail. In return, it was the bat of the great man that did all the talking.
The lofted shot played by Sachin on the bowling of Charl Langeveldt; stands out as the most cherished memory ,of this masterful inning to me. The batting display put together by the first-double centurion in ODI history was simply phenomenal, with the ball being bludgeoned across all parts of the Capt. Roop Singh Stadium. Surprisingly, this was the second, and the last ODI inning which the great man played in 2010.
As a courtesy of this tremendous feat, the Indian team managed to cross 400 for the third time in ODI’s; and for the second time in 2 months. The South Africans in reply couldn’t even get close to the colossal target, but AB de Villiers was the only one to provide some resistance, as the talented South African too scored a rapid ton.
The very next day after the breathtaking innings, newspapers and media rooms were flooded with just one question. “IS SACHIN RAMESH TENDULKAR THE GREATEST CRICKETER EVER”? Well, according to me, the answer is always in the affirmative!
Vs Australia- 175 (141) at Hyderabad
Chasing a total that needs you to rush at 7 runs per over from the outset is an excruciatingly difficult task. That night of 5th November 2009 was no exception. The Aussie batsmen had massacred the Indian bowlers to all areas of the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, with Shaun Marsh and Shane Watson playing the pivotal roles. Mid way in the match, the Aussie bowlers could have thought that they were under a safe cushion of 350 runs; but little did they know, that the master was about to explode and shake the floor under the Australians. The target was profusely uphill and atleast one Indian batsman had to play the innings of his life. Well, that man was none other than Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
Sachin, along with Virender Sehwag, began positively, with Sachin never looking too desperate to smash the ball. The little master took his chances on a few occasions, and utilised the benefits of the Powerplays really well. Several opportunities arrived; and the little man grabbed it with both hands. However, to deteriorate matters, the Indian middle order, comprising of reputed names like the Gambhir’s, Yuvraj’s and the Dhoni’s failed to get going, and that added more pressure on the master.
But being the master, Sachin didn’t feel the pressure a bit, and carried on with sheer destruction. All the Aussie bowlers were brutally thrashed and Ricky Ponting even had to revert to Mike Hussey (Less than even a part-timer) to get a breakthrough. But that too was of no avail. The sixes that the master hit off the spinners were an absolute delight to watch, and the delicate cuts too were a treat.
As the target neared, the heartbeats raced but Sachin was icy cool as ever. Suresh Raina was the only other batsman to provide some sort of support to the centurion. Sachin went on blasting his way past and no obstacle seemed to be gigantic enough to halt him.
On the first ball of the 48th over, the master tried to play a scoop over short fine leg, but Clint McKay, was cunning enough to disguise the ball as a slower one. As a consequence, the timeless inning had to come to a sudden halt and the great man himself stood there, with grief striking his face. The crowd responded with a standing ovation, but everyone knew that “Chennai 1999” was on the verge of being repeated.
It was a shame that India couldn’t chase down 19 off 17 deliveries post Sachin’s dismissal and were all out with 2 balls to spare. Had India made it home, this would have been no less than a fairy tale. Sachin stood there as the lone warrior, but that too sadly, was not good enough. This inning was eventually termed as the best inning played in a loss, by several greats.
Even though India lost the match, this innings holds a special value in my life and whenever I see a video of this inning, one question always pops up in my mind, “HOW HAPPY WOULD HAVE SACHIN BEEN HAD WE WON?”
Vs Australia- Sharjah Twin Tons
“Those couple of knocks back at Sharjah still give me jitters and nightmares”. These words were said by the Australian spin wizard, Shane Warne. He has spoken about the mentioned knocks on several sports channels, and doesn’t hesitate in signifying the fact that the utter brilliance of Sachin Tendulkar almost put him in a state of sheer dilemma. The Sharjah Twin tons were scored over 15 years ago, and in a tri series, which included New Zealand as the third team. The first of those masterpieces was scored in a game where a loss by a humiliating margin, meant elimination. But as they say, cometh the hour, cometh the man. The first ton was scored in the last match of the group stage of the tournament. Aussies put themselves in, and scored a soaring total of 284, with notable contributions from Michael Bevan and Mark Waugh. The target was a steep one, and all the Indian hopes rested just on one man. SACHIN RAMESH TENDULKAR. The year 1998, had been Tendulkar’s best,( till date), with Sachin always hitting the ball, from the sweet part of the willow.
