When the tough got going
It wasn't the best of times for Sachin Tendulkar in Pakistan. The enduring image of the Test series had been one of his almost squatting on the crease as a Mohammad Asif delivery cut back to make a mess of his stumps. "Endulkar" crowed a headline back home, and though he scored a century in the opening one-day game in Peshawar, India still lost. They fought back in Rawalpindi, and the series was still up for grabs when Shoaib Malik went out and smashed a superb hundred at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. India needed 289 to win, and it seemed a long way away as Asif packed off both Gautam Gambhir and Irfan Pathan on a pitch juiced up under floodlights.
He bowled wonderfully with that fluid action, getting the ball to dart this way and that, and Tendulkar's first stroke was a miscue out on to the leg side. From the outset, it was obvious that the stand-and-deliver tactics common on the subcontinent wouldn't work. Tendulkar responded with impeccable judgement. Asif continued to bring the ball back into him, and each time he shouldered arms there were oohs and aahs. In Asif's third over, Tendulkar left every delivery, except for a no-ball that was pulled powerfully for four.
While Rahul Dravid was being made to look like a fumbling amateur at the other end, Tendulkar left, cut, drove and pulled with authority. There were moments of luck, edges to third man, and the odd mistimed drive, in an innings otherwise marked by patience and terrific shot selection.
By the time Asif's six-over spell ended, the storm had abated, and when a powerful cut off Rana Naved-ul-Hasan burst through Asif's hands at third man and went for six, you knew how the game would go. Tendulkar finished with 95, the century denied by a lofted cut to backward point, and India romped home.
"I thought it was one of his best [innings]," said Dravid later. "There are so many he has played but this was really a special one." Two months later, the man himself told me the same thing.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo.
This article was first published in the Wisden Cricketer