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“That Tendulkar innings set up India’s fourth successive win over Pakistan in World Cup cricket. It was a brilliant innings, a once in a generation kind. That 98 off 75 balls will forever be one of the greatest World Cup innings of all time, at least by an Indian”

If you think of Sachin Tendulkar and World Cups, you might remember the six centuries he scored, the number tournaments he played, the 2011 World Cup win, his record at the World Cup and multiple other things. However, if there is one thing that you can’t help but remember is the 2003 World Cup and arguably the first innings that comes to mind is the one against Pakistan.

The way he batted was simply surreal, some of the shots that he played were jaw-dropping. The ease with which he tackled the fearsome pace trio of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar was remarkable. You wouldn’t find a better pace trio in that World Cup. But the little master shattered their confidence, their aura and the confidence to pieces on that day.

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The conditions at the SuperSport Park in Centurion were perfect for a high-octane clash. India faced Pakistan in a Super Six game and the atmosphere was electric at the ground. It couldn’t get bigger than this – India vs Pakistan in a World Cup game.

Also read: Valiant heroes in World Cup: 1983 – Asantha de Mel

The fan-wars had begun long back and it was now time for the nerves and the butterflies in the stomach of not only the players but also millions (or rather billions) watching the game from all over the globe.

Pakistan skipper won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. Saeed Anwar’s fine 101 set it up for Pakistan as they scored a solid 273 in their fifty overs. Younis Khan and Rashid Latif’s smart batting at the death helped Pakistan arrest what could be termed as a mini-slide which started from the 46th over and went on till the 42nd over.

273 were quite a few runs. They were never chased as easily they are now. It would’ve taken chasing even to get to 274 as Pakistan had one of the best trios of the World Cup in Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.

Sachin Tendulkar plays a drive against Pakistan, Group Match, Centurion, ICC World Cup 2003.
Sachin Tendulkar plays a drive against Pakistan, Group Match, Centurion, ICC World Cup 2003.

The chase was underway and just as the Indian openers Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag were walking out to the middle, Tendulkar said to his partner that he would take strike. Normally, Tendulkar very rarely takes strike and likes batting at the No. 2 position. But it was different this time around as Tendulkar felt that being a senior player, he needs to take charge against Pakistan’s best, Wasim Akram. He understood the pressure better than anyone else.

Third ball and Tendulkar unleashed a solid punch off the backfoot which raced away for four through the off-side. There, right there was the moment of the game. You could make out with that shot Tendulkar was in the zone, there was nothing else in his mind barring this high-pressure game. There was nothing in his mind other than the target of 274. He could not afford to. 274 were not chased frequently in those days and moreover, the pressure was on another level.

India fetched 9 runs off the first over as Sehwag got going with a boundary as well. If the first over didn’t, it was the next over that really set up the game and chase for India. Shoaib Akhtar was one of the fastest bowlers in world cricket. He was bowling at insane speeds throughout that World Cup and was clocking 150 kmph regularly. He steamed into bowl and the first three balls didn’t have a lot of action around it.

Sachin Tendulkar smacks Shoaib Akhtar for a six at third man, Group Match, Centurion, ICC World Cup 2003.
Sachin Tendulkar smacks Shoaib Akhtar for a six at third man, Group Match, Centurion, ICC World Cup 2003.

The fourth ball he bowled is etched in the memory of almost every cricket fan. Short ball bowled at 151 kmph and Tendulkar upper cut it 10 rows back over third-man for six! That was a shot that was barely seen in those days, not even once in a blue moon. Next ball, full on the stumps, even quicker (152 kmph) and a trademark Tendulkar wristy flick past square-leg for four. The next was even quicker (154.1 kmph) and Tendulkar presented the full face of the bat to just on-drive it past mid-on for another boundary.

Tendulkar raced off 20 off 9 balls which included three fours and a six. All his energy, all his positivity, everything rubbed off on Sehwag too as the duo put on 53 in no time. When Sehwag was dismissed by Waqar Younis for a 14-ball 21, India had already reached 53 and it was only the sixth over in progress. Sourav Ganguly walked in and walked back in a jiffy as Waqar Younis had two in two. The pressure was right back on India. From a terrific start to suddenly stuttering at 53 for 2.

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Mohammed Kaif walked in and eased the nerves as he blunted out the Pakistani pace attack. Tendulkar didn’t bother too much and tried to continue in the same flow. There came one moment, maybe the only moment that could’ve changed the game. Tendulkar was batting on 30 and he mistimed a ball which went just over mid-off, Abdul Razzaq who got just finger-tips to it. Maybe he had come in a touch too much.

However, from then on, it was just a masterclass, if it wasn’t one already. The cover-drive, the backfoot punch, the flick, the cut, everything was out and he was putting out a clinic. He raised his fifty off the 37 balls. The 10-over powerplay came to an end and India were off to a flier as they made 88 but also lost a couple of wickets. Tendulkar continued on his merry way even after the 10-over mark. He flew away to 73 off 47 balls but he started suffering from cramps. At the end of the 16th over, he did receive some treatment and massage. He looked fine for a while but then struggled again. His running was hampered and hence, he looked to hit more boundaries.

A hapless Wasim Akram could do nothing, but watch Tendulkar smack the Pakistan attack mercilessly, Group Match, Centurion, ICC World Cup 2003.
A hapless Wasim Akram could do nothing, but watch Tendulkar smack the Pakistan attack mercilessly, Group Match, Centurion, ICC World Cup 2003.

He was clearly in a lot of discomforts as he notched up his 12,000 ODI run. Another landmark came along as Kaif and he raised a 100-run stand for the third wicket. Kaif got out soon after but Tendulkar continued to time the ball well and keep the scoreboard ticking. But something happened that Sachin had never done before. It was the first ever time he opted for a runner. In the 28th over, Sehwag walked out as his runner but he didn’t have to do much as Tendulkar was dismissed on 98 by Shoaib Akhtar.

The Pakistani speedster bowled a good short delivery and Tendulkar tried to fend it off but to no avail as the ball lobbed up to point. Younis Khan took a diving catch and Pakistan team were ecstatic. They knew that it might be the opening. However, Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj didn’t let the little master’s masterclass go in vain as they completed the run chase to take India to a memorable win.

It was one of Tendulkar’s finest ODI innings of all time. The way he dominated that Pakistani pace trio was simply outstanding. He got India to a stage where they didn’t have to bother much about the asking rate and after he was gone, the other batsmen could take their time.

That Tendulkar innings set up India’s fourth successive win over Pakistan in World Cup cricket. It was a brilliant innings, a once in a generation kind. That 98 off 75 balls will forever be one of the greatest World Cup innings of all time, at least by an Indian.

 

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