No. 39 September 13, 2009

Tendulkar smacks Shoaib around

First came a six, then a four, then divine magic

Centurion, 1 March 2003

Sachin Tendulkar has never batted better than in the World Cup of 2003, and during it never better than for three famous deliveries against Shoaib Akhtar in Centurion.

This was a match Tendulkar said he was compelled to live a year in advance. Everywhere he went, people reminded him about the 1st of March, the fixture against Pakistan. Consequently he did not sleep properly for 12 nights leading up.

Facing a handsome target, Tendulkar shed his pent-up anxiety with three strokes in Shoaib's opening over to jumpstart a classic innings. The first of them - reaching out (were he not so pumped up, he would have surely let it pass for a wide), at once cutting and tipping, very high over the square third-man boundary - would become an icon, for cricketing merit; its sheer thrill, and nationalist symbolism, a sort of belated rebuff to the Miandad six.

The second stroke was his lovely trademark - back in the crease and with swirling wrists diverting a reasonable delivery to square leg. But the third shot - the third shot.

A little trot across to off stump, block, down the ground to the on, four. No back-lift, no follow-through: none needed. I have never seen such a concisely expressed cricket stroke. He simply met the ball and the entire execution began there and finished there. And by now the crowd, the most vividly alive of the tournament, had gone quite wild. Visually it was like a cinematic special effect: everything moved in a blur - flags, roars, horns, waves, the ball, Shoaib - and amid it Sachin and his pure stroke appeared magically frozen.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine