Something inside me would always tell me that I was cut out to bat higher

in the order to be able to give more and more to the team.

—Sachin Tendulkar, The Sportstar, 21 April 2001


2, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 6, 4, 4, 6, 4, 4, 4, 4, 2, 4, 2 and 1.

This was the incredible sequence of scoring strokes in an innings that transformed Indian cricket and a certain “limited-overs” career. Eighty-two runs came off only 22 balls. The innings comprised 27 dot balls.

Navjot Sidhu awoke with a stiff neck on the morning of 27 March 1994, the day his team was to take on the Kiwis in the second of four ODIs at Auckland’s hexagonal Eden Park. With Prabhakar having flown home already to tend to his injured heel, Sidhu’s exit left the Indians with no choice but to elevate a middle-order batsman to the opening slot. Sachin sensed his opportunity. He had expressed his desire to go in first in ODIs earlier as well, but the team management hadn’t been too keen. Wadekar, Azharuddin and Kapil Dev all felt that he was a lot more valuable in the middle order.

At Auckland, Sachin reminded the cricket manager of their discussions and requested that he be given a chance. He did not speak like the vice-captain that he was, but as just another member of the squad who wanted to take on an additional responsibility. He stated that he possessed the strokes and nous to capitalise on the fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs. He also assured Wadekar that if he were to fail, he would never request to be sent up again. The cricket manager then had a word with Azharuddin and Kapil Dev. They responded in the affirmative. As far as his senior colleagues and several others were concerned, it was a question of just one game. Sidhu would return for the next encounter and normal service would resume. Sachin on his part was delighted to get the go-ahead. The possibility of failing was of course never on his mind.

He had to await his turn to pad up. New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat, only to be blown away by some excellent bowling. Kapil Dev, Srinath and Ankola took two wickets each, and Chauhan snared three, as the hosts were bundled out for 142. India had all the time in the world.

Their team’s ineptitude in the first ODI did not deter the “cricketing die-hards” in India from waking up at 3:00 a.m. IST to watch the proceedings on Prime Sports. By the time the New Zealand innings folded up, it was early morning. It happened to be the second day of Holi, the festival of colours, and the fans were keen on watching some cricket before commencing the celebrations.

The fourth over of the Indian innings, bowled by Chris Pringle, was when any hopes that the hosts may have had of a comeback, dissipated for good. Sachin drove the bowler on the up, past mid-off that had been placed wider than usual, for four. Pringle then tried a slower delivery, only to be hit straight and high. The ball dropped just short of the long-on boundary and rolled over. After hitting through the off-side and following it up with an aerial stroke down the ground, Sachin now turned his attention to the leg-side. He rolled his wrists and essayed an exquisite on-drive, between mid-on and short mid-wicket. Gavin Larsen gave chase, but in vain. Crossing over to the other end in the next over, Sachin leg-glanced Morrison for another boundary.

India’s new opener continued with his disdainful ways against the new-ball bowlers, the standout strokes being a front foot punch through the covers off Pringle and a straight drive off Morrison. Even those who wanted the home team to win, could not but help admire Sachin’s poise, pluck and panache. Those rooting for India in the stands got more and more animated, with patriotic songs like Saare Jahaan Se Achcha soon giving way to deafening roars. The onslaught left Ken Rutherford, the kiwi skipper, with no option but to throw the ball to Larsen, a medium-pacer proficient in the art of bowling stump-to-stump and putting the brakes on the scoring.

What all of India witnessed that Holi morning was a young man besotted with the game and enjoying every moment of it with an approach that was as elementary as one could imagine. In the lanes, playgrounds and apartment courtyards across India and elsewhere, the first lesson handed out to kids when they were introduced to cricket, was that the bat was meant to “hit” the ball. 

Sachin played Larsen’s first three balls, all of which were pitched up, off the front foot and straight to the fielders. Larsen then pitched the next two short, which Sachin again played off the front foot. Convinced that he was onto something, Larsen produced another short-pitched delivery, which was exactly what Sachin had wanted him to do. He transferred his weight onto the back foot and pulled the ball over mid-wicket for six. India were 61–0 at the end of the ninth over.

Larsen’s next over was forgettable for the bowler and sensational for the Indians. Sachin danced down the wicket to smash him over the top for a boundary. He then sought to repeat the stroke, but the bowler saw him coming and held the ball back. Sachin swung his arms anyway, but hit the ball straight back to the bowler. On TV, one could see the bowler smile at his “victory” as he  returned to the top of his run-up. Sachin responded with a contemptuous pull off the front-foot to the mid-wicket boundary, a stroke that took his individual score to 51. He had faced only 34 deliveries and hit 10 fours and one six. An Indian supporter who “raided” the playing arena expressed his delight by giving the batsman a tuck on the cheek. Sachin then went down the wicket again and swung hard. This time, the ball cleared the straight boundary and landed in the stands. He rounded off the over with another magnificent hit over the top, this time for four.

It was not just the bowlers Sachin was toying with. He leg-glanced Pringle for four past a hapless short fine-leg, shortly after the man at deep fine-leg had been brought in to enable the placement of a fielder in the long-on region. Later in the same over, he came down the wicket and biffed the bowler through the covers for four. Pringle then tried a yorker, which Sachin met on the full and flicked for another boundary.

It was the sort of innings that made one forget the trappings of international and conventional cricket—the honour of representing one’s country, the need to adapt to the match-situation, conditions and opposition, the pulls and pressures involved, the financial stakes, etc. What all of India witnessed that Holi morning was a young man besotted with the game and enjoying every moment of it with an approach that was as elementary as one could imagine. In the lanes, playgrounds and apartment courtyards across India and elsewhere, the first lesson handed out to kids when they were introduced to cricket, was that the bat was meant to “hit” the ball. Weightier concepts like “technique”’ and “defence” came in much later. It was an innings that millions of Indian viewers could identify with, as it took them back to the cricket that they had played in their respective childhoods, a time when life was less complicated. Jadeja’s dismissal off a slower ball by Pringle, somewhere in the middle of the joyride, did not even register.

One of the grandest innings of all time ended when Sachin paid the ultimate, but inadvertent, tribute to scores of “gully” cricketers, with a “soft” dismissal, against the run of play. He had scored 82 off only 49 balls when he was early in closing the face of the bat to Matthew Hart, the left-arm spinner. The ball took the leading edge and the bowler completed a simple catch. The ovation was stirring. Joining the spectators in the applause were Vinod Kambli, the non-striker, Mohammed Azharuddin, the incoming batsman, the New Zealand players and even Brian Alridge and Chris King, the umpires. India were as much delighted with their seven-wicket win as they were by the realization that they had hit pay dirt.

Extracted with permission from Hero: A Biography of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar , by Devendra Prabhudesai published by Rupa Publications

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