By Sougat Chakravartty
It is a difficult proposition when anyone is asked to compile a list of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar’s five greatest innings in one-day internationals. There is so much the veteran Mumbai batsman has done in twenty four years of turning out for the Indian national cricket team that trying to choose five jewels from his glittering crown is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Often, one misses out on knocks that have sent spectators into an ecstatic, cacophonic frenzy of shouts, screams, whistles and even firecrackers. The kind of impact that Tendulkar has managed to make in his long and illustrious career is only amplified by the reaction of the general public whenever he hits a hundred or falls early.
As he walks into the sunset of a distinguished, two-decade long international journey, here is a look at five of his best innings in ODI cricket. Sincere apologies to readers whose favourite knocks have not made it to this one!
5. Leading from the front: 186* vs New Zealand, Hyderabad, 1999
His team was demoralized after ending up second-best in a high-voltage, high-scoring encounter against the Kiwis in the first of a five-game series at Rajkot. The 26-year-old then decided to make amends in the next one, and what followed was an artistic display of controlled brutality.
To put it quite simply, Sachin was in the zone from the word go. Neither the guiles of Daniel Vettori and Chris Harris, nor the pace of Shayne O’Connor could rein the Indian skipper in, as he went about demolishing the attack with the classical stroke-play of Rahul Dravid being the perfect foil.
Chris Drum rocked to the beats of the Master; in his attempt to bowl yorkers, he sent down four full tosses that Sachin dispatched to four different corners of the ground in a blink of an eye.
It was hardly surprising that India ended up with a mammoth score, and New Zealand had no fight left in them after that, eventually falling short by 174 runs.
4. The Master’s riposte: 124 * vs Zimbabwe, Sharjah, 1998
Henry Olonga is known more for his rendition of Handel’s Messiah than for his pace bowling. But he did have his moments, especially against the Men in Blue. Having almost single-handedly won the previous game against the same opponents with a four-wicket haul, Zimbabwe looked to their spearhead to deliver the goods once again.
The 25-year-old Sachin Tendulkar was in no mood to let his side suffer another humiliation at the hands of the pacer with those dreadlocks. He went after him almost as soon as Olonga was brought on by skipper Alistair Campbell.
Boundaries and sixes flowed off that broad MRF blade as the little champion made the Zambia-born Olonga pay for his ‘antics’ in the previous game. The eighth over of the Indian chase saw Sachin smash the pacer on both sides of the wicket, making him bleed heavily – he ended up giving away 50 runs in his six overs.
Sachin paid no attention to his opening partner Ganguly’s attempts to calm him down. He only had blood on his mind, and offered just one chance in his otherwise blemish-free innings.
His audacious display saw India romping home by ten wickets, securing the Coca Cola Trophy and more than avenging the side’s defeat at the hands of the same opposition in the previous game; indeed, his ferocious onslaught damaged the confidence of most of the Zimbabwean bowlers almost to the point of prematurely ending their careers.
3. The seal of greatness: 200 * vs South Africa, Gwalior, 2010
Gwalior’s Captain Roop Singh Stadium played host to one of the most magnificent innings ever seen in the history of ODI cricket – the gentlemen’s version, to be precise – against an attack that was touted to be one of the world’s best.
It took a player of the calibre of Sachin Tendulkar to finally scale the 200-run barrier in the 50-over format, relegating former Pakistan opener Saeed Anwar and Zimbabwe’s Charles Coventry to second place on the all-time list. At such a historic event, the batsmen who partnered the maestro must be an envied lot – they had the best seats in the house as the spectacle unveiled before their eyes.
As always, the innings featured all the high-quality strokes Sachin is known for. On a belter of a track, his timing and placement were so immaculate and precise that rival captain Jacques Kallis ran out of ideas very quickly. Dale Steyn’s fiery delivery in the block-hole was dispatched to the mid-wicket fence by the master; the improvised stroke became the highlight of the glorious knock and it left the bowler frustrated and flustered in equal measure.
Skipper MS Dhoni’s buccaneering cameo was, for once, not welcomed by the crowd; they were getting impatient for the little wizard to reach the landmark. He did it in the final over, stealing a single off Charl Langeveldt and raising his bat to acknowledge the rapturous spectators screaming themselves hoarse.
The Proteas couldn’t replicate the wonderful chase of 2006, and only a rapid century from AB de Villiers kept them in the hunt. But this was one game that completely belonged to the genius that is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
2. The Lone Ranger: 175 vs Australia, Hyderabad, 2009
Memories of the Chennai heartbreak ten years ago must have returned to haunt the great man, but of all the knocks he played over the years, Tendulkar ranks this innings at Hyderabad as one of his best efforts in ODI cricket, even though he couldn’t take his side over the finish line.
Australia have recently demonstrated a knack of putting up 300-run totals in next to no time. Perhaps the seeds of this propensity were sown in 2009, when Shaun Marsh, Shane Watson and Cameron White led a vicious assault on the bowling to post a mammoth 350-run total for the Indians to chase.
Wickets kept falling around the Mumbai genius, but he shrugged off the loss of his partners and went about his job in a calculated manner, mixing caution and aggression as he slowly whittled down the target in the company of the young Suresh Raina.
Each time a wicket fell, Sachin launched a counter-offensive. Scratchy starts had become the norm for him in that series, but here he constructed a rare gem, the likes of which had gone missing since the advent of the lightning-quick Twenty20 format.
With Raina for company, the score began to accelerate as Australia found themselves struggling against Tendulkar’s solid approach. But a moment of madness caused the former’s dismissal, and the defending ODI world champions came back into the game, choking the flow of runs to such an extent that Sachin eventually succumbed – more to tiredness than Ponting’s cleverness – and played a paddle scoop that was snapped up by Nathan Hauritz at short fine leg.
India collapsed like a pack of cards, and Australia were home by three runs.
1. Operation Desert Storm: 143 vs Australia, Sharjah, 1998
Even a sandstorm couldn’t deter the champion inside Sachin as he carried out a ruthless demolition of the Australian bowlers in order to ensure that India qualified for the Coca Cola Trophy’s summit clash at Sharjah, a couple of days shy of his 25th birthday.
It was clearly the most action-packed innings witnessed by the largely expatriate crowd as they shouted themselves hoarse at the display of mastery exhibited by the Mumbai lad. He literally made a mockery of pacers Michael Kasprowicz and Damien Fleming, hitting the former for a few glorious sixes – straight back over the bowler’s head – before dishing out similar treatment to leg spinner Shane Warne.
India weathered a 25-minute stoppage due to the sand storm, but Australia could not stop the Tendulkar hurricane that rapidly mowed down the qualification target. He eventually fell while playing all over a short delivery from Fleming and gloving the attempted hook to Gilchrist behind the stumps.
By far, the Desert Storm innings was Sachin’s best ever, even though India ended up second-best in the game overall. He replicated the effort in the final, on his birthday, as the Men in Blue took the trophy home and completed their revenge over the Kangaroos. Terrific stuff!