The stands had filled up much before the start, for two reasons. One was the expectation of a cracker of a contest, and then there was a fear among the supporters that it could well be India's last match in the tournament. For, very few expected India to beat Australia, and fewer felt the team could maintain a better net run rate than New Zealand, even if it lost the contest.
Australia won; India lost, and Sachin Tendulkar won. It was quite a complicated climax to a drama that revolved around just one actor - Tendulkar. It was a performance which deserved an Oscar, for batting was never so ruthless; never so intense.
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Australia maintained its unbeaten record to finish with four victories in the league. As for India, it had just one win prior to this match, against New Zealand, and finished with just that in the league.
How was Tendulkar a winner on the losing side then? Because he literally 'carried' the side into the final with an innings which had to be viewed in the context of the situation.
One had to see the match on that day to understand the importance of the masterly innings. Though India lost this match, it ended up with a better net run rate to make the final of the Coca-Cola Cup at the expense of the Kiwis.
It is true that real masters choose the right stage to perform. All the great 'live' performers are known to reserve their best for the big occasions and Tendulkar is no different.
His was an explosive knock which swept Australia off its feet and established Tendulkar as the best batsman in contemporary cricket. It was an innings straight out of fantasy. Very few batsmen in the history of the game would have managed a sustained assault as Tendulkar did that night.
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It showed how much he cared for his team. For those watching, it was a lesson in discipline and in commitment. He gasped for breath, as he ran that extra run every time as if his life depended on it. In short, Tendulkar was heroic that night.
Everything else that happened in the match was pushed into the background. The imposing batting performance by Australia, with Michael Bevan, once again tormenting the bowlers and the fielders, almost shutting the door on India's chances.
But then Australia, for that matter most people watching the game, had not reckoned with the power, and the ability of Tendulkar. A dazzling display by Mark Waugh and Bevan's steely resolve meant that the Indians were pushed into the corner. How often does any team make such a charge on a target of 285?
The Indians were very low on morale and it was left to Tendulkar to pull the side out of the rut. A dust storm came as a further deterrent after India had lost four key batsmen, Sourav Ganguly, Nayan Mongia, Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja. Four overs were reduced, and the target now was 237 to qualify for the final and 276 to win. This was not what India had bargained for. What followed was something Australia had not bargained for either.
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Tendulkar returned to the crease like a man possessed. His assault on the opposition was absolutely stunning since it was a one-man demolition squad. Even as V. V. S. Laxman gave him spirited support in his own little way.
Tendulkar decided he was going to finish the contest on his own. It was the most daring attack one had seen in this grade of cricket. After all, Tendulkar was belting an international attack and not some club side. Though at the end of it, the Australian bowlers resembled a club attack, with Tendulkar playing some amazingly innovative shots apart from the brutal ones.
An entire nation watched him with expectations and the prayers of his fans must have played a role in Tendulkar getting away with some edges, and a couple of mishits. One shot landed in no man's land and the other was spilt by a man on the boundary.
Fortune was favouring the brave and Tendulkar capitalised on every little opening he saw to squeeze his way to the road which showed the team the path to qualify for the final.
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Tendulkar had nothing to lose as he played one of the most scintillating innings of all times. It was an epic knock for the simple reason that it was being crafted against all odds when the opposition was trying its best not to concede any quarter.
Tendulkar, the 'Man of the Match' got out to a dubious decision but then he had done his job wonderfully. India had qualified for the final and his only regret was "I wish we had won the match."
Heroes are rarely satisfied with their deeds and Tendulkar was only confirming that belief while carving out his 14th century in one-day cricket.
(From the Sportstar archives)