Sachin Tendulkar was in tremendous form in the 2003 World Cup and the single biggest factor in India reaching the final.
The Dutch trundlers had India in trouble as the ball seamed and bounced awkwardly on the Boland Park track. Tendulkar battled his way, surpassing Javed Miandad’s World Cup tally of 1083 runs. A Tim de Leede delivery took off suddenly and deviated away. Tendulkar was caught behind for 52 off 72 deliveries with seven fours.
As the Indian batting floundered against the fiery pace of Aussies Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie. Tendulkar stood firm until he moved too far across to flick Gillespie, and was leg-before for 36. India crashed to a humiliating nine-wicket defeat and there was a backlash at home.
From the ash-heap of such ignominy rose a combination with a newfound spirit and burning desire to prove critics wrong. Tendulkar and his young clone Sehwag put the Zimbabwe bowling to the sword in a rousing 99-run opening stand. The master continued to blaze away. Dinesh Mongia was essentially a bystander in a 43-run second-wicket partnership. A delivery from left-arm spinner Grant Flower rolled on to the stumps off Tendulkar’s defensive blade. He left, having hit 81 off 91 balls with 10 exquisite boundaries. India eventually triumphed easily and Tendulkar wrested his sixth man-of-the-match award in the World Cup, the maximum, breaking away from the pack of Vivian Richards, Graham Gooch and Lance Klusener.
The Namibians were in no position to challenge India, and once Ganguly joined Tendulkar, there was a deluge. Tendulkar raised his 34th One-day International hundred, racing still far ahead of the rest. The second-wicket stand logged up 244 runs before Tendulkar was out, having crashed 152 off 151 deliveries with 18 hits to the fence. This was his highest score in the World Cup, and the partnership was second best for any wicket in the tournament after the 318-run Ganguly-Dravid duet of 1999. Tendulkar picked up his second consecutive man-of-the-match prize, his third such feat in the World Cup.
He put up 60 with Sehwag against England, treating the bowling with disdain. Amazingly he hit his first six in a tournament in which he had already played so many blistering innings. Immediately after he brought up his fifty, Tendulkar slashed one into the hands of backward point. He had faced 52 balls and cracked eight boundaries besides the hooked sixer. India clinched an easy victory under lights.
The India-Pakistan contest had two entire nations transfixed. Planeloads of spectators took off for South Africa, television ratings soared, and almost every other activity came to a standstill. Pakistan seized the initiative with a score of 273 for seven.
Tendulkar was not going to let go this opportunity to display his class. The great Wasim Akram opened the bowling and Tendulkar drove the third delivery off the back foot through the covers into the pickets. Sehwag also got into the act. From then on there was only one team in the match. Shoaib Akhtar came on at the other end. Tendulkar blasted him for a six and two fours off the last three balls. The Rawalpindi Express conceded 18 runs off his first over and was promptly taken off. Tendulkar had established his ascendancy.
He zoomed to his own fifty in a matter of 37 balls. Mohammad Kaif helped put on a brisk 102. Though cramps began to hamper Tendulkar, he refused a runner till he could hardly move. Meanwhile, he brought up his 12,000th run in One-day Internationals. He now stood alone on a pedestal. When Akhtar let go a nasty bouncer the virtually immobile Tendulkar could only instinctively fend a catch to point. He fell for a magnificent 98, having faced just 75 deliveries and rocketed 12 fours and a six. This was arguably Tendulkar’s best innings in the World Cup.
India maintained their hundred percent World Cup record over Pakistan. There was only one claimant for the gold watch awarded to the man-of-the-match. Tendulkar had now walked away with three such glittering prizes in the last four matches.
The little master had had a fabulous run in the pool matches with scores of 52, 36, 81, 152, 50 and 98, a total of 469 runs off 500 deliveries at an average of 78.16 and strike-rate of 93.8 runs per 100 balls. Tendulkar had a magical effect on the team, which sailed into the super-sixes.
The law of averages finally caught up as Tendulkar was dismissed for 5 against Kenya.
The great man corrected the course immediately, the Sri Lankans feeling the weight of his punishing blade. With Sehwag he brought up a century opening stand, the pair going on to log up 153 in 26.2 overs. Ganguly helped add another 61 runs. Tendulkar played an awkward sweep into the wicketkeeper’s gauntlets. He returned with 97 in his kitty, the only batsman to score three nineties in the World Cup. Having faced 120 balls, he hit 7 fours and a six.
It was the second time that he had notched 500 runs in a World Cup, no other batsman having hitherto achieved the milestone even once.
The Indian batsmen seemed in a hurry after the Kiwis folded up for 146. Tendulkar was stroking the ball well when he holed out, having hit three boundaries in his 15 off 16 balls. But the match was won easily to set up a semi-final date with surprise qualifiers Kenya.
Tendulkar and Sehwag put up another fine opening partnership of 74 before Sehwag was dismissed. Ganguly was Tendulkar’s ally in a 103-run second-wicket association. Stroking brilliantly, Tendulkar had another century in his sights when he pulled skipper Steve Tikolo’s off-spin high over mid-wicket. The ball seemed to be sailing over the ropes but David Obuya plucked it out brilliantly. Tendulkar’s 83 off 101 balls contained 5 fours and a six.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting won the final off his own bat. For India to chase a target of 360 against such a formidable attack was well nigh impossible. But Tendulkar was going to have a shot at it. He pulled McGrath to the boundary, and then trying to repeat the stroke off the fifth delivery, only managed a steepler into the hands of the bowler.
There may not have been a fairy-tale end to one of the most inspired performances in a One-day competition, but Tendulkar had raised the bar for all comers. He won the Golden Bat, his award for being adjudged the player-of-the-tournament, which was presented to him by none other than Sir Garfield Sobers. In two World Cups – 1996 and 2003 – Tendulkar was the leading run-getter of the tournament. His 673 runs in 2003 are still a World Cup record.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email email@example.com).
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket 1975-2011
Published in India by Sporting Links