Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Cricket World Cup – Dream Team…..1. Sachin Tendulkar : Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s forthcoming book ‘Indian Spring’

Sachin Tendulkar

Child prodigy, pride of a nation

Born 24.04.1973

BATTING (World Cups 1992-2011)
Matches.....45      
Innings.....44     
Not Out.....4   
Highest Score.....152      
Runs.....2278     
Average.....56.95      
Strike-rate.....88.98    
100s.....6   
50s.....15   
Catches.....12  




When Sachin Tendulkar was selected for his first tour with the Indian Test side in 1989, one feared for him. He seemed just a little boy. He was one, at just sixteen years of age. One felt that he was being pushed into the lion’s den, for that series was against arch rivals Pakistan with their fearsome battery of pacemen – Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. But the manner in which the kid squared up to these awesome fast bowlers showed that someone in the selection committee indeed had a discerning eye.

Tendulkar lived up fully to the promise. Immediately, he carved out a permanent place in the Indian line-up. In the 1991-92 tour of Australia, preceding the fifth World Cup, he broke away from the rest, and pundits already began rating him as the team’s best batsman. The World Cup showed just why. The debut, though, was modest, as he scored 35 and added 63 runs for the third wicket with Ravi Shastri. India lost wickets steadily thereafter, and England snatched a nine-run win.

The needle encounter with Pakistan created its own inevitable drama. Tendulkar chose the occasion to come into his own. He put on 46 for the fourth wicket with schoolmate Vinod Kambli, and combined with Kapil Dev to add another 60 for the sixth wicket. Tendulkar’s unbeaten 54, comprising 3 boundaries in a stay of 62 deliveries, set up India’s victory, helping post a total that could be defended on the lively Sydney track. This match-winning performance won him his first World Cup man-of-the-match award. Tendulkar top-scored again in the next match. A fine 99-run stand with Sanjay Manjrekar took the rain-affected game away from Zimbabwe. His superb 81 off just 77 balls, studded with 8 fours and a six, earned him a second successive man-of-the-match prize.

Tendulkar was brilliant against the in-form New Zealanders. He top-scored once more, stroking a delightful 84 off 105 deliveries, embellished with 6 boundaries. After Ajay Jadeja had retired hurt, Tendulkar starred in a 127-run partnership with skipper Mohammad Azharuddin. Though India could not make it to the semi-finals, it was a splendid maiden World Cup for one who was still not nineteen years old.

One recalls a television conversation during that tour between two stalwarts of yesteryear, Ian Chappell and Sunil Gavaskar. The former Aussie skipper, considered one of the shrewdest brains in the game, was extolling the virtues of Tendulkar’s batting. Gavaskar intervened to say that Sanjay Manjrekar, though going through a lean patch, was just as good a player. Chappell immediately refuted this assertion, marking out Tendulkar to be a cut above. The rest, as they say, is history. That tour saw his ascent to the pinnacle.

In 1994, Tendulkar began opening the innings in One-day Internationals. He was now able to give full vent to his bountiful gifts. The evolution of Sachin Tendulkar was complete. After this he simply scaled one peak after another. By the 1996 World Cup, he was already one of the two best batsmen in the world. The other was, of course, Brian Lara. There was now far greater maturity in Tendulkar’s batting. Earlier he tended to get carried away by his genius, thereby erring in shot selection – mostly attempting an attacking shot when a bit of caution would have been in order. But now he displayed a fine blend of aggression and defence. He presented a broad blade when necessary, but unleashed an awesome range of shots to anything remotely off line or length. Sometimes even perfectly pitched deliveries were despatched imperiously.

There was a soft opening fixture with Kenya, and Tendulkar led the charge with a 163-run stand with Ajay Jadeja. It was not only India’s best opening partnership in the World Cup, surpassing the mark of 136 set up by Sunil Gavaskar and Krishnamachari Srikkanth against New Zealand in 1987, but also the country’s highest for any wicket hitherto in the premier event. Tendulkar stepped on the pedal right from the start, hitting his first fifty off just 48 balls. He slowed visibly on the threshold of his first World Cup century, making doubly certain that he reached the coveted milestone. This was his fifth hundred in Limited-overs Internationals, all of which came in the previous 18 months after he began opening the innings. Still in no mood to throw away his wicket, he escorted his side to an easy victory. Tendulkar’s unbeaten 127 from 138 deliveries was made up of 15 sizzling boundaries and one hit over the ropes. This was then India’s second-highest individual score in the World Cup after Kapil Dev’s 175 not out in 1983. He was named man-of-the-match.

