Sportstar's all-time sports classics: Desert storm to fighting Pakistan in Chennai, the Tendulkar way!

At a time when the outbreak of coronavirus has led to no sporting action, certain matches deserve a rerun on that YouTube App of yours — the timeless classics.

Sachin Tendulkar cuts Mark Waugh en route to his 14th ODI hundred.   -  V. V. Krishnan

Is it possible to list down five sporting events that you would like to recap? For someone who has grown up watching cricket to now writing on the game, it is never easy to pick and choose.

But at a time when the outbreak of coronavirus has led to no sporting action and social distancing, certain matches deserve a rerun on that YouTube App of yours.

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India vs Australia, Coca Cola Cup in Sharjah, 1998: All we could hear was Tony Greig’s voice. “What a player! What a wonderful player!” — the former England captain went on praising Sachin Tendulkar as the master looked composed after scoring a breezy century. To the cricketing folklore, the knock earned the title ‘desert storm’ but for India to win, there were still some more runs to be scored.

Tendulkar went hammer and tongs against a starry Australian bowling line-up and every time he would send Shane Warne over the covers, the stands in Sharjah would go berserk. Back in the day, Sharjah looked like a land from another planet. We developed our strongest connect with the region, thanks to Tendulkar — our hero!

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Indian captain Mohamed Azharuddine receives the Coca Cola trophy after winning the Sharjah cricket final against Australia 25 April   -  Getty Images

 

In those days, 300-plus totals were considered unbeatable. Michael Bevan had taken Australia to 284/7, throwing a challenge for the Indian side. I was glued to the television set in my Kolkata residence. We had prayers in our lips and hopes in our hearts. Tendulkar came hard at the Aussies with a spectacular 143. In between, there came a wild sand storm, which paused the action in the middle for 25 minutes and reduced India’s target to 277 in 46 overs. It’s a different story that India fell 26 runs short of the target, but Tendulkar helped the side go past the required 237 to shun out New Zealand from the final race. Two days later, in the final, Tendulkar scored another ton. But it was the virtual semifinal knock that defined our ‘Sochin’ (how Tendulkar would be called by the Bengalis).

India vs Pakistan first Test, Chennai, 1999: It was India’s Test to lose and the inevitable happened. But that’s not even half the story. After three topsy-turvy days at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, Pakistan rode on ‘wonder kid’ Shahid Afridi’s 141 to set up a 271-run target for India. He was actually 18 then.

And I vividly remember how things panned out on the fifth day of the iconic Test. Back in those days, there was a joke that defined Indian cricket — ‘Sachin gone, India gone’. And that it was not just a work of fiction was proven again as India lost five early wickets for 82. With its top-order — Rahul Dravid, Sadagopan Ramesh, V.V.S. Laxman, Mohammad Azharuddin and Sourav Ganguly — back in the dressing room, the onus was once again on Tendulkar.

Sporting Chennai crowd give a standing ovation to Pakistani players as they go on a victory lap after beating India in the first test match at Chepauk on January 31, 1999.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

Pairing with Nayan Mongia — who played a gritty innings of 52 — Tendulkar played the innings of his life against a side which had Saqlain Mushtaq, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram in its ranks. He stayed on the crease for 405 minutes to score 136. That brought India strikingly close to victory. It fell short by 12 runs but Tendulkar had crossed the line from merely being a player to becoming a legend.

He was battling a back injury throughout the knock. On 83, he was down on the ground and required medical attention, but even then, he stepped up and fought a lone battle. As Saqlain turned things Pakistan’s way, steamrolling India’s tail, the cameras panned at Tendulkar who looked emotional. Far away in Kolkata, a group of young die-hard Tendulkar fans were curious to know was he crying?

Years later, sitting at a plush Southampton hotel in England, Saqlain summed up the whole Test in a line — ‘Woh Sachin ka Test tha, yaar. Hum toh sirf jit gayein’ (That was Sachin’s Test, my friend. We just won)!

