"I wasn't happy with how the innings started, but once I hit Michael Kasprowicz for two sixes, I was on a roll" - Sachin Tendulkar on the Desert Storm. © AFP

“I wasn’t happy with how the innings started, but once I hit Michael Kasprowicz for two sixes, I was on a roll” – Sachin Tendulkar on the Desert Storm. © AFP

Champagne, flowers, cake and a damaged car all jostled for attention as Sachin Tendulkar held an already captive audience in awe in Mumbai on Monday (April 23). A day before the 20th anniversary of Act Two of Desert Storm – his exceptional 134 in the final of the tri-series against Australia in Sharjah on April 24, 1998, which was also his 25th birthday — the little man rolled the years back as he recalled his heroics in successive matches against the Aussies, as well as India’s march to the 2011 World Cup title.

The occasion was the launch of Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians, written by Boria Majumdar, the cricket historian, and Tendulkar regaled the gathering with anecdotes and nostalgia.

Having made 143 in the league game two days previously to single-handedly pilot his team to the final even though it was the Aussies who won the match, Tendulkar ensured India had the last laugh when he decimated a quality attack in the title clash too. “Talking about the Sharjah trip in 1998, it was a special one, a big one, because it is something which happened with me for the first time on the cricket field,” Tendulkar said of the first century, which came either side of a sweeping sandstorm that necessitated a significant stoppage in play. “When I was batting there and suddenly I see this desert storm approaching us, it was like a Hollywood movie and the first thought that came to my mind was ‘Where is (Adam) Gilchrist?’ because I thought I would be blown away and I was all prepared to grab him!

“But all that happened and we went to the dressing room and the target was reshuffled and a fresh target was given to us. One thing that was going on in my mind was that we need to win against Australia because if we qualify for the finals, having beaten them in the earlier game we would get them to think.”

That wish wasn’t fulfilled, but it was not to matter too much in the final analysis. “We were staying in Dubai, so the drive post-match from Sharjah to Dubai, you unwind and go to sleep, it was almost 2.30am. The next day, I was meeting Ravi (Shastri) and my former manager Mark Mascarenhas for lunch, and I felt I hadn’t recovered. In those days, due to lack of knowledge and lack of awareness, the post-match recovery programmes were not given as much importance, to be honest; this has happened in the last 10-15 years.

“I woke up in the morning feeling really stiff and I went out and had lunch with them and later on in the evening, there was another official dinner. So there was no time for recovery as such. By the time I realised, (it was) the next day and we were going to the ground. It happened to be my birthday, so all the celebrations happened and a number of cakes were cut and here I was out in the middle.”

On experiencing the sandstorm in 1998:
“Talking about the Sharjah trip in 1998, it was a special one, a big one, because it is something which happened with me for the first time on the cricket field. When I was batting there and suddenly I see this desert storm approaching us, it was like a Hollywood movie and the first thought that came to my mind was ‘Where is (Adam) Gilchrist?’ because I thought I would be blown away and I was all prepared to grab him!”

In the middle of all that, there was a silver lining of sorts, with the inevitable rider. “Luckily, we got to field, which I think was an advantage, but at the same time, the heat in Sharjah is so much that you want to come to the dressing room and put your feet in the ice bucket,” Tendulkar continued. “When I went out to bat in the evening (with India needing 273 to win the match), I felt mentally I was not quite there. I was trying to focus and I knew it was all about spending as much time as possible there and then the rhythm was going to come back. It took about 5-6 overs and till then I was not at all happy with the way I was moving. Eventually, confidence is all about which part of the bat is hitting the ball and I wasn’t finding the middle of the bat.

“I waited for my turn and eventually I played those couple of big shots off (Michael) Kasprowicz which went for two sixes in a row and from thereon, things started rolling the way I wanted and we ended up winning the tournament.”

That, after all these years, he still is proud of his accomplishment that night was obvious when he said, “But what an incredible experience it was. That was one period where Australians travelled across the world and thrashed everyone. They were by far the best side in the world and go out and chase 270-odd was a big ask, but we were able to do that. When I got back also, the kind of reception that I received is still there. I remember only yesterday, I was talking to one of my friends and we were discussing that single-wicket tournament in Shivaji Park where I was there as the chief guest the next day. The buzz was such that Shivaji Park was completely crowded with cricket fans and that left an impression on me. It was all due to Sharjah.”

