Sachin Tendulkar signed off as the most successful One-Day International batsman of all time, with the most runs, most centuries and most half-centuries against his name, but for the first four and a half years, he didn’t set the limited-overs stage afire.
His first 69 games produced 13 fifties and no hundred. Then, in New Zealand in March 1994, he volunteered to open the innings after Navjot Singh Sidhu was ruled out with a stiff neck and the rest is history.
Tendulkar brought up his first ODI ton in his 79th match. By the time he called time on his limited-overs career on Sunday (December 23), he had added 48 more, finishing with 18,426 runs at an average of 44.83, with 49 centuries and 96 half-centuries in 463 appearances. Wisden India lists his top five ODI innings.
1. 82 v New Zealand (Auckland, March 27, 1994): This was the innings that was to define Sachin Tendulkar’s ODI career. In 69 previous games in the middle order, Tendulkar had made just 13 fifties; in his first innings as an opener, Tendulkar tore New Zealand apart with an audacious display of ball-striking, announcing the arrival of limited-overs cricket’s consistently most explosive and authoritative batsman. India were only chasing 143 for victory and Tendulkar relished the new ball, smashing 15 fours and two sixes in a 49-ball 82 against an attack that comprised Danny Morrison, Chris Pringle and Gavin Larsen. New Zealand were shell-shocked, the Indians delighted at having found the right position, even if only accidentally, for Tendulkar to do his thing in the limited-overs game.
2. 143 and 134 v Australia (Sharjah, April 22 and 24, 1998): A package deal, these two hundreds, the first to secure India a place in the final of the tri-series against Australia, the second to celebrate his 25th birthday by steering India to the title. India had to win their last league game, or work the run rate, to reach the final. Australia amassed 284 for 7, and India needed to make 254 to sneak into the final ahead of New Zealand. A sandstorm midway through the chase left India requiring 237 in 46 overs to go through. Single-handedly, Tendulkast masterminded the chase, his 143 off 131 deliveries containing nine fours and five sixes. That Nayan Mongia’s 35 was the next highest score indicates Tendulkar’s dominance. First goal accomplished, Tendulkar turned on the heat in the final too after Australia posted 272 for 9. In another brilliant assault, he dismantled the threat of Damien Fleming, Michael Kasprowicz and Shane Warne, batting like a man possessed in making 134 off 131 wih 12 fours and three sixes before receiving a poor decision. By then, the result was a foregone conclusion, India winning by six wickets with nine deliveries to spare.
3. 98 v Pakistan (Centurion, March 1, 2003): THE most eagerly anticipated match in any World Cup lived up to its hype as India maintained their unbeaten record against Pakistan in the competition, thanks in no small measure to a sensational blitzkrieg from Tendulkar. Saeed Anwar’s measured 101 had helped Pakistan to an imposing 273 for 7, worth several more in a high-pressure contest. Keyed up during the break, Tendulkar came out and launched a memorable attack on Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar. The ball skidded away to all parts of SuperSport Park as Tendulkar subjected Pakistan to a ferocious battering. India’s 50 came up in just 32 deliveries, Tendulkar’s in 37. It was the Master at his fearsome best, his march to a hundred only halted by cramps and a snorter from Akhtar. This 98, though, was worth its weight in gold, one for the ages. “Happily, the match was dominated by its greatest player, the best batsman to appear since war,” was how the late Peter Roebuck described the innings.
4. 175 v Australia (November 5, 2009, Hyderabad): An epic if there was one, even if it didn’t come with a fairytale ending. Australia had made the most of excellent batting conditions to pile up 350 for 4, leaving India to score at over seven an over right from the start. India began brightly but a middle-order collapse ripped the heart out of their chase. Tendulkar was in no mood to give up, putting on an exhibition that left the audience, his own team-mates and the Australians entranced. He was nudging 37, but ran with the energy and enthusiasm of a teenager while batting like the virtuoso he is. There were 19 fours and four sixes during his 141-ball masterpiece as he took India to the brink of victory. A cheeky paddle with 19 needed off 18 deliveries ended the entertainment as Tendulkar was seventh man out. India were bowled out for 347 but even in defeat, Tendulkar emerged a hero. Again.
5. 200* v South Africa (February 24, 2010, Gwalior): It was the day of the Indian railway budget, and the banter doing the rounds was that the only way Mamta Banerjee, the Union Railway Minister, could be knocked off the front pages of newspapers the following day would be if Tendulkar made a double hundred. Sure enough, Tendulkar obliged, unleashing a wonderful range of strokes on a brilliant batting surface against a top-class South African attack. Not a shot was hit in anger, yet the hundred came up in 90 deliveries. The road from 100 to 200 was a lot more frenzied, spanning just a further 57 deliveries and including 12 further fours and three sixes. That it came just two months before his 37th birthday made it even more special. Twice in the preceding 12 months, he had hinted at the double while making an unbeaten 163 (retired hurt) against New Zealand in Christchurch in March 2009 and 175 against Australia that same November. There was no denying him a third time as he became the first man to score a ODI double hundred, his unconquered 200 off 147 deliveries comprising 25 fours and three sixes.
(This piece was first published on December 23, 2012)