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When a genius rediscovered himself

If you are a cricket fan you should have been here at the Supersport Park on Saturday. Not just for the quality of cricket it produced.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2003 01:18 IST

If you are a cricket fan you should have been here at the Supersport Park on Saturday. Not just for the quality of cricket it produced. Not only because Sachin Tendulkar played like a man possessed and produced an innings replete with daring, stunning, and quite unbelievable stroke-play.

Not only because the Indians won or the Pakistanis lost. And not only because Saeed Anwar played an innings of a lifetime in a pressure-cooker situation.

You should have been here watching all this live and watching this crowd. They showed that no matter how much bitterness might exist between two peoples, if they limit themselves to cheering their teams without resorting to ugly, obscene behaviour, cricket can be great fun to watch.

Sport can thrill and excite but can also be immensely painful. Where do I begin and where do I end? Let partisan interests not dull one's reporting instincts but let today be a day for celebration. A celebration of not only an Indian win but also an exhibition of enthralling, skillful cricket in a match, that had everything for everyone.

Tension, suspense, nerves and a steely resolve. A batting display far beyond an ordinary mortal, dramatic moments, and genius, finally reined in only by an attack of cramps. Rarely, on a cricket field, have agony and ecstasy changed hands so often.

Let's start at the beginning of an incredible day. Dr Ali Bacher, chairman of the organising committee, was a worried man in the morning. The crowd would be a mix of Indians and Pakistanis and given the bitter rivalry between the two nations, he wanted no situation to get out of hand. Hence, the match, on his request, began with the two teams exchanging ties and shaking hands.

And after that the real contest began. The loss of the toss was not a good sign for India, as it is never easy chasing under pressure, especially when playing against Pakistan. Though Javagal Srinath bowled well, Zaheer Khan looked a bit anxious, tried too hard and sprayed the ball a bit. The Indians also fumbled in the field a bit and the inevitable question was asked. Had the pressure got to them?

Saeed Anwar, the bearded graceful, left-hander, has always been at his best against India. Today was no different. Sourav Ganguly looked worried as he shuffled his bowlers around, with little result. Ashish Nehra lacked rhythm and was thrashed all around. The first ten overs produced 54 runs. Anwar and Pakistan looked unstoppable.

Not for long. A desperate Ganguly, took a chance on Zaheer, who was bowling some very good deliveries in between the wides and no balls. He got him back and there began the Pakistan slide. Three wickets fell in a jiffy and India were back in the game.

But as often happens in the one-day games, three batsmen --- Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan and Rashid Lateef --- played brief but attacking innings and with Anwar controlling one end, Pakistan reached what many thought was a match-winning total.

The first sign that Sachin Tendulkar was in a mood to take the bull by its horns came when he faced the first ball. He has not done so in many years, even when he was regularly opening. He struck Wasim Akram for a back-footed four through the covers. The crowd gasped in admiration, the Pakistanis squirmed. The next over saw Tendulkar playing some of the most amazing shots ever played on a cricket field.

Shoaib Akhtar is a showman. Give him a ball and he wants to break all speed barriers. But the faster he tried to bowl, the faster the ball disappeared into the stands. One shot stood out for its instinctive planning and perfect execution. Akhtar bowled short and Tendulkar stood on his toes and guided the ball with a slanted bat. The ball fell well outside the rope of the third man fence.

Virender Sehwag, not to be left behind, gave the same treatment to Waqar Younis. In the space of a few minutes, one had seen two sixes of incredible quality.

Though Sehwag fell soon after, there was no stopping Tendulkar. It is said he was finding it difficult to sleep for two consecutive days before India's match against England. It wouldn't be surprising to discover that he did not sleep at all last night. The man, who has come under a lot of criticism of late for not smashing bowling attacks like is his wont, was in divine touch.

The ball was coming onto the bat, something that Tendulkar likes, and the product was a sequence of shots which took one's breath away. The first ball loss of Ganguly, had no negative effect on him. Mohammed Kaif, promoted in the batting order, played with a straight bat and, such was Tendulkar's mastery over the attack that Kaif too opened out.

Even after Kaif left, no Indian fan worried, for Tendulkar played one gorgeous shot after the other. A genius rediscovered himself. Had a bout of cramps not affected his running between the wickets and limited his nimble footwork, Tendulkar today, could well have gone forever.

When he limped back, after failing to keep a brutish short ball from Akhtar down, India could have still lost the match. That they did not had a lot to do not only with Rahul Dravid's calm temperament but also Yuvraj Singh's flowing stroke-play. He may have failed in the recent past, but Yuvraj is a special talent and on Saturday, he played another of his trademark innings: a combination of grace, timing and power. In the end victory came with a lot to spare, 4.2 overs.

The Indians rejoiced but kept their joy under control and did not forget to shake the hands of their defeated rivals. You should have been here to watch all this.