The next match at Gwalior was billed as a clash of the two star batsmen, Tendulkar and Lara; and also a confrontation between Tendulkar and the great fast bowling pair of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. Neither of these happened. With the West Indies setting a modest target of 174, Tendulkar played a sedate innings, scoring 70 off 91 balls, having struck 8 fours before being run out. He had put on 79 crucial runs for the third wicket with Navjot Singh Sidhu. Tendulkar claimed his second man-of-the-match award in succession.

Another big game followed, this time in Tendulkar’s home city of Mumbai. Though again in glorious touch, he was for once upstaged. Mark Waugh, another batsman in brilliant form in this tournament, played a typically elegant innings of 126, helping Australia put up a formidable total of 258. A wretched start saw India slump to 7 for two. The only course left for Tendulkar was to attack. He had to take risks, and he lived dangerously. Azharuddin contributed just 10 to their partnership of 63. Fellow Mumbaikar, Sanjay Manjrekar, helped add 73 in 12 overs. Tendulkar looked on course for his second century of the tournament but took one chance too many, stepping out to a Mark Waugh wide, only to be stumped. Tendulkar’s exhilarating 90 off only 84 balls with a six and 14 fours gave India a chance, but the lower order was not able to pull it off.

The previous two matches brought into focus Tendulkar’s ability and intent to mould his game to the needs of the team. While in the game against the West Indies he needed to bat carefully and ensure that India clinched a vital victory. Australia, on the other hand, had set a challenging target, India had lost two early wickets and Tendulkar’s task was to launch an assault on the bowling. His precocious talent has often eclipsed his inherent desire to play according to the needs of his team.

The stage shifted to New Delhi where the opponents were Sri Lanka, who were already making people sit up and take notice of them. Tendulkar was circumspect to begin with. Manoj Prabhakar went cheaply, but Manjrekar joined in another fruitful partnership of 66 off 82 deliveries. Tendulkar’s first 50 took 72 balls, and by then he was settled well enough to raise the tempo. Joined by Azharuddin, he simply pulverized the bowling, carting it all around the small Ferozshah Kotla ground. The two combined in a huge stand of 175, India’s highest for any wicket in the World Cup till it was surpassed in 1999. The pair scored at nearly seven runs an over, taking just 26 overs to hit up these runs.

The marauding Tendulkar powered on, smashing 5 sixes and 8 fours in his knock of 137 at exactly a-run-per-ball. He was run out for the second time in the tournament, but not before posting the second-highest score for India at the time in all One-day Internationals, eclipsing Navjot Sidhu’s unbeaten 134 against England in 1992-93. This was Tendulkar’s sixth century in his previous 28 One-dayers, and the maximum for the country, relegating Sidhu’s five hundreds to second place. It seemed that Tendulkar and his partners had given India a winning total of 271 for three. But the Sri Lankans lived up to their newfound reputation as scintillating hitters and romped home without much difficulty. Again, despite his superb batting, Tendulkar was overshadowed, this time by the pyrotechnics of Sanath Jayasuriya.

Tendulkar experienced his first failure of the tournament in the last league match, Zimbabwean Heath Streak knocking back his middle stump for just three runs.
           
The quarter-final was not one for faint hearts. One could almost touch the tension in the air in this faceoff between India and Pakistan. India, naturally, looked to Tendulkar to give a flying start, but it was Sidhu who set the early pace. The two put on 90 for the first wicket, and it seemed that Tendulkar was determined to bat through the innings. But he dragged a delivery from Ata-ur-Rahman on to his stumps, departing for 31. Pakistan, though, despite a brilliant opening stand of their own, could not match India’s effort.

The scene for the semi-final was the Eden Gardens, and the hopes of millions rested on Sachin Tendulkar. Perhaps the magical blade of this peerless batsman would make the difference. Sri Lanka scored 251 for eight. Though Sidhu went early, Tendulkar and Manjrekar set about guiding India towards their goal. But it did appear that they were struggling to get the ball away. Tendulkar completed yet another half-century as the pair put on 90 in 20.4 overs. As the day-night game progressed, the ball began turning alarmingly. Tendulkar seemed to tackle it well enough. But he suffered a horrible lapse in concentration as he tried to sweep Jayasuriya and inexplicably stepped out of the crease. He was stumped by Romesh Kaluwitharana in a flash, having scored 65. Perhaps sub-consciously, Tendulkar felt that time was running out, and he wished to raise the tempo. Unfortunately, he got a bit too anxious.

