Today I happened to chance upon an article in cricinfo. It was 5 questions to Brijnath, my favorite sports writer. And the questions were about Sachin Tendulkar.
The answer to the last question particularly stayed with me. Brilliant indeed.
Fifteen years from now, if a young boy or girl were to ask you about Tendulkar what would you tell them?
Even as a writer, I wouldn’t be able to. Not sufficiently. No numbers suffice. No quotes from his peers will do. I have about seven-eight books on Muhammad Ali on my bookshelf. He fascinates me. I will read everything on him. But I wish I lived in his time, through Vietnam and his ban, I wish I had experienced him. And it’s the same with Tendulkar. He was an experience. You were either there or you were not.
The first time I watched a complete match that involved a splendid Tendulkar innings was India vs Pakistan in 2003 World Cup. So vividly I remember that innings. Pakistan had batted first and I saw Anwar making merry with our bowlers and some good batting performance getting them to a 270+ score, setting up a decent target for India.
More often than not, Pakistan is a team that cherishes its bowling and getting batsmen into trouble. This time was no different. Their bowling attack included Akram, Waqar, Akhtar and a young Umar Gul. This was probably the best attack in that world cup, comparable only with the Aussie bowling line up led by McGrath.
So, there was the Indian opening pair, Sachin and Sehwag walking into the middle to chase down this target. Indian batting lineup definitely could give a hard day to the Pak bowlers. Especially one of the Indian batsman revelled at challenges. Just as you would love to do well in an exam of a subject that is along the lines of your passion and nothing gives more happiness than doing amazingly well in a paper set by a difficult professor, so was Sachin’s appetite for challenging totals and fierce bowling lineups. Except for that one chance where Razzaq dropped him off Akram, he was flawless in rest of the innings.
Such is the beauty of the shots he was conjuring that if felt as if one was listening to Bach or Mozart through the sounds that the bowl made when Sachin sent it to the boundary. I wouldn’t say this was a brash innings, if you can call any of Sachin’s innings that. Except for that one six off Akhtar, all the other shots seemed to be creating a symphony, one that an avid cricket fan would watch again and again, one that would bring a smile to all of his admirers, one that the Pak bowling lineup would remember forever.
As he went on with his innings, one could see the concentration in him. It was as if the entire cacophony of sounds in the ground weren’t audible to him, as if he knew he had to win this no matter what, it was as if he wanted the only eluding trophy he couldn’t win for his country. Once again, he got out at 98, due to a combination of cramps and bouncer by Akhtar. He walked off, yet again, without a century, but with having done almost what he set out to do in the first place. Thankfully, it was not a repeat of Chennai 136, though I very much believe this was a good possibility given the bowling lineup of Pakistan. The remaining Indian batsmen came through, especially Dravid.
Dravid’s innings is no less important than Sachin’s innings in this chase. Every additional minute he was batting was reducing Pakistan’s hopes of victory. And he made sure India did win that match. But his innings, as has been many a times, stayed and to till day stays in shadow of Sachin’s innings.
It was a victory that was all the more sweet due to the competition’s level. I do not think I have a Indian victory over Pakistan that I would rank higher than this one (among the ones I have seen live on TV).
A decade later, I would be in the stadium for his final outing for the Indian team. Little did I know that the master would continue this for 10 years more, for which I am thankful.
Like Rohit Brijnath says in the article, Sachin was an experience. You were either there or not there.