A blistering statement of intent in the most eagerly awaited spectacle of the 2003 World Cup
There was no shortage of emotion, colour or noise as the two subcontinental giants took each other on in a crucial league match in Centurion. Even before the first ball was bowled, the scene was one of raucous din and frenzied flag-waving. Suitably inspired by the electrifying atmosphere, Pakistan racked up 273 for 7, riding on Saeed Anwar's classy century. With runs on the board, and a bowling attack boasting Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, they clearly had the upper hand going into the second half of the match.
Sachin Tendulkar versus Shoaib Akhtar was a mouth-watering prospect, a contest which could potentially decide the outcome of the game. After three fairly uneventful deliveries in the first over, Tendulkar made his move: Shoaib banged one in short and wide, so wide that he would have had to bowl it again had it been allowed to pass. Tendulkar, though, was in no mood to play it safe - a slight shuffle of the feet was followed by quick and decisive handwork as he lashed at the ball with an open-faced bat. Even as the ball soared over backward point, the greater impact of the stroke - and the momentum shift it caused - was palpable. As a statement of intent, that was as emphatic as it could get. Tendulkar followed up with two more delectable fours off the next two balls as the over leaked 18. The menace called Shoaib Akhtar had been neutralised in stunning style.
"We wanted this World Cup to be the most successful World Cup ever and your innings against Pakistan at Centurion has helped us achieve that." Thus read a telegram from Ali Bacher, the chief of the World Cup organising committee. Shaharyar Khan, the chief of the Pakistan Cricket Board, had this to say about the blitz: "India had overshadowed us mainly through the genius of Tendulkar but there was no disgrace in losing the match." The protagonist himself put it very succinctly: "I told myself, if I see it I will hit it."
What happened next
Shoaib was taken out of the attack after that one eventful over, and though he finally dismissed Tendulkar, the damage had already been done. Despite being hampered by cramps in the leg, Tendulkar blasted an exhilarating 75-ball 98, leaving India with just 97 to get in more than 22 overs after he was dismissed. Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh ensured that his outstanding work at the top of the order wasn't wasted, as they completed the formalities with no further hiccups. India romped home with six wickets and 26 balls to spare, thus maintaining their 100% win record against Pakistan in World Cup matches. Shoaib, by the way, finished with unflattering figures of 1 for 72 from 10 overs, which remains his most expensive ten-over spell in ODIs.