India disintegrated into pieces after his dismissal and slumped to 120 for eight after 34.1 overs. This slide, in fact, emphasised Tendulkar’s technical competence, and his true worth to the team. The moment he left, India perished. The mammoth Calcutta crowd could not take it. As many began leaving the stadium, some miscreants showered bottles on to the arena and lit bonfires in the stands. The match came to a premature end, and India’s campaign in the 1996 World Cup went up in smoke, literally.

For Tendulkar, though, it was a personal triumph. He became a trailblazer, the first to score more than 500 runs in a single World Cup. He had a tremendous run of scores: 127 not out, 70, 90, 137, 3, 31 and 65; two centuries and three fifties in seven matches. Tendulkar became the highest run-getter in any single World Cup with his 523 runs, averaging 87.16, a mark that was to remain till he himself bettered it in 2003.

The year 1999 was an unhappy one for Tendulkar in many ways. He developed back trouble in the early months, and for the first time a shadow was cast on his career. The contemptuous pull shot off the front foot had to be eliminated from his repertoire to ease pressure on his back. Then just as the World Cup began, his father passed away. Tendulkar had to return to India, missing the fixture with Zimbabwe. He rejoined the tournament in traumatic circumstances. A debate followed about whether he should continue to open the innings in conditions where the ball moved around. As a result he was shifted up and down the order. Tendulkar had opened in the first match against South Africa and raised 67 with Sourav Ganguly before he was caught behind off Lance Klusener for 28. He missed the second game due to his bereavement. India lost both the matches.

On his return from home, Tendulkar walked in at no.4 to face the Kenyan attack, in a sombre frame of mind. He put together his concentration, and got down to work like a true professional. Soon he was stroking the ball in his magical way. Even the dark clouds lifted and made way for bright sunshine as if in reverence to the little genius. Rahul Dravid too flowered in his company. Tendulkar stepped on the accelerator after reaching his half-century. He raced to his hundred in 84 balls, the fastest by an Indian in the World Cup hitherto, surpassing another legend Sunil Gavaskar’s century off 85 balls against New Zealand in 1987. Tendulkar’s second fifty came in only 30 balls.

The partnership reached mammoth proportions, the pair still not separated after having added 237 runs when the innings ended. This was the highest for any wicket in the World Cup, breaking the previous record of 207, also for the third wicket set by Mark and Steve Waugh, coincidentally against Kenya in 1996. It was also a record for the third wicket in all One-day Internationals, beating the previous best of 230 by Pakistanis Saeed Anwar and Ijaz Ahmed against India in 1998. Tendulkar was unbeaten with an explosive 140 off 101 balls, slamming 3 sixes and 16 fours in a man-of-the-match performance.

Thereafter he went into a slump, unable to make an impact in the last two league matches. The super-six stage saw Tendulkar back in the opening slot, but he was consumed by Australian Glenn McGrath for a duck.

Facing Pakistan, Tendulkar regained some semblance of form, scoring 45 off 65 balls with 5 boundaries. In this innings he notched up 1000 runs in the World Cup, as India triumphed. The match against New Zealand epitomised the team’s showing in this tournament - disappointing. Tendulkar took away sad memories, even though he left his unmistakable stamp on the event.

For a year prior to the 2003 World Cup, Tendulkar was on a roller-coaster ride. A succession of low scores was followed by some big innings. Niggling injuries hampered him and the tour to New Zealand preceding the big event was probably his most disastrous. People wondered whether he was on the decline. Certainly, the reflexes and eyesight would not be quite the same as a decade earlier. The point often missed was that these were just symptoms of a surfeit of cricket, that even Tendulkar was human, and that a run-machine too needs overhaul and rest. Behind prying eyes and away from the whispers, the maestro was quietly preparing for the World Cup. A fleeting glance at him as he marched across the Newlands turf during the opening ceremony, head up, glow on his face and exuding quiet confidence, gave one the feeling that there might be something special emanating from him.

The hunch was correct. Back as opener, Tendulkar was in awesome form throughout the tournament and the single biggest factor in India reaching the final. The team was lucky that there was a soft limb-loosener against Holland, for the hangover of the horrors of the New Zealand trip was fully evident. It was a tentative side, unsure of itself, and it showed. The Dutch trundlers had India in trouble as the ball seamed and bounced awkwardly on the Boland Park track. Skipper Ganguly and Virender Sehwag perished early. Tendulkar battled his way, seeking his true touch. He surpassed Javed Miandad’s World Cup tally of 1083 runs. Just when it seemed as though he was set for a long sojourn at the crease, a Tim de Leede delivery took off suddenly and deviated away, catching Tendulkar by surprise. He gloved it to wicketkeeper Jeroen Smits, departing for 52, scored off 72 deliveries with seven hits to the fence.

