Those who witnessed Sachin Tendulkar’s knock on April 22, 1998 in Sharjah will never forget the sheer dominance of the man against a strong Australian bowling attack. Australia did not have the firepower of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie in their bowling department, but with the likes of Damien Fleming, Michael Kasprowicz and Shane Warne, they were by no stretch of the imagination, pushovers.
Tendulkar was in good touch going into the match, having scored 40 and 80 in the previous two games of the Coco-Cola tri-series with New Zealand being the third team. In fact, the 80 he scored came off just 72 deliveries against Australia two games ago. A lot was at stake in this match for India. It was a must-win game for India. They needed to edge past New Zealand on net run-rate, which meant that they had a chance to make it to the final despite losing the game.
Tendulkar was just taking giant strides into the game. A career average of 38.89 from 180 innings and a strike-rate of 83.77 is perhaps a modest record, but that does not tell you the transformation he had made in his game especially since 1994. From 1994 to the start of this match, no cricketer had scored more runs (4,700) than Tendulkar out of which 4,242 runs came as an opener at 44.18, which included as many as 12 hundreds and 23 fifties in 101 innings. Safe to say, Tendulkar was heading in the right direction.
The innings he played at Sharjah was one of the most destructive innings anyone had seen in 1,321 ODI matches before and knocked the stuffing out of the bowlers, who were nothing short of world class. Australia under Steve Waugh had transformed themselves into a formidable force and with one eye on the World Cup the following year, it would have been naïve to think that they were not one of the favourites to lift the cup again.
Riding on the back of a skilful 81 from Mark Waugh and an attacking unbeaten century from Michael Bevan, Australia posted a formidable 284 for 8. India had used as many as eight bowlers in the match, but could not prevent Australia from reaching a powerful total. Chasing 285 was not going to be easy . Only on 13 occasions, had a team successfully chased down a target of 285 in ODI history and India had achieved it just once – when they chased down 315 against Pakistan in Dhaka, just three months ago. They would have wanted to draw inspiration from that.
An interruption due to a desert storm further reduced India’s target to 276 from 46 overs, but more importantly, they needed 237 more to qualify.
Tendulkar started off slow. He had just four from his first 16 balls. But he launched into Kasprowicz off the final two deliveries of the sixth over – one cross-batted hit charging down the track over mid-wicket and the next, a pull over the deep square-leg fence to break the shackles and with that, Tendulkar had made his intentions clear: He was in it to win it.
While the wickets kept tumbling around him, Tendulkar looked like a man on a mission and till he was at the crease, the Aussies knew that they couldn’t rest. He brought up his fifty off just 57 deliveries and then his 100 off 111 balls. By then, India were within touching distance of making it to the final, but Tendulkar seemed like he was focused on the bigger picture – to beat Australia outright.
Tendulkar tearing into the Australian bowlers with Tony Greig calling the shots was indeed a treat to both eyes and ears. Once Tendulkar hit the runs that would guarantee India a spot in the final, there was a sense of relief as he pointed his bat towards the dressing room. The pressure was off. From there, if India had gone on to win the game, it would have been a bonus. Tendulkar was keen on that as he smashed Fleming to the fence on a couple of occasions, but then feathered the ball to Adam Gilchrist after that to end India’s hopes of winning the game. Tendulkar was dismissed for 143 off 131 and India eventually fell short by 26 runs.
Video Courtesy: robelinda2
It was his highest score in ODI cricket then. He went on to score many more centuries, 150s and even a double hundred but nothing was more special than this knock at Sharjah, even though it did not come in a winning cause. It began an era where India was almost Sachin Tendulkar, Sachin Tendulkar was almost India.
Thought Tendulkar was done? Two days later on his 25th birthday, he once again smashed Australia to all parts in the final scoring 134 off 131 to help India win by six wickets. Warne who was outplayed by Tendulkar in that match admitted having nightmares at the prospect of bowling to the great man after that.