John Arlott is one of the greatest commentators the game has ever seen. The man was a character. He for one hated the limited overs version of the Gentleman’s Game. He described it as “vaudeville” and vaudeville is a theatrical game of some entertainment. That was when ODI cricket had just begun around 45 years ago and the first World Cup hadn’t even begun.
Now, after 10 World Cups and innumerable One Days later, the 50 over format has became the most favoured by cricket aficionados all around the world and Arlott would probably try to take back what he said.
The World Cup is by far the biggest event in Cricket and India has had a fair amount of success in it. 2 times winners, once finalist and twice semi finalist. Not bad. And that’s another reason as to why India is such a cricket crazy nation- good performance in the big tournaments.
I’ve watched two World Cups completely- the 2007 and 2011 editions- and have a fair idea of all the other ones. The topic of my current article is my favorite World Cup memory and I have many so it makes it that much harder for me but here it is.
Over the years, boundaries have become smaller and that’s led to more fours and sixes. And two sixes will forever be in my mind. The first from Sachin Tendulkar when he hoisted a rampaging Shoaib Akhtar over third man at Centurion and the second being MS Dhoni’s six off Nuwan Kulasekara which sealed the Cup for us.
Both the sixes mean a lot to our country of a billion plus but for me, the former is my favorite World Cup memory.
India was definitely not the favourite or in no way were contenders for the title but the way they played that World Cup surprised everyone. And Sachin Tendulkar was in a big way responsible for that. 673 runs and the Player of the tournament award, the Master Blaster set the tournament on fire.
After Fifties against Netherlands, Zimbabwe, England and a huge hundred against Namibia, Tendulkar squared up against the old enemy.
Given the not-so-friendly relations between the two countries on the political front and divided by a historical tragedy that rocked millions of civilians, cricket has become a vehicle of pride for the two countries. And they squared up for yet another classic in the Group Stages of the 2003 World Cup at the Super Sport Park in Centurion.
In a persistent belief of overriding Pakistan, India’s hopes were far from definite as Pakistan had an equally good team with a set batting line up and as usual, an excellent bowling unit.
There was certainly no shortage of emotion, color or noise as Waqar Younis won the toss and decided that his team would bat first. Led by Saeed Anwar’s stroke full 101, Pakistan scored a healthy 273. Pakistan had felt their job was half done and they had their reasons as Pakistan had good bowling attack with the lies of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar all bowling at a good pace.
India opened with Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. It was Tendulkar’s 309th match and he was they main man for India. Akram had just picked up his 500th wicket. So it was a champion bowler against a champion batsman as the innings began. Needless to say, there was only one winner.
After two quiet deliveries, Sachin played a cracking back foot punch that raced to the boundary. After a single, Sehwag got on the act and scored a boundary of his own. At the end of the first over, India had scored 9 runs. A great start for India against their arch rivals.
The next over was to be bowled by Shoaib Akhtar- then the fastest bowler in the world. The stage was set. The fastest bowler in the world against the best batsman in the world. India vs Pakistan. World Cup. The stage couldn’t be bigger and the little man from the city of Mumbai didn’t disappoint.
Shoaib ran in with lots of steam like usual and his first five balls included three wayward balls that ended as wides. The third was fast. Like the ones before, it was way wide. Sachin though had other plans.
He jerked and took a step towards the ball and cut it ferociously over third man for six.
It flew like a biker on a free highway. Sachin had all the time as he played the shot. The ball had ‘Off. See you later” written all over it and Third man looked with awe as the ball flew over his head and into the Centurion crowd.
It was an unorthodox shot. It was un-Tendulkarish yet it caught the imagination of so many people around the world. The shot didn’t represent the class of Tendulkar but it stamped his authority over the bowlers and he dominated them in South Africa that year.
Although Shoaib did go one to get his retribution against Tendulkar by getting him out off a nasty bouncer, the Master Blaster had by then scored a destructive 98. This innings inspired India to the finals of the World Cup and the six off Shoaib Akhtar by Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is my favourite ICC Cricket World Cup moment.
And here’s to India retaining the #CupThatMatters this time too.