Australia’s tour of India, 2009. With both the teams winning alternate games twice each, and with momentum swinging like a perfect pendulum, the series was poised on the knife-edge. This is November 2009 and we are in Hyderabad. Australia won the toss and elected to bat first without hesitation. After Australia’s cruising innings, the match looked one-sided. The conditions are hot and humid during the second innings, thanks to the dew under lights. But then: in walked Sachin, all of five foot five, wielding his mighty three-pound wand.
Hiflenhaus gliding in to bowl. Good length delivery at 90 mph, a brisk clip past midwicket, and a scamper for the third. A 55,000-strong crowd on their feet; the decibel level hitting supersonic range. Everyone’s attention turned to the giant screen. They had just witnessed the undisputed master cross 17,000 runs in ODIs. The jam-packed crowd had spent the past three hours watching the Aussies batter the Indians – their experience likened to the dismay of watching an unscripted Indian movie where the villain bashes the hero from start to finish. Australia had just scored 350, batting first – a similar score to the World Cup 2003 finals when they trounced India. This time, they even comfortably beat the ten sixes they had scored in that World Cup final, to set the record for the most sixes in an inning against India! Clearly, the spectators were now ready to cheer anything that came their way in terms of Indian exploits. Remember, India were chasing a rather unprecedented target at the time.
Sachin in trance
If anyone was unfazed by all the revelry of that milestone, it was the protagonist, Sachin himself. In the last ball of Australia’s innings, Cameron White who had flayed the Indian bowling all over the ground, bludgeoned a half-volley to the sweeper cover boundary; but in came Tendulkar, like a hawk, swooping in on the ball and tumbling over to finish a truly remarkable catch. While the rest of the team celebrated, Sachin just threw the ball to the ground, and walked away with a poker-face. Sachin was not in any mood to celebrate for anything less than an Indian win. He knew he had to score the majority of the runs. One could see the same intensity in his gaze as one saw after that back-foot punch through cover off Wasim “Wizard” Akram’s bowling, during his extra-terrestrial knock of 98 (of 73 balls) in World Cup 2003. Clearly, the crowd and even the rest of his teammates were least expecting the magic show that was to unfold.
Australia knew Sachin’s limits – they knew he was limitless; be it in his ability, concentration, or temperament in this format of the game. When Sachin smoked a good length delivery of Hilfenhaus outside off, it could have even broken the boundary fence: but Adam Voges stopped it with an electrifying dive at backward point – an acrobatic move in fielding, that is as dopamine-pumping to watch as watching the stumps go for a cartwheel off a fast bowler. Shaun Marsh sprinted all the way from Square Leg to pat Voges on his back and sprinted back by the time Hilfy reached the top of his mark. Evidently, Aussies could smell Sachin’s intent; but they could only pray. Ponting knew what it was like to bat in a state of trance – he had steamrolled India with a world-cup winning century at the WC 2003 finals! Australia was desperate. Sachin was determined. Sachin was destined. Sachin delivered.
The “one-size-fits-all” innings
If I had to introduce Sachin to an alien (because why on Earth would anyone not recognize him!), it would be through this knock, in the chase of a mammoth target. The innings was a mix of classic and improvised shots, both supremely effective. This was most evident in the eighth over of Doug Bollinger: Sachin pulled the first ball of the over – a good length delivery on the middle stump, to the fence with lightning-fast bat-swing, just like in his early 1990s days. The next delivery was predictably full and outside off; and Sachin moved away only to create more width and slashed it behind point to the boundary – something he started doing later in his career. Sachin unleashed his trademark styles from the three defining eras that spanned his 24-year long playing career. There was the vintage Tendulkar from the 1990s – the on-the-rise hoick over mid-off, and the classic leg glance to beat fine leg (a shot that is extinct from modern day cricket), both off an unfortunate Hilfenhaus. There were also those shots that reminded us of Sachin’s iconic purple patch of the 2003 WC: the graceful hook off Watson (or was it Caddick) over the square leg fence; and the picture-perfect cover drive off Hilfenhaus (or was it Akram).
Sachin also pulled out some of his innovative shots that we got to witness more towards the end of his career. The opening up of the bat face to a straight-ish delivery by Hussey beat both, the point and the short third man to the fence – was unadulterated genius at work. There were two slower ones in this innings that he duly hoicked over midwicket, from outside the off stump. I am willing to announce a bounty to anyone that finds a single occasion in Sachin’s career where he did not pick up a slower one early enough! This knock has to be the “one size fits all” version of all of Sachin’s knocks in his ODI batting career. It featured many shots from the Tendulkar book of Mastery and from the chapters of Hypnotism, Wizardry, and Subjugation.
The anticlimactic end to the run chase
Sachin essayed a poetic epic of 175 ofF just 141 balls, reaching his century of a mere 81 – fastest against Australia by an Indian at that time. Along with useful cameos from Raina and Jadeja, Sachin’s masterful blunting of the Aussie bowling attack left India a mere run a ball to chase of the last 3 overs. Familiar sights followed though, the end being dreadful: Tendulkar fell short of finishing the match by just a few runs; and the rest of the team capitulated meekly and fell painfully short of reaching the Himalayan target of 351, losing by 3 runs.
The kids who are growing up, following cricket these days, tend to celebrate the Rohits, the Kohlis, the Roots, the Smiths etc. But remember – once upon a time, timeless in a billion people’s minds, there was this batting wizard like none other. He was Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
Fun fact: While growing up as a 90s kid, I remembered my mum’s birthday only because she shares it with none other than SRT!