A nail-biter in Chennai. That’s how the first Test between India and Pakistan in 1999, is best remembered by the cricket enthusiasts. A see-saw battle between the two teams saw India reeling at 81-5, while chasing 271. But there stood Sachin Tendulkar, who battled back pain to play a glorious knock of 136, and brought the team closer to the target.
With 17 runs away from victory, things looked sorted for India. But there was a twist in the tale when Tendulkar was dismissed by Saqlain Mushtaq, and then the tail was swept away. Pakistan won by 12 runs and Saqlain finished with ten wickets in that match.
It has been 21 years since and Saqlain still remembers that afternoon.
“God was on my side that day. I did not think that I will get the Master blaster (Sachin) out. But when god has plans, you can’t beat that,” Saqlain told Sportstar in an Instagram live on Sunday.
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“Till my last breath, it will give me enough pride that I could dismiss him that day. Mera naam uske naam ke saath juda rahega …,” he said.
India, despite losing five early wickets remained in the hunt, with Tendulkar in full flow. “There was a time when Sachin was sparing no one, and was playing beautifully. So, I walked up to Wasim bhai (then Pakistan captain, Wasim Akram) and told him that it was getting tough for the bowlers to tackle him. Psychologically, I was feeling a bit down,” Saqlain reminisced.
The conversation with Akram helped Saqlain. “He told me that he had full faith in me and he believed that I could do something magical for the team. Those words helped and I suddenly felt stronger. I conceded a few boundaries, but eventually, got him out.”
By his own admission, it was not easy to dismiss Tendulkar. “Sachin had sharp eyes and he could read everything. It was intimidating. You wouldn’t believe, but I was scared to bowl him the doosra -- fearing that he might hit boundaries. That was his power. The pitch was slow, so it was tough. But then, with god’s grace, I could send him packing,” the 43-year-old said.
'Touring India was fun'
In his long career, Saqlain has played quite a few bilateral series against India, and now, he misses those days. “Touring India was always fun. People were hospitable. You could go out shopping or visit restaurants for Hyderabadi biryani and people won’t accept money. Such was the gesture. But on the field, we knew we could not afford to lose.”
Now, with former India captain, Sourav Ganguly as the BCCI chief, Saqlain is hopeful that bilateral series could resume again.
“He is a dada, a superstar and a hero. He is for everyone. He has been the strongest Indian captain, who never got influenced by anyone. He led the team from the front, and his legacy has been carried forward by M.S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli -- who is learning the job. Sourav is a very strong man, and I am sure he will think about (resuming India-Pakistan series). I hope we keep aside all the hate and let peace and love prevail,” he said.