The eagerly awaited encounter with Australia turned into a no-contest. The Indian batting, still woefully short of confidence, floundered against the fiery pace of Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie. Tendulkar was the only one in the top order to offer resistance. His patience too ran out as he moved too far across to flick Gillespie, and was trapped leg-before for 36. India crashed to a humiliating nine-wicket defeat and there was a backlash at home against the lurching team. The cricket-crazy fans could not take it any more. From the ash-heap of such ignominy rose a combination with a newfound spirit and burning desire to prove the critics wrong. Tendulkar remained in the vanguard.     

Again, the side was fortunate that it faced a none-too-formidable outfit as it sought to redeem itself. Zimbabwe were no longer the force they were four years earlier. Tendulkar and his young clone Sehwag put their bowling to the sword in a rousing 99-run opening stand in 100 deliveries. The master continued to blaze away after the apprentice was dismissed. Dinesh Mongia was essentially a bystander in a 43-run second-wicket partnership. A delivery from left-arm spinner Grant Flower rolled on to the stumps off Tendulkar’s defensive blade. He left, having hit 81 off 91 balls with 10 exquisite boundaries. India eventually triumphed easily and Tendulkar wrested his sixth man-of-the-match award in the World Cup, the maximum at that stage, breaking away from the pack of Vivian Richards, Graham Gooch and Lance Klusener.

As the Indian campaign gained momentum, there was a picnic before the stern tests. The Namibians were in no position to challenge an indignant side hungry for success. Sehwag dazzled briefly, and once Ganguly joined Tendulkar, there was a deluge. Though Tendulkar was not at his fluent best, the pair just waded into the amateur trundlers. Dropped at 32, the little champion perhaps found it hard to motivate himself against the pop-gun attack, but bludgeoned it nonetheless. He raised his 34th One-day International hundred, racing still far ahead of the rest. It was his fourth ton in the premier event, the most at that stage alongside Mark Waugh. The second-wicket stand logged up 244 runs before Tendulkar was out, having crashed 152 off 151 deliveries with 18 hits to the fence. This was his highest score in the World Cup, and the partnership was second-best for any wicket in the tournament ever after the 318-run Ganguly-Dravid duet of 1999. Tendulkar picked up his second consecutive man-of-the-match prize, his third such feat in the World Cup.  

Now unstoppable, Tendulkar carried on in the same vein against England. He put up 60 off 59 balls with Sehwag, treating the bowling with disdain. A mistimed hook off Andy Caddick, when on 8, was a rare error. Later he hit the same bowler for a four and a six off successive deliveries. Amazingly, this was his first six in a tournament in which he had already played so many blistering innings. It was proof of the discipline that Tendulkar had exercised and mirrored a determination to excel in the game’s biggest show. He curbed his natural instinct to attack, and the fact that he still scored at a rapid pace simply underlined his genius. Immediately after he brought up his fifty, Tendulkar slashed one into the hands of backward point. He had faced 52 balls and cracked eight boundaries besides the hooked sixer. It was teamwork this time as the Indian bowlers clinched an easy victory under lights.

If India were getting their act together, the Pakistani side was not. But in the mother of all cricketing battles, form counts for little. The team that soaks in the pressure better on the day invariably triumphs. This contest had two entire nations transfixed. Planeloads of spectators took off for South Africa, television ratings soared, and almost every other activity came to a standstill. Pakistan seized the initiative with a score of 273 for seven. Tendulkar was not going to let go this opportunity to display his class as well as temperament. The great Wasim Akram opened the bowling and Tendulkar drove the third delivery off the back foot through the covers into the pickets. Sehwag also got into the act. From then on there was only one team in the match. Shoaib Akhtar came on at the other end. Tendulkar blasted him for a six and two fours off the last three balls. The Rawalpindi Express conceded 18 runs off his first over and was promptly taken off. Tendulkar had established his ascendancy.

It took only five overs to rattle up 50 on the board. Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly were dismissed off successive balls but Tendulkar zoomed to his own fifty in a matter of 37 balls. Mohammad Kaif helped put on a brisk 102 in 15.5 overs. Though cramps began to hamper Tendulkar, he refused a runner till he could hardly move. Meanwhile, he brought up his 12,000th run in One-day Internationals, playing his 300th innings in 309 matches. He now stood alone on a pedestal, second-placed Mohammad Azharuddin parked more than 2,600 runs behind. When Akhtar let go a nasty bouncer the decapitated Tendulkar could only instinctively fend a catch to point. He fell for a magnificent 98, having faced just 75 deliveries and rocketed 12 fours and a six. This was arguably Tendulkar’s best innings in the World Cup. India had raced to 177 for four in the 28th over. Dravid and Yuvraj Singh had only to bat sensibly from then on, which they did. India maintained their hundred percent World Cup record over Pakistan. There was only one claimant for the gold watch awarded to the man-of-the-match. Tendulkar had now walked away with three such glittering prizes in the last four matches.