India vs Sri Lanka, World Cup match in Taunton, 1999: On the morning of May 27, 1999, the headline of an English daily in Kolkata read: ‘Super two boost for Super Six’. There was a picture of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid along with the report. It was our summer recess, and as me and a couple of my friends turned the pages, mostly to look for pictures, we were busy debating how Ganguly and Dravid may just win us the World Cup that year.

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That did not happen as India boarded its return flight after the Super Six stage. But that group league game against Sri Lanka had given us hopes. When anything above 140 was considered rather earth-shattering, Ganguly did the unbelievable job of scoring 183 in just 158 balls.

Dravid followed suit with a 129-ball-145. The two added 318 runs, which was the highest stand in any limited-overs international at the time, surpassing the previous record of 275 set by Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja. India had posted 373/6, which was its highest score in a World Cup game, until it scored 413/5 against Bermuda in 2007.

Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly in conversation during their mammoth 318-run stand against Sri Lanka.   -  V.V. KRISHNAN

 

Chasing a mammoth target, Sri Lanka was bundled out for 216. Robin Singh scalped a five-for. It was a day to dream big. We weren’t even born when Kapil Dev’s side had clinched the Cup in 1983.

India vs Australia, third Test in Chennai, 2001: Sameer Dighe sprinted towards the dressing room after scoring the winning runs. Chasing 155, India was reeling at 135-7 and a victory was still 20 runs away. The tail had come into play and only Dighe could have cruised the team home.

He looked jittery tackling Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne. But a product of the Mumbai school of cricket, Dighe knew he had to hang in there and just take the pressure off the lower-order.

A jubilant Harbhajan Singh takes the winning run along with Sameer Dighe.   -  AP

 

He was there at the crease for 73 minutes and chipped in with 22, which eventually helped India beat the Aussies by two wickets and clinch the Test series 2-1.

This Test did not become as popular as the Eden Gardens one where Laxman scored 281. But one must remember this for wicketkeeper-batsman Dighe, who was relatively a new player then; watching the action on television gave me goosebumps. It still does.

Pakistan vs Afghanistan; World Cup match, 2019: On match days, the picturesque town of Leeds wake up early and head to the ground to watch cricket. It doesn’t matter whether England is one of the teams or not. And on the expected lines, the group league tie between Pakistan and Afghanistan was a full house.

While Afghanistan’s hopes of reaching the World Cup knockouts were over by then, Pakistan had lots to play for. Opting to bat first, Afghanistan had troubles facing the young pace sensation, Shaheen Shah Afridi — who scalped a four-for. But in the end, with Samiuallah Shinwari and Najibullah Zadran showing class, Afghanistan reached 227-9.

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Meanwhile, the fans of both the teams got involved in ugly fights at the stands and also outside the ground. And that was evident with the boos coming in from the stands, and posters reading: “Harna nahin hai…”

With a star-studded batting attack, it would have ideally been a walk in the park for Pakistan, but a middle-order collapse saw the side struggle at 156-6. It worsened after Shadab Khan’s departure. Pakistan still needed 26 runs with barely 20 balls remaining in the must-win encounter.

Imad Wasim and Wahab Riaz celebrate after Pakistan won a cliffhanger against Afghanistan in the 2019 World Cup group stage match.   -  REUTERS

 

The excitement was visible in the press box as well. The journalists from Pakistan were praying for their team’s win. I remember how a senior scribe wasn’t allowed to change his seat as that could have led to a fall of wicket. In the final over, Pakistan needed six runs to win.

Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib was getting ready to bowl the final over and for Pakistan, it was Imad Wasim and Wahab Riaz, who had a huge responsibility. It was run-a-ball in the first couple of deliveries. The third delivery saw an overthrow and an extra run. Now, with two required from three balls, Imad finished things off with a boundary. It was an incredible feat by Imad, who remained unbeaten on 49. Riaz was batting with an injured finger.

As Pakistan players won the cliff-hanger, one could see an elated Zaheer Abbas cheering from the stands!

(This is a part of a daily series where Sportstar's correspondents will pick their five favourite sporting moments worth revisiting. Reader contributions are welcome. Send in your picks to sportstar@thehindu.co.in)

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