On This Day: Revisiting Desert Storm

A look back at Sachin Tendulkar's iconic knock at Sharjah as it completes 20 years.

It was an epic which saw an encore two days later when India won the final. The nation celebrated the triumph and also Sachin Tendulkar’s 25th birthday.   -  VV Krishnan

Viv Richards would make the bowlers shiver in their stride. He was acknowledged as the King of batting. Then Sachin Tendulkar made them tremble at Sharjah that night to become the uncrowned King of batting. A new chapter had begun in Tendulkar’s fascinating cricket journey.

Twenty years is a long time but the memories of the 1998 Coca Cola Cup tri-series are vivid.

Getting into the Sharjah Stadium took some time because of the cavalcade of cars and an army of fans converging on the iconic desert venue. It was hot and the passions were high too.

India had to beat Australia or better New Zealand’s net run rate in a loss to qualify for the final. Its hopes rested on Tendulkar.

Coach Anshuman Gaekwad wore a concerned look. “I wanted at least one big innings from one batsman.” Tendulkar assured him, “I will play one.” And he played one, indeed! The Australians were helpless that night.

Australia made 284 for seven in 50 overs. It was an imposing target those days. India needed 254 in 50 overs to qualify on net run rate. The venue was hit by a sandstorm, play was held up for 25 minutes, and the revised target became 237 in 46 overs to qualify. The venue was then hit by a Sachin Tornado that destroyed the opposition and left a lasting impact on the game.

“He gave a new dimension to batting. His innings was more powerful than the storm,” Pakistan great Asif Iqbal told this reporter. That day Tendulkar set new benchmarks with his intimidating arsenal of shots.

“I get restless if I don’t play a couple of strokes in an over,” Tendulkar had confessed to The Hindu. With such a batting philosophy in mind it was natural that Tendulkar grew into a colossus at the crease.

V.V.S. Laxman, who also partnered Tendulkar in that innings of 143 (131b, 9x4, 5x6), reflected, “He was a man on a mission, wanting to finish it on his own.

“I was talking to him all the while and realised that nothing was registering. He was in his zone.” At one point, even Laxman was at the receiving end of Tendulkar’s fury for responding late to a leg-bye.

Anil Kumble, who kept it tight for India in that game, recalled, “It was one of the finest innings I have seen on a cricket field; it was a privilege to be a part of it. I have fond memories of the match.”

For Navjot Singh Sidhu, it was magical. “During the storm break he spoke to none. And none dared to go near him. He was fiercely focused.” Agreed Ajit Agarkar, “I could see the determination on his face. He wanted to finish off the opponents.”

The innings had everything — front-foot and back-foot strokes off the new ball and old ball, over-the-top shots, along the ground too, straight-bat drives and paddle sweeps, and some incredible running between the wickets, never allowing the pressure to build.

It was an epic which saw an encore two days later when India won the final. The nation celebrated the triumph and also Sachin Tendulkar’s 25th birthday.