The little master had had a fabulous run in the pool matches with scores of 52, 36, 81, 152, 50 and 98, a total of 469 runs off 500 deliveries at an average of 78.16 and strike-rate of 93.8 runs per 100 balls. His dominance palpable, Tendulkar had a magical effect on the team, which sailed into the super-sixes.  

The law of averages finally caught up with Tendulkar as he tried to glide Kenyan Martin Suji when on 5, and the bowler’s brother Tony held a fine catch at backward square-leg. There was almost disbelief as he trudged back, for he had come to acquire the halo of a superhero in this tournament. The great man, however, corrected the course immediately, the Sri Lankans next feeling the weight of his punishing blade. With Sehwag he brought up a century opening stand, the pair going on to log up 153 in 158 balls. Ganguly helped add another 61 runs. Tendulkar slowed down as he neared his century and then played an awkward sweep into the wicketkeeper’s gauntlets. He returned with 97 in his kitty, the only batsman to score three nineties in the World Cup. Having faced 120 balls, he hit 7 fours and a six. It was the second time that he had notched 500 runs in a World Cup, no other batsman having achieved the milestone even once at that point.

Enthralled by this innings, another Australian great Greg Chappell wrote in his column in The Hindu: “Make no mistake, Tendulkar is a genius! Tendulkar’s combination of deft touches and raw power is virtually unmatched in the game today. Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Brian Lara can certainly match his power though they don’t quite match his exquisite skill and versatility. The versatility is an innate, instinctive skill. Bradman used the laws of physics better than anyone else, then or now. He used the energy created by the bowler and redirected the ball with brilliant footwork and incredible wrist work. Tendulkar goes closest to emulating him, but has the added advantage – delivered by the heavier modern bat – of being able to block the ball back past the faster bowlers more quickly than it was delivered. Tendulkar’s innings of 97 was as intimidating to most of the Sri Lankan bowlers, as it was for the Pakistanis at Centurion Park.” There could be no greater tribute, coming as it did from one who was himself one of the finest batsmen in history. 

The Indian batsmen seemed in a hurry after the Kiwis folded up for 146. Tendulkar was stroking the ball well when he holed out, playing an extravagant shot, having hit three boundaries in his 15 off 16 balls. But the match was won easily to set up a semi-final date with surprise qualifiers Kenya. Tendulkar and Sehwag only emphasised the obvious by putting on another fine opening partnership. Conscious of the significance of the occasion, and careful not to underestimate the opposition, they did not blaze away, contrary to their natural instincts. They raised a solid 74 in 18.3 overs before Sehwag was dismissed. Ganguly was Tendulkar’s ally in a 103-run second-wicket association in less than 20 overs. Stroking brilliantly, Tendulkar had another century in his sights when he pulled skipper Steve Tikolo’s off-spin high over mid-wicket. The ball seemed to be sailing over the ropes but David Obuya plucked it out brilliantly. Tendulkar’s 83 off 101 balls contained 5 fours and a six. He now became the third batsman to log up 600 runs in a One-day International tournament. His tally of 669 runs in 10 matches was second behind Greg Chappell’s 686 runs in 14 matches of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup in Australia in 1980-81. Vivian Richards hit up 651 runs in 13 matches of the 1984-85 edition of the same event. It was illustrious company indeed.

Australian captain Ricky Ponting won the final off his own bat. For India to chase a target of 360 against such a formidable attack was well nigh impossible. But Tendulkar was going to have a shot at it. He pulled McGrath to the boundary, and then trying to repeat the stroke off the fifth delivery, only managed a steepler into the hands of the bowler. There may not have been a fairy-tale end to one of the most inspired performances in a One-day competition, but Tendulkar had raised the bar for all comers.

He won the Golden Bat, his award for being adjudged the player-of-the-tournament, which was presented to him by none other than Sir Garfield Sobers. In two World Cups - 1996 and 2003 - Tendulkar was the leading run-getter of the tournament. His 673 runs in 11 matches in the 2003 event laid down a new benchmark in the World Cup, and his aggregate of 1732 was then far ahead of the rest, none of whom had topped 1100.

