As he walked out in the first innings of the final test against Australia in the 2003-04 series, Sachin Tendulkar had a stream of bad scores behind him – 0, 1, 37, 0 and 44. Ironically, his famous, almost legendary cover drive, had become his Achilles Heel. He had suddenly gotten into the rut where he was getting out to playing the cover drive on the up to a good length ball. And Aussies had found the secret to bring the downfall of arguably one of the greatest batsman in cricket history. In the match prior to this match, Tendulkar had been out in both the innings for a first ball duck and 44, caught behind.
When batting became a spiritual experience
Today he was determined to eschew any off drive that could get him trapped again. And, so started probably the most masterful innings ever by a batsman. In the next 10 hours that followed, Sachin showed what a spiritual experience could be on a cricket ground. He did not play even a single drive to the off-side in the entire innings of 436 balls while scoring 241!
Even the great Brian Lara could not forget that innings and remarked “I remember the series against Australia when Sachin didn`t play a single cover drive till the time he reached the double century.”
As Brett Lee and the other bowlers kept aiming for his off-stump or just outside off, he would either drive them down the wicket as the mid-on fielder looked haplessly at the finest display of restrained demolition by one man.
That was the greatness of Sachin Tendulkar!
He could morph himself, change himself, equip himself and become the most fearful thing that the opposition bowler had seen. Even when they had thought that they had him all figured out and simply checkmated him and his brilliance. He could become something else and even more fearsome!
Taking Shoaib Akhtar apart at his fastest
It was the 2003 World Cup and the high-voltage India-Pakistan match was underway. Pakistan had scored, in those days, a fairly large total of 274. In that World Cup, Shoaib Akhtar was bowling at absolutely insane speeds of over 150 kmph. Sachin had prepared for him before the match. Mentally. As Rahul Dravid remembers of that World Cup preparation by Sachin:
“It (his preparation) changes from time to time. In the 2003 World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar didn’t bat a single ball in the nets, right through the tournament. He only got throw-downs. He just received hundreds of throw-downs through the whole tournament,” Dravid said.
“All of us were wondering ‘Why is he doing that?’ When I asked him, he said, ‘I’m feeling good. I don’t want to go into the nets and waste the touch. I want to feel good about my batting. If I have that sort of feeling, I will score runs when I go in”.
Although Pakistan came in with a fearsome threesome of fast bowling – Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar; it was Shoaib who was being talked about the most and he was doing the talking as well. So Sachin Tendulkar decided to target him particularly. You see, if Shoaib Akhtar steaming in with balls at 150 kmph and above could be made to look pedestrian by him, the rest of the team could easily handle him. But if Akhtar got an upper hand, he could easily rip the team apart in no time.
So he came to his innings with the idea of demolishing Shoaib Akhtar. After the first over by Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar started off.
First three balls were uneventful. Fourth ball, however, was destined for legendary status.
Akhtar bowled a short rising ball at 151 kmph outside off. And Sachin stood up on his toes and square cut it over Third man boundary for a six that went 10 rows into the crowd. Such a shot in those days was rare. And against the speeds that Akhtar was bowling? Almost impossible. That one shot defined the relationship between Sachin and Shoaib from then on.
The next ball bowled even faster at 152 kmph was flicked disdainfully to the square leg boundary for a four! Last ball was at a tearing pace of 154.1 kmph! And Sachin simply played it straight in his trademark style for a mid-on four.
Shoaib Akhtar. The fearsome Shoaib Akhtar. Was now the hunted.
In a matter of 3 balls, Sachin had demolished a fast bowler known for his swag and speed. A man who along with his compatriots comprised one of the most fearsome speed bowling attacks ever in Cricket history!
That was the power of Sachin.
He not just scored runs, break and make records which look beyond human or fight the difficult battles. He demolished bowlers so comprehensively that even giants amongst them looked like pygmies in front of this little but precise man.
And this brings us to Shane Warne. Warne has been considered as probably the greatest spinner of his time and one of the greats of all time.
