A tale of two terrors
In February 1988, Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli went berserk in the semi-finals of The Harris Shield Tournament, an inter-school competition, and prolonged the bowlers' misery for no reason but their own pleasure. This is an account of those days.
The story of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli has come to mean several things to Indians. It is a tale of conservation and flamboyance. Of focus and distraction. Of what can be and, sadly, of what might have been. But there was a time when faith in their abilities was absolute. They played for no-one but themselves, and that was enough for a city that needed a new generation of heroes. This is a story about the days when the two broke a record, and shattered the wills of many along the way.
It was not unusual to hear Tendulkar's name in random conversations on the local Bombay trains in 1988. His run-making for Shardashram Vidyamandir School was extraordinary, and though he had not played first-class cricket yet, there was an aura about him. We often say that the country expects him to score a century in every game. Back then, his team knew he would score a hundred every time he batted. Kambli, on the other hand, was as likely to score a flashy fifty as a brilliant 150. He was a star, but hadn't quite captured the attention of people. But there was no doubt that these two were the most dominant in a school team considered the best in India at the time.
So it came to be that on February 23, if St Xavier's High School had any chance of getting to the finals of the Lord Harris Shield Tournament, they first had to get past Tendulkar and Kambli. The start was good. Shardashram lost Rupak Mulyet early, and Atul Ranade a while later. By this time, Kambli was comfortable with the bowling, and Tendulkar walked out to bat. History will tell you that Kambli outscored Tendulkar by only 23 runs, but the effect his innings had was more lasting: word spread from Azad Maidan, through Khao Galli, by the nearby stations of Churchgate and Victoria Terminus to the rest of Bombay and India. The word was that Shardashram had another prodigy.
Tendulkar had scored a double-hundred in the quarter-finals, and here too, he was expected to make an impact. A crowd gathered, as it always did when he batted. In Khao Galli, the nearby street where the teams snacked during breaks, the food vendors demanded to know his score. One of them had offered Tendulkar a free meal each time he scored a century.
Both buddies went at the ball harder and harder, and runs came at six an over. Consider the final score. In 120 overs, Shardashram scored 748 runs and lost only two wickets. By no means was amassing runs at this rate an unfamiliar feeling. Shardashram routinely put up large scores and shut out the opposition. And this bowling attack was going to worry nobody. Tendulkar and Kambli's relaxed demeanour resulted in a frantic pace that went on for more than a day.
Among many fine strokes that were played in their innings, one stood out: a drive from Tendulkar that sped past the bowler, gathered pace as it hurtled by the fielder, and went so far that Shardashram earnestly wondered if they should lend the fielder a scooter to fetch the ball. The boys from St Xavier's had not been on a field for this long, nor with such little success. The pressure told, and Sairaj Bahutule, who later played for India, had to convince his bowlers to return on the second day. The batsmen had overwhelmed the team, and one of the players was in tears.
Tendulkar ended the day on 192, and Kambli was ten runs behind. Ramakant Achrekar, their stern coach, explained to Tendulkar that the team should declare first thing in the morning. The next day, with Achrekar far from the ground, Tendulkar put on his pads and Kambli followed suit. They weren't done with St Xavier's yet. Everyone in the tent - which doubled up as a dressing-room - had heard the coach's words, but Tendulkar was a megastar. The players just kept quiet. Amol Muzumdar, all of 13 years old and padded up since the fall of the first wicket, wondered if he'd ever get to bat. He had spent a day warming up, going for net practice to remain focussed, returning to see the two still batting, repeating this several times. But the two took advantage of Achrekar's absence and kept on batting. Other matches stopped as players wandered over to watch the show.
At lunch, selectively acting on Achrekar's instructions from the previous day, Tendulkar rang him up from Khao Galli and informed him the score was seven hundred and something, and that Vinod was on 349. He wisely kept his own score to himself, and instead told Achrekar that Kambli wanted to reach his 350. Almost innocently, he passed the phone to the horrified Kambli. The innings was declared immediately. Tendulkar was on 326, and the stand was worth 664 runs. No one knew, at least for a while, that a new record had been written.
St Xavier's came out looking as if they had been through a war. Of all the bowlers they could possibly be harassed by, Kambli, who took six wickets, did them in. Tendulkar bowled a few overs, and made haste for the other end of Azad Maidan with Muzumdar the next day, where the two played another match.
Tendulkar averaged over a thousand for the tournament, and went from game to game until he made it to the Indian team. And Kambli kept on shining till the brightness could no longer be ignored. In the grand scheme of things, this was only one match, and only one record. What made the record special was that these guys were kids. What made it memorable was that these kids were friends who didn't want the fun to end.
Rahul Bhatia is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo. He spoke to Amol Muzumdar about the game.
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