India-Pakistan clashes have always been the biggest draws of the World Cup, and the hype surrounding the contest was no different in 2003 in Centurion. India's batting, built around Sachin Tendulkar, pitted against a Pakistan attack comprising Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar was but one aspect of the plot.
It 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. He did not sleep well for 12 nights leading up, he revealed later.
Pakistan raked up 273 for 7, riding on Saeed Anwar's classy century, and with the bowling arsenal at their disposal, had the upper hand going into the second half of the game. Yet Tendulkar's audacity upfront changed everything.
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 surely have let it pass for a wide), at once cutting and tipping, very high over the square third-man boundary - would become an icon; its sheer thrill, and nationalist symbolism, was 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 was the stunner. A little trot across to off stump, block, down the ground to the on, four. No backlift, no follow-through: none needed. He simply met the ball and the execution began there and finished there, magically frozen in time. The crowd, easily the most vivid of the tournament, had gone quite wild.
India won the game, made it to the Super Six and then the World Cup final, and Tendulkar's towering innings only embellished the hype of India-Pakistan contests in the World Cup.
This article was first published in 2014