The focus then shifted to the one dream he had chased all his adult life, and finally realised it in his last shot at glory – the World Cup crown. Tendulkar recalled with glee how the joyously rampant crowd safeguarded his car when his wife Anjali was making her way to the stadium after India’s victory, but then indulged itself once she had alighted and made it to the safe confines of the Indian dressing-room.

On the celebrations outside Wankhede:
“Just outside the stadium, people are dancing, celebrating, jumping on top of the cars. They spotted Anjali inside the car and they said ‘We can’t touch this car, we can’t do anything to this car’. Somehow, she gets inside the stadium and then we were all celebrating in the dressing-room and when it was time to go back to the hotel, I looked at the car and wondered how there were dents on the roof of the car. The driver said ‘After I dropped madam, everyone started jumping and dancing on the top of the car.’ I said that’s not a bad idea, these dents will always remind of that wonderful moment at the World Cup, so I call them Happy Dents.”

“Anjali being superstitious, she didn’t want to be at the ground. After we won the World Cup, I called her and said ‘what are you doing at home? You got to be here in the dressing room, we are all celebrating’. Somehow, she makes it to the stadium and while she was getting to the stadium, just outside the stadium, people are dancing, celebrating, jumping on top of the cars. They spotted Anjali inside the car and they said ‘We can’t touch this car, we can’t do anything to this car’.

“Somehow, she gets inside the stadium and then we were all celebrating in the dressing-room and when it was time to go back to the hotel, I looked at the car and wondered how there were dents on the roof of the car. The driver said ‘After I dropped madam, everyone started jumping and dancing on the top of the car. I said that’s not a bad idea, these dents will always remind of that wonderful moment at the World Cup, so I call them Happy Dents.” Surely, at least one chewing gum brand will be delighted with this story.

During their run to the title, India were involved in a stirring tie with England at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, a result Tendulkar said convinced the team that they were not to be denied their tryst with glory. “The England match was a special game for us,” Tendulkar acknowledged. “We scored I think 338 and then it was a tie. So the message which started circulating everywhere was that in all the tournaments in which (MS) Dhoni was the captain in which there has been a tied game, he has ended up winning the tournament.

“If you notice, the first IPL, the first Champions Trophy, the first World T20 in South Africa — these are the tournaments (which India won) in which there has been a tie and this was also a tied, so we thought we would also win the World Cup then. And that’s how it all started.

On the belief after the tie against England:
“The England match was a special game for us. We scored I think 338 and then it was a tie. So the message which started circulating everywhere was that in all the tournaments in which Dhoni was the captain in which there has been a tied game, he has ended up winning the tournament. If you notice, the first IPL, the first Champions Trophy, the first World T20 in South Africa — these are the tournaments in which there has been a tie and this was also a tied, so we thought we would also win the World Cup then.”

“After the final we went back to the hotel and God knows how many bottles of champagne were opened that night. On the floor, nobody was allowed to shut their door, so all the doors were open and virtually in each and every room, they had their own music going on. And in our room, for a change, I had a flower stuck here and then we were dancing and singing, which I have never done in my life before. I don’t do it every weekend but that was a special moment for us and an incredible moment, something that I cannot imagine. After winning the World Cup, you feel, ‘Okay, how are we going to celebrate’ and it just happened on its own momentum, its own rhythm. Then we went to the top floor where all the friends and players got together and we went on till 5.30 or 6 in the morning.”

Talking of champagne, Virat Kohli, Tendulkar’s teammate during that energetic drive to the World Cup, is quickly reeling in the master with delightfully delicious batting. He already has 35 ODI hundreds, just 14 short of Tendulkar’s 49, and is well on his way to becoming the first man to 50 ODI centuries.

Will Tendulkar send Kohli 50 bottles of champagne, should the latter get to 50 ODI tons? “100%,” he replied, in a jiffy. “I will not send it but I will personally go there and share it with him!”