First strike pays handsomely for Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar did the unexpected against Pakistan on Saturday. He chose to take first strike.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2003 19:39 IST

Sachin Tendulkar did the unexpected against Pakistan on Saturday. He chose to take first strike.

Tendulkar hardly ever takes strike but he clearly meant business and, if anybody doubted it, they were soon disabused.

Shoaib Akhtar, the fastest bowler in the world and the man who had promised Tendulkar a torrid time in their World Cup Group A clash, watched his fourth delivery of the match sail into the Centurion stands.

His fifth and sixth balls clattered heavily into the boundary boards.

Yet, according to Tendulkar, he had walked out to the Centurion wicket alongside fellow opener Virender Sehwag with no particular strategy after Pakistan's innings of 273 for seven.

"I didn't really plan it," he said, after producing one of the great one-day innings, a clinical and classical yet murderous 75-ball 98.

"I went out with a blank mind."


The world's best batsman said he had taken first strike because he wanted to shield his young opening partner from Wasim Akram in Saturday's highly-charged, partisan atmosphere.

Tendulkar last remembered facing the first ball of an innings four year ago. "I did it in 1999 against Pakistan," he said. Same tournament, same opponents, same result.

He made another change in preparation for the unsuspecting Shoaib on Saturday, shifting from his normal stance to take guard outside leg stump, freeing his arms to play through the off side.

The 'Rawalpindi Express' had rolled Tendulkar over for a golden duck in an Asian test championship three years ago. This time, though, the Indian batsman smashed the fast bowler out of the attack after just six balls, 18 runs coming off his first over.

Tendulkar reportedly spent a few sleepless nights before the match.

"Everybody had been looking forward to the Pakistan match," he said. "I have been hearing for a year, a year and a half that, on March 1, we would be playing Pakistan."

Tendulkar has been unstoppable in South Africa, having scored 469 runs in the tournament at an average of 78.16, more than 150 runs ahead of his nearest rival.


His extraordinary success has come after reverting to opener, having spent last year down the order in an attempt to bolster the later batsmen during big run chases.

At this World Cup, there has hardly been a need for an Indian middle order, although Rahul Dravid has become almost as crucial as the team's 'finisher'.

Captain Saurav Ganguly, reflecting on Tendulkar's contribution at Centurion, said: "He is a champion. This is his best knock under pressure that I have seen."

Some of that pressure came from severe cramping and a left thigh strain.

"It was so bad, there came a stage when I could not even stand up," Tendulkar said. He finally called for a runner, but was out immediately afterwards.

"This is the first time I have had a runner. Normally, I don't like a runner," he said. Only I can judge the weight of my shots."

First Published: Mar 02, 2003 19:39 IST