Between this World Cup and the next, Tendulkar went through the worst phase of his career. Beset with injuries, particularly the debilitating tennis elbow, Tendulkar looked a shadow of himself. Many of the public and media thought his days at the top were over and his own confidence was somewhat shaken. When the 2007 World Cup came around, Tendulkar was not quite at his best and upset that the then coach Greg Chappell decreed that he would not open the innings, something that he himself wished to continue doing. The tournament itself was an anti-climax that no Indian had envisaged. One upset by Bangladesh was enough to topple the apple-cart.

With Sehwag and Robin Uthappa falling cheaply, Tendulkar walked in to play a most uncharacteristic, tentative innings. He fiddled around with 26 deliveries, scoring just 7 runs, before he was deceived by an armer from Abdur Razzak and caught behind. India were trounced by five wickets. They now needed to score at a very rapid rate against Bermuda, and Tendulkar came to the crease only at no. 6, with the scorecard reading 269 for four after 38.2 overs. He put on 122 with Yuvraj in a mere 10.2 overs. Tendulkar’s fifty came off 26 deliveries and he guided the team to the highest-ever total of 413 for five in the World Cup with his unbeaten 57 off 29 balls with 2 fours and 4 sixes.

India had to beat Sri Lanka in order to qualify for the super-eight stage. They were set a challenging target of 255, but the openers failed. The onus was on Tendulkar. But it was not to be his day. As he faced up to his third legitimate delivery, Dilhara Fernando seamed it in sharply. Tendulkar inside-edged it and was bowled for a duck. With Muralitharan getting into the act, India were sunk, and crashed out of the tournament unceremoniously.        

Tendulkar was obviously stung by this ignominious performance, for since the spring of 2007 and till the World Cup was finally won on 2nd April 2011, Tendulkar was seen in a yet newer avtaar. He perfected the balance between defence and attack with his rare ability to mould his game according to the situation, and went on to play some defining and match-winning innings. The cynics disappeared and eventually there was an unspoken consensus that the little champion would continue till he thought he could.

There were huge expectations that the Indian team would wrest the World Cup on home turf in 2011. The opening fixture against Bangladesh at Mirpur was billed as a revenge encounter for India’s shock defeat in the 2007 World Cup. More than anything, the Indian team would have been looking to start their campaign on the right note. Sehwag ensured that with a boundary off the first delivery of the tournament. Tendulkar too was off to a splendid start, clipping his second ball for a four on the leg-side. The pair was cruising effortlessly, raising 50 in the 9th over. Disaster struck, though, as Tendulkar was run out for 28, having played 29 balls and hit four sweetly timed boundaries. He had helped raise 69 in 10.5 overs. Sehwag and youngster Virat Kohli hit centuries and India notched an eagerly-sought victory.

While Sehwag chanced his arm at the English bowling in a crucial game at Bangalore, Tendulkar was in exquisite touch. They put up 46 before Sehwag was caught behind in the 8th over. As Tendulkar unleashed his full array of shots, his 134-run partnership in 21.5 overs with Gautam Gambhir set up the match for India. Yuvraj next allied with the little master, who brought up his fifth World Cup hundred in style, having squared up to 103 balls. In his attempt to further raise the tempo, Tendulkar was dismissed for 120. His brilliant 115-ball innings was embellished with 10 fours and 5 sixes, and his partnership with Yuvraj realized 56 runs in 8.4 overs. At 236 for three in 38.2 overs, Tendulkar had provided India with a tremendous platform to pile up a huge score. But the later batsmen disappointed, even as Tim Bresnan bowled brilliantly to capture five for 48, and India were bowled out for 338 inside 50 overs. The England captain Andrew Strauss then played a magnificent innings of 158, and the match ended in a nail-biting tie off the last ball of the match.

There were two successive matches against the associate members, and Tendulkar got off to starts without putting up big scores on both occasions. Ireland could muster a total of only 207. India too lost early wickets before Kohli helped Tendulkar add 63 for the third wicket. Tendulkar was going well, having hit four boundaries when he was out leg-before, sweeping a straight one. His 38 came off 56 balls, and India went on to clinch the match by five wickets. Holland set an even lower target of 190. The Indian openers got off to a blazing start. Tendulkar fired three boundaries in a Ryan ten Doeschate over, the last of which fetched the little champion his 2000th run in the World Cup, a mark no batsman is likely to attain for a long time. Sehwag too went on a rampage before he holed out with the stand worth 69 in 7.3 overs. Tendulkar mistimed one into the hands of long-off and departed for 27, having played 22 deliveries and stroked 6 fours. India romped home again by five wickets with plenty to spare.    

