Many of Sachin Tendulkar’s definitive knocks have come in a losing cause. Be it Perth 1992, Edgbaston 1996, Cape Town 1997, Chennai 1999, Melbourne 1999, or even the 175 in a one-day international at Hyderabad. Of them, the 136 at Chepauk against Pakistan is etched in memory for producing the cruellest end to any of his 100 international tons.
Emotions ran high that day. In Chennai’s stifling heat, Tendulkar, having scored 647 runs from 5 Tests the previous year leading up to this post-Kargil war two-Test series, was beginning to experience severe back spasms.
It was painful to watch him grimace, repeatedly bending over clutching his back.
Match referee Cammie Smith even warned Pakistan captain Wasim Akram over incessant appealing by close fielders. You could cut the tension with a knife.
Chasing a stiff 271 for victory, Tendulkar, with Nayan Mongia, tried to pick up the pieces after the hosts were left struggling at 82-5.
On a turner, Pakistan’s chief weapon was Saqlain Mushtaq – he’d already got Tendulkar for a duck in the first innings.
“Wasim bhai put his arms around me and said, ‘Saqi, you’re the only one who can win us this match now’. The contest Tendulkar and I had that day produced the best quality of cricket you can see. And I came out on top that day,” the spin legend tells HT from England.
Tendulkar and Mongia battled for 192 minutes until the latter fell with India on 218.
“I threw everything at him (Tendulkar) but he had an answer. We had a lot of nasty things to say to him. He gave it back a lot too. That was a different side to him. He was charged up. We both wanted to win and we knew the contest was in our hands. Either I win it for Pakistan or he wins it for India.”
With Sunil Joshi playing a useful hand, India inched closer, 254/6. Then came the moment — after 405 minutes, Tendulkar’s concentration lapsed. “Having hit me for three boundaries in that over, India were only 17 runs away. My captain is looking at me, worried. Everyone is worried. I knew it was coming. I knew I’d get him. He lofted one to mid-off where my captain took the catch. Tendulkar almost fell over while playing the shot – you could tell he was hurting from an injury. I didn’t expect that sort of an end but knew that was the over,” there is still pride in Saqlain’s voice.
With Tendulkar gone, India lost three wickets for four runs. Saqlain finished the Test with ten wickets. “I became a villain that day because I got Sachin and we won. I silenced the crowds. And I definitely consider that wicket the greatest moment of my life. That victory too. But what I liked about Sachin is that a few days later, we could talk freely. There was no bitter feeling. He’s a great sportsperson because he leaves it all behind on the field. I have great respect for him.”
Saqlain worked as a bowling consultant for West Indies recently, during a camp in Barbados. He’s discussed Tendulkar’s weaknesses with the likes of spinners Shane Shillingford and Veerasammy Permaul, who will be bowling to him in a few days. “I’ve told them everything I know about Sachin. I told them about Indian conditions and the pace you should bowl at. You can’t predict what’ll happen in the match. The Windies boys are more than capable of troubling Sachin. It will be a good contest.”