The Man of the Series

THE maestro danced on the big stage and the world watched in awe. The great Sachin Tendulkar waltz at the 2003 World Cup will be forever remembered. Shots of stunning brilliance and power emanated from his bludgeoning blade. Booming strokes that scorched the turf in Southern Africa, streaking through the gaps, lighting up the arena.

It had been a wonderful exhibition of batsmanship from Sachin Tendulkar in the tournament; he had thrilled the senses in a high octane ride, leaving his adversaries rubbing their eyes in sheer disbelief. Man of the Series, he certainly was. — Pic. AFP-

The 29-year-old man was back in the opening slot, and he did open the door to several of India's victories, cutting loose in the first 15 overs, and then consolidating. A giant at the top of the order.

He was both the creator and the destroyer, giving the bowlers nightmares, even as his team-mates raised a toast for him. Tendulkar was in pursuit of a glory that had eluded him; this was his fourth World Cup and he had not figured in a winning team.

In the event, it was sad that his exhilarating journey ended when he succumbed to a pull shot off the Aussie mean machine Glenn McGrath in the summit clash at the beginning of an ill-fated Indian chase in the final. The Aussies converged in a heap even as Tendulkar trekked off the field, and there wasn't any doubt about the way the final was heading.

Yet, it had been a wonderful exhibition of batsmanship from him in the tournament; he had thrilled the senses in a high octane ride, leaving his adversaries rubbing their eyes in sheer disbelief. Man of the Series, he certainly was.

He rattled up an astonishing 673 runs at 61.18 in the World Cup, the highest aggregate in a single edition, crossed Pakistani Javed Miandad's total of 1083, the most in the competition till then, and appeared a man on a mission. He ultimately took his tally to 1732 runs in the World Cup.

An effort that captured all his wonderful qualities arrived in the much anticipated high-voltage duel at the Centurion. The Pakistanis had put up a challenging 273, and Tendulkar faced off with the formidable pace trio of Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

And Tendulkar seized the moment, wading into the dreaded pace battery, conjuring strokes of blinding precision and power, cutting and pulling, driving and flicking, his footwork exemplary, his balance perfect.

Wasim Akram & Co. are used to blowing away the opposition. They were swept away for once, as Tendulkar went into overdrive, moments after turing on the ignition key. He raced to 98 off just 75 deliveries, and by the time Akhtar finally got him with a wicked short ball, the Pakistanis were beaten mentally.

In the earlier game, against the Englishmen at Kingsmead, he had been dismissive of the English pace pair of Andrew Caddick and James Anderson in a marvellously entertaining half century. Not to forget his responsible 81at Harare, when India was desperate for a victory.

Tendulkar missed the three-figure mark by a whisker against Sri Lanka in the Super Six clash at the Wanderers and adjusted well to a slow Kingsmead pitch in the semifinal against Kenya, on his way to 83.

Tendulkar's lone century of this edition was at the expense of minnow Namibia. He could so easily have added more to the tally, but then the man plays with so much passion and pride, that his cricket travels way beyond records.

It was fitting that he received the Man of the Series award from Caribbean legend Sir Gary Sobers. From one match-winner to another, from one generation to another, from one legend to another. A glorious World Cup vignette on a stormy evening at the Wanderers.

S. Dinakar