As the Indian chase began, Sachin had made his intentions clear, of batting ruthlessly, and demolishing the Australian attack. The “minimum” target for India was 254, which meant that had the Indians been unable to score 254, New Zealand would have got through to the final, and would have resulted in India’s elimination. But the weather in Sharjah had a tale of its own to narrate. Amidst the Indian chase, a massive sandstorm erupted, which eventually cost the game 25 vital minutes. As a consequence, the revised target was 276, from 46 overs, but the “minimum” target was 237, from the same number of overs.
But the sandstorm was not enough to save the Aussies from the “SACHIN-STORM”. Sachin went after the Aussie bowling, as though there was no tomorrow. Michael Kasprowicz was given a “third degree” by Sachin. The two back to back maximums hit of Kasprowicz in the sixth over, were only an indication of what was to follow. In that epic innings, Sachin cleared the ropes on five occasions, with the crowd going bizarre on every occasion. Sachin found no real support from his partners, but he was a man on a mission. Steve Waugh, the Aussie captain, was clobbered to all parts of the stadium. The target required to qualify for the finals was achieved in the 43rd over, with Sachin sighing a breath of relief. Till Sachin was at the wicket, an Indian victory was well within grasp, but Damien Fleming had him caught behind, on the last ball of over number 43.
Though Australia won the game and the battle, the war remained. For Sachin, it was only half a job done, with the Coca Cola Cup, very much in sight.
The final was played on Sachin’s birthday; and there’s no better sentiment than playing the all-time best ODI knock on your very own birthday. Expecting another Sachin masterclass, Mohammad Azharuddin had no hesitation in putting Australia in. The Aussies once again scored a massive total, 272 (The total may seem moderate now, but was more than enough in those days). And as destiny would have it, it was time for another “SACHIN STORM” to erupt. Sachin played this inning with a lot more caution than its predecessor. Sachin looked a little tentative in the beginning , and seeing this Michael Kasprowicz became vocal towards him.
But Sachin being a thorough gentleman let his bat do the talking. The nervousness was soon replaced by elegance and grace. The shot of the inning was the fierce straight drive which Sachin hit, making the non-striker (Sourav Ganguly), duck for cover. The 134 runs scored by Sachin were a display of persona and those 134 runs spoke volumes about Sachin Tendulkar as a batsman. The magnitude of the pressure was at its peak, as India rarely ever made it to the finals those days, and winning even a bilateral series was rare. This was a triangular series being played; at a neutral venue; and in the final, the opposition was the world’s best side. That can make one realise the intense pressure of the game.
Much before the series began, Shane Warne had passed a “childish” comment, stating that Sachin’s weakness was obvious, and it was easy to exploit. But for passing such a remark, Warne had to pay the price and repent. Sachin went simply ballistic as the ball was given to Shane Warne. A six down the ground was just the beginning. Warne’s confident was dented big time as the game progressed, and that was evident, as Shane Warne bowled numerous loose deliveries and short ones, that sent a message to the batsman, “PLEASE HIT ME”! Sachin obliged Shane, who had no clue what-so-ever.
The marathon innings went on, and the great man, raced to his successive hundred. After passing the landmark, Sachin continued his dream run, and hit boundary after boundary. The crowd in Sharjah, yelled and rejoiced as Sachin was tormenting the bowlers. To add to the vocal crowd was Tony Greig’s exhilarating commentary. “They are dancing in the aisles in Sharjah”. No cricketing madman (Me for instance) will ever be done and over with these words. The passion was evident in Tony’s voice; and this passion was evident in every cricketing freek’s voice, who admired a phenomenon called Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. There came a moment in the innings, when an ecstatic Tony said that Sachin was indeed the best since Bradman.
Sachin’s finest ODI knock came to an end when Sachin’s “umpiring friend” (pun intended) Steve Bucknor gave another horrendous decision. This time it was an LBW, with the ball hitting the fifth stump (Once again pun intended). However, that didn’t stop the Indian team from winning and becoming Champions of the Triangular series.
Those couple of knocks are etched in the memory of every cricket lover, and anyone following the sport says that he/she isn’t aware of the couple of knocks, then believe me- Either that person is a liar, or not a cricket follower. No other ODI inning can ever even come close to the couple of innings played in Sharjah. That was indeed elegance personified; and the reason which makes the word GOD synonyms with a genius called SACHIN RAMESH TENDULKAR.