The great opening pair was again in fine fettle in the big test versus South Africa. Sehwag banged the first ball of the match from Dale Steyn over mid-on to the fence. As Sehwag blazed away, Tendulkar too got into the act and the 50 came in the 7th over. Tendulkar hooked Steyn for a six in the 10th over, at the end of which India had knocked up 87 runs, highest in the World Cup for the mandatory Powerplay. The hundred came up in 11.4 overs. Tendulkar ushered in his fifty in just 33 deliveries. As if to celebrate, Tendulkar lofted one over long-on for his 2nd six. Sehwag played on to the stumps with his score on 73, and the duo having clocked up 142 runs in 17.4 overs. Gambhir was now an able ally. With the run-rate beginning to dip, relatively-speaking, Tendulkar again lofted one over long-on for a six. The Indian idol ticked on, and off his 92nd delivery drove into the covers, raising his 99th hundred in international cricket, and 6th in the World Cup, surging ahead of all others. The hundred of the partnership came up in a little more than 25 overs. Tendulkar was caught, trying to raise the tempo. His 111 had spanned 101 deliveries, punctuated by 8 fours and 3 sixes. The second-wicket partnership had yielded 125 runs. Again after his exit, the later Indian batsmen committed hara-kiri, even as Steyn breathed fire for a haul of five for 50. Having been 267 for one in the 40th over, India squandered the advantage, collapsing to 296 all out in 48.4 overs. All the South African batsmen then played their part and, even though they kept losing wickets regularly, clinched this thriller by three wickets with just 2 balls to spare. For the second time in succession Tendulkar’s brilliant hundred went unrewarded. The team would have to work very hard from now on.

The last league match saw Tendulkar register his first real failure of the tournament as he was caught behind for 2 against the West Indies. India, however, registered an easy confidence-boosting win. Were they peaking at the right time? 

Australia’s long unbeaten streak in the World Cup going back to 1999 had already been broken in their previous match, but here was a high-pressure quarter-final. Ricky Ponting led from the front with a fine century, and Australia posted a formidable 260 for six. It would not be an easy chase against the pacemen under the Motera lights. Tendulkar crashed two off-side boundaries off his first two deliveries from Shaun Tait. He struck two more fours as India got to 44 in 8 overs. An out-of-sorts Sehwag perished at this stage, but Tendulkar cruised on. Having carved two successive boundaries off Mitchell Johnson, the little champion first arrived at the milestone of 18,000 runs in One-day Internationals, and then his fifty. Tait, though, soon had him caught behind for 53, having faced 68 deliveries and hit 7 fours. This time the middle-order rose to the occasion, registering a five-wicket victory, and bringing down the curtain on a glorious era in Australian cricket.

Then came the high-voltage encounter at Mohali, World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan, a heart-stopper in the extreme, watched by the prime ministers of both countries. Two overs produced 6 runs, and then Sehwag turned on Umar Gul, bludgeoning him for 5 boundaries in the 3rd over. Sehwag continued on his merry way, having had most of the strike. He fell leg-before at 48, having crashed 9 boundaries in his 38 off 25 balls. With Sehwag’s departure, Tendulkar held centre-stage. He soon added three quick boundaries to an earlier one, but this hurricane start had camouflaged the uneven character of the wicket. As the ball lost its shine and hardness, it began to grip the surface and lose pace. Run-making became a struggle, which was reflected in Tendulkar’s resilient and fortunate innings. The Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) helped him survive leg-before-wicket and stumping appeals off successive Saeed Ajmal deliveries. Misbah-ul-Haq dropped him at mid-wicket and an edge found no fielder at slip, the ball running away to the boundary. Gautam Gambhir was not so lucky, being stumped after having helped put on 68 in 13 overs. Soon Tendulkar was put down by Younis Khan. Carrying on the battle nevertheless, Tendulkar stroked two delightful boundaries to raise a fortuitous fifty, having taken on 67 deliveries. As Kohli and Yuvraj departed off consecutive balls from left-armer Wahab Riaz, Tendulkar had two more slices of luck. Wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal did not pouch an edge and his brother Umar failed to latch on to a pull. Eventually, he drover uppishly at Ajmal and the captain Shahid Afridi held on jubilantly. Tendulkar had held his concentration through 115 deliveries in this tumultuous journey, having struck 11 fours. He had scrapped through, helping India total 260 for nine. In a match of such significance, and on a wicket of this nature, it was a winning score. Pakistan fell 29 runs short and a relieved Indian team marched into the final. At last Tendulkar won a man-of-the-match award in this tournament.

