It had been a strange World Cup for India. They won their first match against the Netherlands by 68 runs. Then, they collapsed to 125 all out while batting first against Australia in their second match. The defending champions chased down the paltry target in just 22.2 overs.
The defeat -- had fans and ex-cricketers reacting with anger. The walls of Mohammad Kaif's house were blackened, effigies were burnt and Kris Srikkanth had even said, “Sourav Ganguly should bat at number 16.”
The defeat served to bring the team together. An 83-run win against Zimbabwe followed, then a 181-run win over Namibia and an Ashish Nehra-inspired 82-run win over England at Durban. India were rolling along now. They were in good rhythm but up next was Pakistan.
Now, this wasn't just any Pakistan unit -- this was a team that included Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Rashid Latif, Wasim Akram, Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar. In other words, this was a strong team.
Pakistan won the toss and chose to bat first. It wasn't an easy pitch to bat on -- Saeed Anwar glided his way to a classic 101 off 126 balls but no other batsman made more than 32 as Pakistan reached 273 for seven.
A competitive target in South African conditions but with Akram, Younis and Akhtar in the mix, it looked match-winning.
Akram took the new ball and Tendulkar took first strike. He played out the first two balls, then hit the third for a four. Virender Sehwag, at the other end, helped himself to another boundary off the last ball.
That meant Tendulkar was on strike as Akhtar -- one of the world's fastest bowlers -- came on to bowl. The Pakistani speedster started off with a wide, then a dot ball before Tendulkar took a single. Another single to Sehwag and then two wides as the batsmen scampered through.
Then, came the ball that went down in history. It was wide enough; wide enough to leave alone but Tendulkar followed it by reflex, gave it the full tonk and watched it sail for six over the square third-man boundary. It wasn't a textbook shot but it was the start of an innings that for many still defines textbook savagery.
Ravi Shastri in the commentary box charged into one of his favourite idioms: "There were no half-measures from Tendulkar."
This wasn't the day for half-measures by far. For 12 nights leading up to the match, Tendulkar didn't sleep properly -- he wasn't shadow batting, he was nervous; he was on the edge.
The next two deliveries were treat to a more classical touch -- both disappeared for boundaries, but Pakistan never recovered from that six. Akhtar ended up being smashed for 18 runs off the over and Akram immediately took him out of the attack.
When talking about the innings later on, Sachin Tendulkar told ESPNCricinfo: "Contrary to what people think, I hadn't really planned to bat that way. I was pumped up for the match all right, but when we went out to bat, the idea was to stay in for the first few overs and see off the new ball. It just worked out differently. I got a couple of balls to hit, they went nicely off the bat, and things started happening. Shoaib bowled short and wide. It was there to be hit, and I hit it well. It went for a six. I thought, this is working well so why not carry on."
Akhtar, on the other hand, cut a deflated figure after the assault. He later blamed it on fitness.
"I had a strategy at Centurion too, but I was unfit. I had a problem with my knees and went into the game after having taken six injections. My entire right leg was numb and I was only about 40 per cent fit. It was just a bad day for us. It was bad being hit for sixes. It was just bad to lose in that way. They asked me to play, and they made me play, and I had to play for the sake of my country," he said.
Akhtar finally got Tendulkar for a 75-ball 98, but by then the world's best batsman had all but won the game India. Shoaib took one for 72 off 10 overs. India romped home with six wickets and 26 balls to spare.
Updated Date: Feb 06, 2015 22:12:23 IST