Sachin Tendulkar 82 (49)
The date is etched in my memories like a pristine glass art. Thinking back those moments, I reel into a complete state of trance and I am now right there, exactly 15 years back, early morning 2:30 a.m. I tune into the sports channel, set a feeble volume, make a cozy bed out of the tiny sofa and settle down with a cup of mild tea. All of this to watch the 2nd ODI between India and New Zealand held in Auckland. The fan is even turned off so as to aid hearing the commentary. For any cricket follower, this might look to be a very ordinary match from a very insignificant series. But for me, this was something special.
New Zealand was bowled out for a measly 142. It was one of the dullest displays of batting as they battled around for the entire 50 overs to reach this score. Though the chances of winning for India looked bright, I cursed myself for waking up so early on a Sunday and watching this. Sidhu and Jadeja were stated to open the innings originally. So I thought I better switch off the TV and go back to sleep for the entire day. But there was a surprise. In came, Sachin Tendulkar padded up instead of the injured Sidhu. Sachin, at those times was a very young talented cricketer. He used to come down at 4th or 5th and score only 30 or 40 runs. Only very few fifties were in his kitty. He had impressed me with few of his resolute innings in test matches such as the 111 at Johannesburg, 114 at Perth and 165 at Chennai which I witnessed from the stadium. But somehow he never struck me as a great ODI player. He fell short of runs far too often. Casual nicks to the fielders and rush of the blood strokes made him look like an easy bunny for the bowlers. Seldom had I seen him go past those 60s and 70s apart from very few instances. But on that day, I don’t know what Azhar had in his mind when he sent the little man to face the likes of Danny Morrison on a bouncy Auckland track first up. Sachin stepped up for the occasion in style. The shock was on for the bowlers right from the first ball. He started playing deliberate loft shots straight down the ground and fielders stood ballwatching. Dancing down the track against the fast bowlers, he took them to cleaners. Elegant drives, effortless flicks, vicious pulls and rampant hooks took me for a roller coaster ride. And there was no respite for spin bowlers. He introduced new shots that were never seen in the book. I just couldn’t take my eyes off the game as it was the first time I ever saw a live performance so dynamic, authoritative and promising. The power packed hitting drubbed out the NZ bowlers who literally gave up in the first 10 overs. Maybe this innings made a statement to the world that he belonged to this position.
Many ardent cricket followers would say that Kris Srikanth was the first cricketer ever to make use of initial fielding restrictions by playing deliberate loft shots over the inner circle. And yes, they are right. But, if you ask me who popularized that concept in world cricket effectively, I would say Sachin with my eyes closed. It all started in this match. The kind of rampage created from this innings of 82 runs in just 49 balls with 15 boundaries and 2 sixes, Sachin announced his arrival as one of the greatest ever openers in the history of One Day Cricket. It certainly sent a shudder across the spines of many great contemporary bowlers who always looked to lay down plans specific for the little master before every game. Then the dynamite called Jayasuriya started adopting the same technique in 1995/96 and joined the club of the most terrorizing openers to have ever played the game. Sachin became a permanent opener for the Indian team after this match. Barely had he lost that spot since then. This set up his career ever so beautifully. Records tumbled like a house of cards. Being an opener, he was offered the full 50 overs which meant that he rose to be considered the best player in the team. And how he made use of that in coming years! Centuries and centuries and centuries and what not! Now he stands with 43. Cheers!
March 27, 1994 – People, that’s the day it began.