Mark Mascarenhas with Sachin Tendulkar, whose career he managed for a while, after the Coca Cola Cup final in Sharjah in 1998

Tendulkar celebrates the win in the Coca Cola Cup final with his manager, Worldtel's Mark Mascarenhas


20 Greatest ODIs: No. 12

A dream Tendulkar wove

At the peak of his powers 25 years ago, he produced a stone-cold classic that ended in defeat for India

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan  |  

India vs Australia, Coca Cola Cup, Sharjah, 1998

Australia won by 26 runs

Rarely does a defeat bring forth such warm memories. Perhaps you have forgotten the minor details: that on the 22nd of April in 1998, India lost the sixth match of the Coca Cola Cup in Sharjah, that Mark Waugh and Michael Bevan steered Australia to 284, and that India fell 26 runs short of a revised target. The scorecard says all this.

If you were fortunate enough to watch the match, to rise and fall with every ball of the chase, the events gradually embroidering themselves into your persona, your world, the story of your life even, here is what you likely remember: Sachin Tendulkar charging down the track to flat-bat-slap Michael Kasprowicz over deep midwicket for six, then unleashing a back-foot pull into the delirious crowd at backward square leg; umpire Steve Bucknor on all fours, seemingly ready for a 100-metre sprint, thrown off like everyone else by the sandstorm that swept into the stadium for 25 minutes; Tendulkar shuffling wide of the stumps to slam a Damien Fleming slower ball to the midwicket boundary, prompting Tony Greig to bare the depths of his soul ("Oh it's high, it's high, it's all the way, way over the top, into the crowds again, Sachin Tendulkar wants to win this match'); Tendulkar's highest one-day score at the time peaking to a crescendo during his 104-run stand with VVS Laxman, where the latter made 20; India's run rate inching them above New Zealand in the points table, ensuring their qualification for the final; the commentators announcing a $20,000 reward for Tendulkar from Coca-Cola even before he reached the dressing room, bemused why the ball he had mis-pulled and edged to the wicketkeeper was not called a no-ball; Tendulkar returning two days later to reel off an incandescent 134 in the final, fittingly on his 25th birthday, when Greig uttered those indelible words for a batter at his thrilling best: "Whadaplaayya. Whadaplaayya."

The highlights from the 143 - or Operation Desert Storm as it was termed - show a run-out chance that Tendulkar was lucky to survive early, a top edge in the eighth over that swirled to third man and dropped between three fielders giving pursuit, and a flier to midwicket that Damien Martyn put down in the 42nd over. This was by no means a pristine innings. But with Tendulkar in the late '90s, the risks added to the magic. You see, one March morning in 1994, a month before he turned 21, Tendulkar was handed the license to smash the bowling at the top of an innings, to take on the faster bowlers, and clear the 30-yard circle. He liberated himself with a 49-ball 82 in Auckland and nobody dared miss an India ODI after that - so joyous was the sight, so endless the possibilities. The three years from 1996 were Tendulkar years. And 1998 was particularly luminous: 1894 golden runs at an average of 65.3 and a strike-rate of 102. The great Shane Warne had no answers to his mastery. And the great Don Bradman invited the two home.

Tendulkar stood still till the ball was released. Then a sideways prance to allow himself room, giving him space to arc the bat down like an axe and flat-bat a four over extra cover

Mid-to-late-nineties Tendulkar was, as the kids say, an emotion. Here was a technically superior batter regularly shredding the instruction book. One moment he would stand breathlessly still and, with barely a micro-precise adjustment, judder the ball down he ground. The next moment he would open up his stance and hoick a fast bowler over midwicket. All this when he was on the move: charging pace and spin, backing away outside off, walking across the stumps, ramping, paddling, sweeping, pulling off both feet, slashing, late-cutting, slamming forehands over the bowlers… kinetic movement after kinetic movement lighting up television screens across the land… a batting technique built on first principles but adjusting well enough to swish merrily. Consider those watching: a little man, at five foot five, standing on tip-toe, pulling and cutting bowlers who towered over him, ripping balls directed at his face deep into the stands. To marry Sunil Gavaskar's technical mastery and Kapil Dev's chutzpah - how is that even possible?

India qualified for the final when Tendulkar whipped Fleming off his pads, scampered a quick two - as he did often on that hot night - and got them to 238 for 4. He turned to the dressing room and pointed his bat, a quiet acknowledgment of the hurdle cleared. The stands rang with deafening cheers. As per the highlights, there were still 38 needed off 20 balls -a straightforward ask today but beyond our imaginations 25 years ago. To get another chance to play against Australia in the final was a victory in itself.

Fleming's next ball was full and straight. Tendulkar stood still till the ball was released. Then a sideways prance to allow himself room, giving him space to arc the bat down like an axe and flat-bat a four over extra cover. By now Greig was delirious. "Oh great shot, what a shot, wunnderful shot. He's playing for a victory. This is absolutely unbelievable." The target was now 34 off 19. Another big hit and - whisper it if you must - this was actually achievable.

Next ball he was out. And as was often the case back then, the game was done. The last three overs brought only a handful of runs. Nobody hit a shot in anger. No wickets fell.

Two days later Tendulkar ended a winner. His 134 had fewer blemishes, and with more support from his batting partners, he propelled India to a famous victory. To beat Australia was hard enough back then; to beat them in a final with Tendulkar marshaling a chase under lights to overhaul Australia's 272 with nine balls to spare was straight out of a dream. We woke up the next day. And believe it or not, it had all actually happened.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan hosts the 81allout podcast and is the co-founder of 81allout Publishing