Jan-Feb 1997. Standard Bank International Tri series competition featuring India, South Africa and Zimbabwe in South Africa. South Africa had already qualified for the finals with a few straight wins. India (under Azhar) coming after a poor away Test series against South Africa was struggling for form and so was Sachin Tendulkar. India’s only hope for qualifying for the finals was to beat Zimbabwe and that too with a better Net run rate. On that day the equation before India was to chase down the target of 241 to win the match under 41 overs. Sachin opened the innings and with an aggressive intent from the word go scored a century and made sure India wins and wins with a higher NRR to qualify for the final. This innings somehow doesn’t figure in the pundits’ top 10 ODI innings of Sachin. But for me, this innings 8 years after his debut and 3 years since he started opening in ODIs signalled the transition of “Sachin – the talent” to “Sachin – the phenomenon”. Because it’s from here that he started his immaculate journey of being the “Impact” player for India for the next 10 – 12 years. An impact player elevates his/her game to the demands of the situation and influences the result of the game.
From then on Sachin’s career graph zoomed along with India’s victory record. With a full-time job one doesn’t get the opportunity to watch a lot of Cricket. From what I saw, the following innings of Sachin stay etched in my memory for the sheer impact he left on that game:
- Grabbing the ball from Azhar and bowling that last over in the Hero Cup 1993 against South Africa. Needed 6 runs to win, South Africa could just score 3 off that over of Sachin and we won that Semifinal. I don’t know if involuntarily Sachin sowed the seed for the “Choker” label on South Africa that day!
- 155 against Australia at Chepauk in 1998 where he took on Shane Warne & Co. He feasted on Aussie blood since.
- The 2 back to back centuries in Sharjah again Vs. Australia in 1998. The 1st helped India to qualify in the final and the second won sealed the cup.
- 136 against Pakistan at Chepauk in what turned out to be a lost cause. I can’t forget this match. I remember very vividly the spring in the Pakistani players the moment Sachin got out. Wasim Akram who was going through the motions as India was coasting to a victory with just 16 odd runs required till then, smelt blood when Sachin’s wicket fell and choked the tail enders. India lost the match by 12 runs. Sachin did not turn up for the awards to collect his Man of the Match award.
- 98 against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup is part of folklore. To me this innings and our win exorcised the ghost of our loss against Pakistan in the Australasia Cup in 1996 when Javed Miandad needing to score a 4 off the last ball smashed a 6 off Chetan Sharma. Ind – Pak encounters were never the same again 😦
These are from what I got to see “live”. Am not saying that these were his best innings. (It’s clear that I’ve seen less of live cricket oflate 😦 😦 )
I feel that he ceased to be an “Impact” player since 2003. While he continued to contribute to the team’s cause with bat, ball and brain, the baton shifted somewhat to Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman and these days Kohli. Though he ceased to be that element which decided the fate of the match in India’s favour, still he continued to provide that sense of security as long as he was in the crease. When he was in the crease, the thousands of Gods India boasts of were invoked simultaneously by few millions and made to work over time. This TVC of Adidas which captures this essence is my personal favourite. Along with Sachin, the Gods will feel a sense of retirement since yesterday 🙂 🙂
Talking of retirement, I personally felt that Sachin’s retirement came a few seasons late. He could have actually retired long before we started seeing rookie bowlers sending his stumps cartwheeling. Well, all that is forgotten and forgiven for now. At the end his “Calling it a day” went as per well-orchestrated script. By choosing to retire this way ( a la Steve Waugh – announcing in advance that the 200th test will be his last test) he ensured a lot of things. BCCI pulling off a home series with Mumbai as the venue for the 200th, fully packed stadiums, stadiums resembling some collage of brands and advertisements, Tourist arrivals to watch the 200th match, Media frenzy, unparalleled test match viewership for the 2 matches,.. ,.. At times you got a feeling that it was the last TEST match to be ever played!!! If all these motivated a few youngsters to aspire for a similar farewell when they call it a day it was all worth it.
In a country which is as diverse as India where there are multiple religions, few 100’s of languages and dialects, food habits which change every 250 Kms, Attire which is different as chalk and cheese in the North/South/East/West corners of India not to talk of the different cultural sensibilities, where even Bollywood is not an unifier, the only unparalleled and unchallenged unifying phenomenon is “Cricket”. Cricket cuts across geographic, demographic, psychographic, social, financial, cultural,…,… divide. It is to Sachin’s credit that he could be a true “Indian Idol” spanning across this entire divide. To carry on his shoulders the aspirations of a few millions of people that too for a long period is not easy and he did that with commitment, discipline, focus and many more adjectives like that.
- India won the last Test match and Test series he played
- India won the last World Cup he played
- Mumbai Indians won the last Champions Trophy Sachin featured
- Mumbai Indians won the last IPL he probably played
This is some tall stuff for a Little Master in his inning called life!!!
A big “Thank you” is in order.
Postscript: As I remember, the original “Little Master” was Gundappa Vishwanath. When he retired the tag passed on to Sunil Gavaskar and then to Sachin Tendulkar. Who will be the next #Little Master???
If you are a fan of Sachin, do check these links :
2. Star Sports’ Sachin Memory Project