Saeed Anwar had become the first batsman to score a century in India vs World Cup contests. The 2003 World Cup clash in Centurion between India and Pakistan was already in the record books. Pakistan had scored 273/7 and India had to achieve the highest chase in World Cup contests against their arch-rivals. The contest between India and Pakistan always revolved on India’s batsmen taking on the might of the Pakistan bowlers. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag were facing off against Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq. The game was well truly on.
After getting off the mark with a four off Wasim Akram, Tendulkar squared off against Shoaib Akhtar. Pakistan’s ace pacer, who had touched 100mph in the 2003 World Cup, was having momentum on his side. Ever since he dismissed Sachin Tendulkar for a golden duck in the 1999 Test in Eden Gardens with a reverse-swinging yorker, Akhtar had created an impression much like how Javed Miandad had done when he smashed Chetan Sharma for a last-ball six in Sharjah 1986. The Miandad six scarred India for a long time and it seemed Akhtar would have a similar effect.
It was time for Tendulkar and Akhtar yet again, this time in Supersport Park, Centurion. After three pacy balls from Akhtar, Tendulkar unveiled his magic. Akhtar bowled a short and wide ball outside off at pace, Tendulkar used the pace, reached out for it and upper-cut the delivery for a six to the third man. That ONE shot tilted the balance firmly in India’s corner. That one shot undid the hoodoo what Akhtar could have established against Tendulkar.
The next two balls, a flick to deep square leg and that magnificent Tendulkar straight drive resulted in 18 runs from the over. The Eden nightmare had been buried. Centurion erupted as Tendulkar showed his mastery. Pakistan did not help themselves when Abdul Razzaq dropped Tendulkar off Akram, with the left-arm pacer admonishing him by saying, “Tu jaanta hain tune kya kiya hai? (Have you realised what you have done)”.
In 27 overs, Tendulkar carted the Pakistan bowling to all parts of the ground and looked set for a century. However, in a form of poetic justice, Akhtar produced the perfect bouncer and Tendulkar could only fend it to point to depart for 98 off 75 balls. Yuvraj Singh and Rahul Dravid ensured India had achieved the highest successful chase against Pakistan in the World Cup.
When one googles the statistics of Sachin Tendulkar in World Cup contests against Pakistan, he has scored 313 runs in five games at an average of 78 with 34 boundaries and just one six. However, that one six was ultra-special. Tendulkar might not have hit a century, but that 98 would be etched in the memories of billions of fans forever.