#20: Auckland – 82 (49) vs New Zealand
March 1994, it had been over four years since Sachin had entered international arena and by now he had earned his dues. His impact was mesmerizing and Tendlya was a very popular name in every Indian household. Cable TV network had also grown into most households and we were no longer deprived of live video feeds when brave India boys would take on any opponents overseas in their whites or blues. I distinctly recollect, it was yet another Indian festival that day, Holi – a festival of colors. Little did we know that it would turn out to be a rather “holy day” for team India who would be rechristened with a new opener – Sachin!!
India had lost the first game of the series while chasing down a stiff target and then lost the services of their in-form regular opener Siddhu, due to a neck injury. Captain Azhar was posed with a unique dilemma as to who would open with Jadeja? Right then, a 20-year-young man, Sachin, who had never before in his life opened the innings in any form of cricket at any level, walked up to the captain/coach duo and demanded that he be given a shot at opening, also committed that if failed, he would never ask again.
Perhaps this move was more prompted by Sachin’s instincts and also his understanding of the limited over game. For, over previous 15 months he was running lean on form in the fifty over format and may have looked at this opportunity as a jump-start. For captain Azhar it was definitely a huge gamble. The decision was somewhat postponed as India had to bowl first. The bowlers did a splendid job, as India restricted the kiwis to a mere 142. 143 was a very modest target and India had a real shot at leveling the series. Right after the break we saw Jadeja walk out with a new opening partner, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, opening for the first time. Azhar took the gamble, and rest, as we all very well know, is history.
His first stint as an opener was not conventional by any means. Firstly, it only lasted for 16 overs, secondly, he only faced 49 deliveries, however he had smashed 82 runs in that shortest of time frame. Kiwi attack was shredded into pieces as their captain Rutherford just watched in awe. Sachin took control and ran away with the game in no time. It was the first illustration of how to utilize the field restrictions to your favor as a batsman and how to take the attack to the opponents, that in the days prior to batting power-plays. Sachin made it impossible to set field as he kept either finding gaps at will or hitting over the infield. He was having a ball out there and looked in no mood to stop.
Sachin continued his assault, displaying colorful innings on a festive day where color was of utmost importance. Kiwis threw everything at him and he responded with sheer class and confidence. Morrison-Pringle-Harris-Larson and the newcomer Hart all had a go with in the first 16 overs, but couldn’t break his rhythm. He was on a different planet altogether. This special innings was filled with 17 hits two fence of which two went over it. He dominated with scoring 82 of India’s 116 runs.
Until this knock, audience world over had seen his master-class in the test format and elegance-n-style in the limited over, but with this knock, a new Sachin was unveiled. The sheer dominance of all types of bowling started right here in Auckland and has been going on for over 16 years. This was not just “pinch-hitter” stuff, this was clinical and serene. The bowlers never even looked like having even a chance to dismiss him. He was stroking the ball at will and scoring at all corners of the grounds.
Fastest ODI century of those times looked up for grabs and he barely missed it, but then again, if Siddhu wouldn’t have hurt his neck, we would have, perhaps, never found Sachin – The opener. I recall, at that time, it bothered me that he couldn’t get the fastest ODI hundred. It was truly disappointing for me, especially being a die-hard Tendulkar fan, however, now I just feel that a 18 year old boy in me just failed to realize the greater heights he would achieve in the future. Many pundits criticized that move from Azhar, claiming that Sachin is not a “specialist opener”, I am glad Sachin proved them all wrong. Yes, Sachin was born in Mumbai in 1973, but Auckland just witnessed his re-birth as ODI opener in 1994.
-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav