On This Day: An unforgettable birthday for Tendulkar in Sharjah

India beat Australia to win the Coca Cola Cup in Sharjah, but one has to concede that Sachin Tendulkar was the author of the bestselling success story.

Sachin Tendulkar plays a shot during his knock of 134 in the final of Coca Cola Cup in Sharjah.   -  V.V. Krishnan

India at last found an oasis in Sharjah. Rediscovered the joy of winning. Having lost the final of the triangular series at home to Australia after a superb run in the league, India gave the Aussies a taste of that very medicine.

Thanks to the brilliance of Sachin Tendulkar, India turned the tables on Australia to win the title, after the little man had taken the team to the final almost single-handedly.

If there were any doubts about Sachin being the best in the world, they were removed in this tournament. No individual has ever dominated a tournament like him and there could not have been a more deserving winner than Tendulkar in the Coca-Cola Cup.

READ | Sachin talks cricket, we listen!  

India won the title, but one has to concede that Sachin was the author of the bestselling success story. Few would have expected Tendulkar to slam back to back centuries. But he never ceases to surprise.

So fiercely committed was Tendulkar that Australia suffered one of its most forgettable defeats. To be beaten by one man was most embarrassing for a team which prides itself on being thoroughly professional, and is known to be one of the toughest nuts to crack.

Navjot Singh Sidhu, watched by other team-mates salutes Tendulkar for his match-winning knock in the finals.   -  V.V. Krishnan

 

The Australians play their cricket the hard way but nothing could stop Tendulkar, who had decided that he was going to finish the contest by himself. That he did so was good for the team, which had not really shown signs of winning.

For the fans it was a nice gift from a man who takes every aspect of his cricket seriously. Tendulkar knew that if he hung on in the middle, India could make a successful bid at the target of 273. And why not, for he was the best batsman in a side which was not playing to its potential.

READ | The journey of cricket from Sachin Tendulkar to Virat Kohli

Even if the 'collective', decision to field first was baffling, the judgment by Mohammed Azharuddin stood justified when Australia struggled at 121 for five with Michael Bevan gone.

All that was required was to bowl tight and let the batsmen take the initiative and make errors. Easier said than done, but then one expects such deeds from professionals. It was a glorious chance for India since Australia's 'cream' had been accounted for. The smaller the target the better it was for India, particularly when there was so much dependence on just one batsman.

"I don't think it is true," Tendulkar himself will tell you but there is reason to believe that none can dominate the bowling like he does. To win you need to dominate the bowling and that is what Tendulkar did in the final when he slammed his 15th one-day century.

Even if the triumph lacked the flavour associated with a win over Pakistan at Sharjah, the fans were happy that India was winning at this venue, a virtual home away from home. It can easily pass off as one of the grounds in India or Pakistan, depending on the crowd in the stands. On this occasion, it was partisan in the sense that ninety-nine per cent rooted for India.

Tendulkar was the hero that night, virtually destroying Australia with the brilliance of his batting like he had shown in the previous match too.

On this occasion, he was not as belligerent as he was in the last league match.

The team had disappointed on the field in conceding 272 runs after having made such a fine start. Not necessarily due to good bowling because Mark Waugh played away from the body, while Tom Moody never played the ball. Only Ricky Ponting had succumbed to a superbly disguised leg-cutter.

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The Australians, however, had Steve Waugh and Darren Lehmann, who carried the team to a total which was highly competitive considering Australia's fielding strength and the lack of consistency in India's batting.

Venkatesh Prasad stood out for India with his tight spells, so did Anil Kumble.

"We were beaten by one man" conceded Steve Waugh as Tendulkar gave yet another commanding performance.

"It is difficult to control Sachin when he is on a song. What sort of field can one set for a batsman who has so many shots to play," Steve Waugh was candid in admitting that his bowlers could make no impact on the Indian opener.

Fans hold placards to wish Sachin Tendulkar on his birthday during the Coca Cola Cup finals in 1998.

 

It was true because Tendulkar, in a flawless display, established his dominance very early in the match. His was controlled aggression because the need of the hour was smoothness in the flow of runs and not rapid progress. If the early loss of Saurav Ganguly was a setback, there was Nayan Mongia to provide the thrust. Mongia, who completed 100 one-day dismissals during this tournament, also played a significant role as a pinch hitter.

When Steve Waugh confessed Tendulkar was the best batsman in the game after Don Bradman, it must have been a special occasion for the Indian. "I was only trying my best to win the game for India. I knew I had to hang around," Tendulkar said after the match.

READ | Sachin Tendulkar not to celebrate his 47th birthday  

In the euphoria that surrounded Tendulkar's batting feats, the little gem by Mohammed Azharuddin went unnoticed. "As long as the team wins, it hardly matters. But I must make a special mention of Sachin. He was absolutely brilliant," said Azharuddin. Incidentally, Tendulkar and Azharuddin became victims of poor umpiring decisions by Javed Akhtar but there were no alarms as the task was achieved quite comfortably.

It was a fitting finale for a well-run tournament, with Tendulkar running away with a plethora of awards - 'Man of the Match'; 'Man of the Series'; 'Player of the Series'...It made a spectacular sight on his birthday as he drove the Opel around the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

There was a silent admirer of that scene - Ravi Shastri. He had driven an Audi 13 years ago for a similar feat, playing a dominant role in India's triumph at the World Championship of Cricket. "Great day" exclaimed a moist-eyed Shastri.

This article was first published in Sportstar on May 9, 1998.

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