Operation Target Warne
In 1998, when Shane Warne came to India along with probably the greatest Aussie cricket team ever, Sachin had his eyes set. Warne was already a great bowler, almost legendary, by then. But Sachin had other plans for him.
One still remembers that the first duel between the two was to be in the match before the series between Mumbai and Australia.
In his autobiography Playing it my way, Sachin shares
“The most important thing was to attack Warne. I had instructed all our batsmen to take Warne on whenever he came on to bowl. I did not care if we lost wickets, but there was no way we would allow Warne to settle into his groove and dictate terms.” (source)
The track was made for spinners and that is where Sachin had planned to demolish the greatest spinner of his time.
The stage was set with disdainful hitting by Amit Pagnis and Sachin Tendulkar executed the most amazing demolition of one bowler. A double century with 26 fours and two sixes, one of them being in the very first over of Shane Warne saw Warne’s figures at 16-1-111-0. The man who had come to that match with 315 wickets in 68 Tests, including the scalps of the greatest batsmen of that era; was treated like a club-class bowler!
In that match, Mumbai – a state team – defeated the might Aussies within 3 days!
Then the tests started. And in the first test at Chennai, Tendulkar got out to Warne in the first innings for 4. That insult was avenged in the second innings. With a masterful display of batsmanship, Sachin scored an unbeaten 155 with 14 fours and 4 sixes! India won that match by 179 runs.
Sachin was never the one to let anyone take the upper hand. Like a King, even when others could not find a way to handle some bowlers, he found a way to completely and comprehensively demolish them!
Revenge against Henry Olonga
And, then there was the demolition of Henry Olonga. It was the 1998 Tri-series and Zimbabwe and India were already in the final. So, they met in an inconsequential league match before that final match. As Heath Streak explained here, the Zimbabwe team had planned Sachin’s exit carefully in that match and executed it to perfection via Henry Olonga.
Olonga opened the bowling and he bowled really quick and bounced out Sachin. And of course we discussed that this was the weakness we can exploit and bowl really aggressively. When he first comes in, we’ll unleash Olonga and bowl short at him but of course he had thought about it and apparently had gone in the nets and was sitting in his room practicing pull shots. So when we tried to execute our plan it didn’t work too well. (source)
When the final came and Sachin came in, he had special plans for Olonga. He started the blitzkrieg and Olonga or any other bowler had absolutely no answer to that!
Even though India had to score 197 to win, Sachin single-handedly scored 124 not out off 92 with 12 fours and 6 sixes. Olonga was given a special lesson by the maestro. In his 6 overs, he got hit for 50 runs!
India won the title at Sharjah, but Sachin created a fear in the heart and mind of the bowler who thought that he could get better of the maestro.
Sachin – He targeted bowlers, not face them
Sachin was ruthless and unforgiving. And he could just not let anyone in the opposition create an atmosphere of fear or domination on the ground where he tread. No matter what his reputation or what his skillset. If you were on the same field as Sachin Tendulkar, you had to be lesser than him. He made absolutely sure of that.
And this changed the Indian cricket forever. For, before his generation, the Indian batsmen – barring probably Sunil Gavaskar and to some extent Mohinder Amarnath in his latter part of his career – played fast bowling very poorly. And they would let bowlers rule them without much of an onslaught.
Sachin could not tolerate that. He was born to rule the games he played. And no bowler was safe in his presence. No matter how fast or how legendary.
Yes, Virat Kohli is a great batsman already today with amazing record and ability to make runs. He has a ruthless attitude as well. But he does not target bowlers. He faces them and works on them. Sachin targeted bowlers. He never faced them!
That is why I consider him to be the greatest ever. For, when you are in a duel, you cannot be in the defensive offense mode all the time. The greats are those who are in Offense mode in the most ruthless way. He would demolish those who targeted him and announce unequivocally as to who was the king on the ground. When he tread, only one person ruled the ground. And it could never be the bowler who faced Sachin.
Featured Image Source – The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Mumbai