By Sougat Chakravartty
Before I get started on the Maestro’s exploits at the ICC’s quadrennial extravaganza, I’d like to emphasize a bit on the word phenomenon. It happens to be any observable occurrence, necessitating the use of scientific instruments to record or compile data about it. In the context of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, the word transcends the realm of usual meaning into the truly amazing, and observable occurrences have grown in frequency in the past twenty-four years, so much so that the word is now one of the many monikers attached to the great man.
From 1983, when Kapil Dev’s Devils outplayed the mighty West Indies at Lord’s, fans of the national cricket team always prayed for the unthinkable – the side just had to return with the trophy every four years. After his exploits against Pakistan and England in the early 1990s, the nineteen-year old Tendulkar visited the shores of Australia and New Zealand for his first shot at the World Cup in 1992. The tournament saw many firsts, including the use of coloured kit by players, the white ball and the return of the South African team to the international fold upon the end of the apartheid era.
Tendulkar, however, ignored all that and proceeded to get good experience out in the middle. He batted in the middle order in those days, and played a lot of shots right from the word go; he had to, considering the fact that there usually weren’t too many overs left. Against the likes of Wasim Akram, Imran Khan and Mushtaq Ahmed, he produced one of the finest knocks ever seen in that edition of the tournament, essaying drives all over the park and keeping the scorecard ticking. With Kapil for company, Sachin trusted his instincts to master the bowling, and helped India to a match-winning total. To make the night even more memorable, he took the wicket of Aamir Sohail – an important breakthrough since the opener was threatening to run away with the game – as India started their dominant run over their arch-rivals in the World Cup. Sadly, though, the wee lad from Mumbai could not help his side regain the trophy they had won nine years ago, despite making 283 runs and winning two Man-of-the-Match awards.
He did one better in the following edition – back in familiar subcontinent environs; he ruled the roost with a marvellous, attacking display of batting hitherto never seen at that stage. His 90-run knock against Australia at the Wankhede Stadium held the entire line-up together before his exit precipitated an all-too familiar collapse and eventual defeat. In the same tournament, he made his then-highest ODI score against Sri Lanka, but could not prevent another loss. He still, however, had the satisfaction of ending up as the highest run-getter in that tournament – 523 runs with two centuries – even if the title still eluded him and his side.
The 1999 tournament was Sachin’s biggest disappointment in World Cup history, though similar agony would once again visit him eight years later. He underwent the trauma of losing a loved one – his father – and was mere witness to a quick exit from the England sojourn. Relinquishing his beloved opening slot, he moved to No. 4 temporarily, and the only innings that gave him some comfort was his blistering 140 against Kenya. The defeat against Australia in the Super Sixes was almost more than he could bear, as India crashed out of the showpiece event in disgrace.
2003 rolled around, and Sachin departed for South Africa for his fourth outing in World Cup tournaments. He smashed 673 runs against some of the best bowling attacks in the world at the time; the six he struck off Andrew Caddick at Durban still stands out in every die-hard fan’s memories. Minnows Namibia also felt the brunt of that heavy blade during the master’s blazing 152. Arch-rivals Pakistan continued to receive heavy punishment at Sachin’s hands, while Sri Lanka suffered even more – the little champion had not forgotten the humiliation Sanath Jayasuriya’s side had dished out at Sharjah three years ago. Kenya, playing in their first ever semi final in the quadrennial event, ran into the blaster in full flow. It seemed plain to everyone that Sachin was trying to make up for his ‘failures’ in the previous edition, and his performances, coupled with brilliant bowling and fielding by his teammates, steered his side to their first World Cup final in twenty years. But the Australians denied the Master his chance at glory.
The trip to the Caribbean four years later turned out to be an absolute nightmare, and personality clashes between coach Greg Chappell and some of the senior players necessitated a change in guard. At 34, Sachin’s chances of lifting the glittering cup grew fainter, and his travails in the Test arena only fuelled the critics’ demands that he call time on his career.
Then came the glorious summer of 2011, and in his sixth appearance in World Cups, the crowds saw a much more determined Mumbai batsman. He played every shot in the book, feasting on all the attacks on offer, and whacked the stuffing out of the English and the Proteas with magnificent centuries. Australia and Pakistan also fell before his calculated assault; in the case of the former, it felt as if Sachin had not forgiven them for standing between him and silverware eight years ago. Reaching the summit clash, played at his home ground, Sachin flopped with the bat, but with the younger brigade coming good, he ended up on the winning side this time. His last appearance in the quadrennial event, and he finally managed to lift the priceless trophy – the one that got away so many times that he had lost count. Nineteen years of silent suffering finally bore fruit.
482 runs in that edition saw Sachin surge to the top of the list of highest run-makers in World Cup history. With six centuries to his credit as well, the maestro has not only set the benchmark for longevity and consistency, but also completed an amazing transition from a starry-eyed ball boy in the 1987 tournament to the elder statesman of the game on cricket’s greatest ODI stage.