Sachin on song

Print edition : March 28, 2003

HE came to the crease with India chasing 274, in arguably the most pressure-filled situation his team has faced in years. He later said that his philosophy during the innings was simple - if he saw the ball, he would hit it (, March 3, 2003). And when he was caught on 98 off a nasty but dubious looking Shoaib Akhtar delivery, a mere two runs short of his 35th limited overs century, Sachin Tendulkar had conquered not merely arch-rivals Pakistan but also the heights of one-day batsmanship.

Sachin Tendulkar during his innings of 98 runs against Pakistan.-WILLIAM WEST/AFP

It is difficult not to be lyrical about Tendulkar's innings in India's high-voltage encounter against Pakistan on March 1. A superb back-foot cover drive off the third ball of the Indian innings, bowled by Wasim Akram, announced Tendulkar's intentions clearly. Cricket aficionados from Durban to Delhi will never forget what happened in the second over, from Shoaib Akhtar.

A vicious upper cut off Akhtar's first delivery resulted in a six over third man. A subtle flick of the wrists sent the second ball rocketing to the square leg boundary. Arguably, the shot of the match was to follow two balls later. At first glance, it looked like a mere defensive push to a good length delivery but the ball had been timed and placed so immaculately that it reached the long-on boundary in a flash. Eighteen runs were taken from that over bowled by a man who only days before had bowled the fastest recorded delivery in history. Tendulkar's assault took the Pakistanis by surprise; it dented the self-confidence of a proud team. A shell-shocked Akhtar would later write in a column in The Guardian (March 4, 2003): "Sachin just played out of his skin, so maybe there was nothing we could have done... the whole thing was a nightmare." Tendulkar's 98 off 75 balls paved the way for Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh to complete India's comfortable six-wicket win. Even though he was very unfortunate to miss his 35th one-day ton, the innings has been lauded by many as the finest ever in one-day cricket. The distinguished cricket writer, Peter Roebuck, described it as the "the most astonishing innings seen in 50-over cricket since the matches began."

He may have had a lacklustre 2002 but his performances in the World Cup thus far have been more reminiscent of the Tendulkar of 1997 and 1998, when he was at his dominant best. As of March 10, Tendulkar's scores in his eight tournament innings read 52, 36, 81, 152, 50, 98, 5 and 97. He is currently the front-runner for player of the tournament and is also the highest run-getter in World Cup history, with 1,630 runs.

As it has demonstrated with panache and professionalism throughout the tournament, Australia is very much the side to beat. Should India play Australia, Tendulkar looks to be the one to pose the most difficult questions of Ricky Ponting's outfit. Australia may well be the best team in world cricket today but even it may not have enough answers to counter Tendulkar's individual brilliance and current form.

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