A Centurion classic: When Sachin Tendulkar played according to his will | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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A Centurion classic: When Sachin Tendulkar played according to his will

ByAmrit Mathur
Oct 13, 2023 09:19 PM IST

The 2003 World Cup clash against Pakistan served up a classic, the victory set up by Tendulkar’s sensational 98 and sealed by Rahul Dravid

Captain Sourav Ganguly receives a message from Lata Mangeshkar: Dear Sourav da, the entire country is behind you. We are sure you will lead India to victory. Bhajji appeals to his team mates not to worry about the pressure. Bas dil se khelna.

Sachin Tendulkar scored a sensational 98 against Pakistan in 2003 World Cup PREMIUM
Sachin Tendulkar scored a sensational 98 against Pakistan in 2003 World Cup

The team is early at breakfast for a 7.50 departure (another sign that this wasn’t ‘just one more game’) the venue for which has been shifted from the hotel coffee shop to the team room so that fans are kept at bay.

Soon the players find their way to the bus, through a side exit to escape the crowd in the lobby. The Pakistani team was already at Centurion, music blaring from their dressing room. Wasim Akram saw the Indians get off the bus and gave a friendly wave.

The teams take the 65 steps from the pavilion, and as directed by the respective trainers, do identical physical conditioning and fielding drills. India are not the most athletic team in the competition, but compared to Pakistan are fitter and faster. Saeed Anwar, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis are players from the slow motion era of cricket, all great players but not the type to be made fielding captains, even of a first-class side.

I congratulate Wasim for taking 500 one-day wickets and joke that his next target should be 1000 international wickets. Wasim laughs and says “this is impossible. As it is I need a stretcher nowadays”.

Saeed Anwar sped off like a Ferrari, working the ball away fluidly as only he can. This caused a collapse of the body language in the Presidential Suite. Raj Singh Dungarpur, in a state of despair, felt the boys looked tired and jaded. “Our players are not strong, they need rest, not nets before a match,” he said. Raj bhai, concerned and emotional, marched off to the dressing room to tell John Wright he should ease up and not try to make Indian cricketers Olympic athletes.

With Pakistan reaching 273, most thought a tough game was on hand. At lunch the murmur was whether the total was too much or just a little too much because of Waqar and Wasim.

What followed was a master class from Sachin Tendulkar, who launched his innings like a batsman at nets after the coach has announced a last round. Ordinary players play according to the merit of the ball, but Tendulkar played according to his will.

Shoaib Akhtar ran in from a mile but when the ball disappeared off Sachin’s bat, took one hour getting back to his run-up. Waqar, punished severely, stared helplessly. Akram? He could not believe what was happening. He bowled what was a perfect ball, the right length and line, swinging in a shade. Sachin’s punched it through off. Ali Bacher rubbed his eyes in disbelief.

Sehwag slashes a ball over point for 6, Dada perishes first ball but with Sachin in command India was rolling towards victory. But cricket is never without tension and drama; A tense Sourav watched, clapped excitedly for each run, held his special tabeez, recited his prayers, did every tashan routine he knew.

Sachin, stricken with cramp, was in pain and Andrew Leipus gave him a rehydrating drink, stretched the hamstring but the pain persisted. He fell on 98, fending a short ball, unable to move quickly, and made the long walk (climb, really) back to the Centurion dressing room. He was limping, and while the stadium cheered an outstanding innings, Sachin, drained physically and emotionally, sweating profusely, head hanging with disappointment sat on a stool.

Normally, after a match-winning innings, players celebrate, shout, scream with delight when the batsman returns. But not a word was said as Sachin watched the TV replay of his dismissal. John went across, patted him on the back but said nothing. Someone helped him take off his pads. Sourav clapped silently, acknowledging a great knock and a brave effort.

After a few hiccups, India won, and only then did the dressing room erupt. There were high fives all-around, clapping and shoutings Sourav sprinted down to greet Yuvraj and Dravid as they come in, the Pakistanis reached across to congratulate the Indians, Razzaq and Anwar came into the Indian dressing room to wish players.

Sourav wanted the entire team out for the presentation, a gesture aimed at the Pakistan and Indian fans. There was one voice which favoured caution but barring a tired Dravid, the boys went down to the field. Before that, Harbhajan grabbed the Indian flag and waved it proudly throughout the ceremony.

Sachin was greeted with a cheer so loud it could be heard in Pretoria, half an hour away. He was moved by the response of fans but when someone commiserated for his missing out on a hundred he said the team comes first, winning matters, hundreds will come.

Dressing room sidelights:

# Saurav on tension in an India/Pakistan match: One of these days someone will have a heart attack

# Former Indian captain to make a call: Tiger Pataudi

# 3 Cheers raised by Srinath and Harbhajan for: Sachin, then Yuvraj and Dravid, then for Bharat Mata

Sachin calls home, is greeted by his wife who takes the phone near the window so that he hears the crackers being burst outside. There is more noise than Diwali, says Anjali. Sourav receives a similar report about the noise level from his wife in Kolkata. People have gone mad in India, says Sourav, and adds that it is a great feeling to be able to put a smile on the face of Indians.

Tendulkar rates his blistering innings as one of the best. This was my day, he explained, typically modest. Today, there was so much time balls close to 150 looked like 130!

Finally, I asked: How important was the Pakistan match for you?

Sachin’s answer: I have been thinking about this for more than one year.

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