For anyone who has even the most basic knowledge of cricket, the name Sachin Tendulkar would resonate pretty strongly. The ‘God of cricket’, ‘Master Blaster’, ‘Little Master’ are just a few names that Tendulkar is widely known by. With his free-flowing batting at the top of the order, Tendulkar carved a name for himself as one of the best openers in One-Day International cricket history. However, did you know that Tendulkar did not start his career as an opener?
In fact, it was only after 69 ODIs and four-and-a-half years since his debut that Tendulkar was sent out to open the innings, incidentally on this day, in 1994 against New Zealand in Auckland. By his own admission a lot of begging and pleading with the team management went into him finally getting a promotion and boy did it turn out to be a game-changer.
The then 21-year-old boy-faced wonder turned out against New Zealand, and with India chasing a target of 149 in 50 overs smoked 82 in just 49 balls to firmly announce the world of his arrival.
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds though. Tendulkar was largely a middle-order batsman from the start of his career where he did not always get a chance to showcase his skills. Before the aforementioned innings, Tendulkar had played 69 ODIs, scored 1758 runs and while he had 13 half-centuries to his name at the time, his average read a middling 30.84.
But all this changed on this very day 26 years back and that too out of sheer luck. Navjot Singh Sidhu, the original opener of the side woke up in his hotel room with a stiff neck. India, who were on the back foot having lost the first ODI in Napier suddenly found themselves without an opening batsman. This was when Tendulkar, sensing a chance, walked up to the then India team manager Ajit Wadekar and captain Mohammad Azharuddin to give him a chance to bat up the order.
As Tendulkar mentions in his Autobiography, he almost “pleaded with them” to for a move to the top even telling Wadekar that if he failed he would never ask him again.
His persuasion finally paid off and out he walked out with Ajay Jadeja to help India chase down what was a modest target of 143 in 50 overs.
New Zealand, leading the four-match series 1-0 and having won the toss decided to bat first on a cool morning in Auckland. The Indian bowlers though decided to show their class. The three frontline seamers Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Salil Ankola struck nice and early as the hosts were reduced to 34/5 in no time.
That New Zealand reached to 142 was largely down to Chris Harris’ 71-ball 50 and Chris Pringle’s quickfire 11-ball 17 at No.11.
Kapil finished with impeccable figures of 2/18 off his 10 overs while Srinath and Ankola too chipped in with two wickets. Off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan was the pick of the bowlers returning 3/43 off his 10 overs.
With the game well and truly set up by the bowlers, Tendulkar, opening the batting for the first time for his country and knowing he probably had just one chance to showcase that he belongs at the top could have played it easy scoring a sedate half-century.
But the youngster had other ideas. He wanted to show his impact and he did. Taking an off-stump guard, Tendulkar lay into the New Zealand attack one bowler at a time. Pringle was tonked for three fours in an over while Danny Morrison too was dispatched to all corners of the park.
Gavin Larsen, who had made quite a name for himself during the time, saw Tendulkar moving out of his crease and decided to call the wicket-keeper up to the stumps. That, however, did not matter to Tendulkar as he still raced down the track to slam the medium-pacer over his head.
The crisp drives down the ground, the whips to the on-side, the back foot punches, the lofts over the bowler’s head were all on display as Tendulkar raced to his half-century off just 34 balls, at a strike-rate of 150 which was unheard at the time.
Tendulkar though wasn’t done yet. He upped a gear after his fifty sparing no bowler with India moving past the 100-run mark in just the 13th over.
Tendulkar was finally dismissed with India just 26 runs bereft of the target chipping a simple caught and bowled to left-arm spinner Matthew Hart for a glorious 82 of 49 balls. His innings was studded with 15 fours and two sixes while his strike-rate read a colossal 167.34.
The icing on the cake would have been him remaining unbeaten but in some ways it was appropriate that Tendulkar walked back to the pavilion alone, with an 18,000-strong crowd up on their feet applauding a monumental effort.
India had found their new opener, one who would rewrite batting records aplenty in the years to come.
- The world of cricket found their superstar. Tendulkar, in 344 matches as an opener in ODIs smashed 15,310 runs averaging 48.29. In comparison, batting lower down the order, Tendulkar could only manage 3116 runs at 33 in 119 matches.
- 45 of Tendulkar’s 49 ODI centuries came while opening the batting.
- Tendulkar finished his career as the leading run-scorer in ODIs with 18,426 runs in 463 games averaging 44.83, a record that remains unbroken to date.
- Sidhu recovered for the last two ODIs of the series but lost his opening spot. He batted No.3 for the ODIs in Wellington and Christchurch. Sidhu hung up his boots in 1998 and is now an active politician.