Desert Storm: Tendulkar's recollections

The Coca-Cola Sharjah Cup, thanks to his brilliance in the middle, was one of India’s finest desert triumphs.

Tendulkar: "Every century is important but I think these two (143,134) were the turning points."   -  V.V. Krishnan

In his list of 100 international centuries, Sachin Tendulkar rates the 143 and 134 at Sharjah as "special." The Coca-Cola Sharjah Cup, thanks to his brilliance in the middle, was one of India’s finest desert triumphs.

The 1984 Asia Cup, when Surender Khanna won the title single-handedly, and the 1985 Rothmans Cup, when Kapil Dev’s team defended 125 by skittling Pakistan out for 87, were stirring displays that won the hearts of the expats in the Gulf.

And then followed a long and barren phase when India struggled to win a final, 1988 (Sharjah Cup) and 1995 (Asia Cup) being the exceptions.

India’s supporters in the Gulf had lost interest in the team but the despondency was erased in 1998 when Tendulkar gave the fans a win to cherish.

READ: On This Day: Revisiting Desert Storm

Tendulkar blazes a trail

Tendulkar's decimation of the Australian attack - studded with back-to-back centuries - was appropriately described by former Australian skipper Mark Taylor, who remarked that Australia had not been beaten by India but by an individual named Sachin Tendulkar.

Tendulkar was at his furious best during that innings of 143 which helped India better New Zealand’s net run rate in order to qualify for the final against Australia.

The match was interrupted by a sandstorm that made India’s task challenging but Tendulkar was ready for it. "The storm was an experience. I had never seen anything like that. I feared I would get blown away by the storm. It was very scary. It was known as the sandstorm match rightly and I could feel the power of the wind.

"(Adam) Gilchrist was the only one next to me and I just wanted to hold on to him. Such was the force of the wind. I wanted some support because it was like a whirlpool and I thought I might be sucked in by the force," Tendulkar remembered in an exclusive chat with Sportstar.

A curtain-raiser to the finale

Even as the team held a meeting during the break - discussing the revised target and the score needed to meet the qualifying score - Tendulkar focussed on winning the match. "I wanted to go out and win the match. I wanted to do it before the final because it would have been a good psychological advantage against Australia which was winning everything, beating everyone. I had it in my mind when the game resumed after the storm."

On his charge against Michael Kasprowicz, he denied there was anything personal. The Australian bowler had engaged himself in a verbal duel with Tendulkar, who responded with some robust strokes, one of which landed on the roof of the stands at long-on. "There was no such thing actually. If you see I was playing cricketing shots. It was different from the shots you see today where the game is played differently. The youngsters today are exposed to T20. We were not exposed to T20 and those days the shots looked daring."

Even as Tendulkar was smashing the ball all around the stadium, there was one moment that stood out – the master losing cool and yelling at partner V.V.S Laxman. "It happens. I was keen to keep the strike and I had this understanding with Laxman that we would have to keep rotating the strike. I had told him 'no run out' at that stage at all. When I say yes, it had to be yes. No confusion. We laughed off the incident later."

The energy-sapping 143 was only the curtain-raiser to the final a day later. "My worry was I needed time to recover for the final. After the desert storm match, I remember entering my hotel room around 2 a.m. The next day there was a dinner by the Sharjah Cricket Board and once again it was a tiring day.

"There was a birthday cake for me and believe me when we went into the final, I had not fully recovered. After the match, I was completely sapped and had to sit for an hour or so with my feet on ice. It was incredibly hot that night."

On the 134 that he compiled in the final, Tendulkar recalled, "I was mentally focussed. It was time to get ready physically and mentally. I remember I was not getting my timing right at all. The first five-six overs I could do nothing.

"I had to forget the 143 and start this new innings. I knew the ball will not come on as nicely and I had to start from zero. It may take me one ball or 15 balls before I got my rhythm right. I would have to be around. Everyone was expecting me to take from where I had left in the sandstorm match."

'A new chapter in Indian cricket'

Shane Warne was at the receiving end in both the matches. The Aussie great admitted he woke up with nightmares of Tendulkar hitting him all over the park. Was it calculated? "Not at all," said Tendulkar.

"We are both aggressive players. We both were looking to establish the initial supremacy. It was always going to boil down to who would be more aggressive.

"It would have been tough had he got an early wicket or two. I was looking to prevent that. He was an integral part of the Australian team. I also had an important role in my team. It was a nice battle."

Comparing the two hundreds, Tendulkar noted, "In the final the start was different. But there was a similarity in the way I paced the two innings and put pressure on the bowlers. It was a big target (272). In today’s cricket it would be something like 350. in the desert-storm match the pressure was to meet the run rate but the situations in both the matches were different."

Both knocks are memorable to Tendulkar. "Every century is important but I think these two were the turning points. They came at a very crucial stage of my career and also Indian cricket. The significance of each century was different because one put us in the final and the other helped us win the final.

"It also gave us the belief that we could chase huge targets. The excitement of the tournament was amazing because everyone wanted India to win the tournament. It opened a new chapter in Indian cricket."

A day after the final, Tendulkar was at the Shivaji Park in Mumbai. "I was the chief guest at a function to celebrate India’s win. It was a memorable gathering. Shivaji Park was full of cricket fans. It is vivid."

Tendulkar used the same bat when crafting the two centuries. "I have all bats with which I have scored a century. This one is special. I used it in the 1999 World Cup too. It was a proud part of my personal collection."