On the big day at Mumbai, Sri Lanka piled up 274 for six. Even though Lasith Malinga trapped Sehwag leg-before second ball for a duck, Tendulkar looked in fine touch, hitting two glorious boundaries off Nuwan Kulasekera. But Malinga had him nibbling outside the off-stump, and skipper Kumar Sangakkara made no mistake behind the stumps. There was first a hush over the nation of a billion, and then a rousing standing ovation for India’s superbat as he walked away with 18 runs against his name in this innings, the biggest name of all in the greatest event in One-day cricket too. That there was unease at this stage all over India was stating the obvious. Gradually the breathing got easier as the determined Gambhir anchored himself for the long haul, and Captain Cool Dhoni brought in his dash and panache. When Dhoni finally rocketed the ball high over long-on, India were home, literally, with 10 balls and six wickets to spare.
                 
            It was, indeed, the crowning glory to the inimitable Sachin Tendulkar’s cricket career, and for the Indian team which in the past decade had risen to no. 1 in the world both in Test matches and One-day Internationals. The celebrations, the fireworks, uncorking of champagne, tooting of car horns, singing, dancing and merriment were as much for India’s exhilarating triumph as it was for Tendulkar’s awe-inspiring accomplishments. No one could have written a better script, and no folk hero deserved more accolades than this lovable character received on this memorable night. His teammates paid him glowing tributes and hoisted him on his soldiers as a whole country leapt with joy. He finished the tournament as the second-highest rungetter with 482 to his credit, averaging 53.55 and striking at 91.98 per 100 balls. Only Tillakaratne Dilshan, who touched 500 runs, scored more. That Tendulkar sustained his brilliant performances through six World Cups, in adversity and triumph, is a mind-boggling thought.         

To state the obvious, Tendulkar is by far the highest rungetter in the World Cup with 2278 runs at an average of 56.95 and a strike-rate of 88.98. To add to his 6 hundreds are an amazing 15 fifties, including 3 nineties. He has an incredible nine man-of-the-match awards. No one else has more than five. In the World Cup arena too, Tendulkar has lived up to his reputation as one of the greatest batsmen to grace this fascinating game. The maestro has indeed awe-inspiring achievements to his credit.

In his famous observation, the peerless Sir Donald Bradman noted that Tendulkar’s batting resembled his own, something that Greg Chappell also acknowledged. Indeed, Tendulkar has every stroke in the book. Equally strong on both sides of the wicket, he is comfortable playing off either foot. Possessing a rock solid defence, he revels in hitting the ball past and over the bowler with the straightest of bats, and square when the ball is even slightly off the mark. He handles pace and spin with equal ease, and there appears to be no apparent weakness in his batting except that at times in earlier days he tended to get bored when the opposition was below par.

If anything, his problems could often be related more to an over-active mind than with technique. In his eagerness to dominate the bowling and to play big, significant innings, Tendulkar’s thought process seemed to overtake the proceedings at the crease. At times, instead of playing each ball as it came, he sometimes appeared to be thinking ahead, thereby erring in shot selection. These were small aberrations in a magnificent career.

The lone man to aggregate 15,000 runs in Test matches and a record 51 hundreds at an average of nearly 54, and the only one to hit up 18,000 runs in One-day Internationals and yet another record 49 centuries at an average of almost 45 and strike-rate in excess of 86, this inimitable character has set seemingly impossible benchmarks for coming generations to strive for. He has seen India scale the pinnacle in Tests as well as One-dayers. The only remaining team goal, to wrest the ICC World Cup, was also achieved.

Tendulkar’s genius came to the fore when he was batting alongside, and opposite, other accomplished batsmen, particularly in difficult conditions or when quick runs were required. As others struggled, Tendulkar seemed perfectly at ease. While ordinary mortals, for the most part, played the ball on its merit, Tendulkar often determined the merit of the ball. Deliveries that seemed perfectly pitched were smashed through the gaps in the field to the fence, or over it. He could hit almost at will, and toy with virtually any attack in the world. It is little wonder that a man reckoned to be one of the best spinners ever, Shane Warne, admitted that it was a nightmare to bowl to Tendulkar.

The testimony of four great Australians of different eras – Bradman, Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell and Warne – is a pointer to Tendulkar’s place in history. The Aussies are known to be gritty fighters who do not shower praise easily. That they have been so generous to Sachin Tendulkar is really a way of saying that the little man is indeed a class apart.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

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