Sachin Tendulkar, 90, vs Australia, 1996 World Cup
Sachin Tendulkar and the 90 he scored vs Australia, 1996 World Cup, at his home ground of Mumbai remains one of India’s greatest ever World Cup innings. It was, in many ways, the classic Sachin innings.
A heroic lone hand against a quality opponent that was ultimately unsuccesful, but simulataneously cemented his standing as the best batsman in the world. Here, it is recounted in the detail befitting its epic scope.
Like all epics, this one begins in the middle of things.
There is a sense of theatre about it too – Mumbai’s first game under lights, Wills World Cup, 27 February 1996. The third act is conventionally the site of conflict resolution, but after consecutive one-run thrillers in the previous two World Cups, it doesn’t seem that India versus Australia has much left to resolve.
The script, however, for another nail-biting Indian World Cup chase is already written.
Australia win the toss and take first strike in their first match in India for seven years. Mark Taylor takes early control of the first innings with a 73-ball 59 but Mark Waugh does one better, running up 126 in three-and-a-quarter hours.
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Striking at a cool 93 for the highest score by an Australian against India, Waugh Jr. becomes the first to compile back-to-back World Cup hundreds following a rapid 130 against Kenya at Visakhapatnam four days earlier.
The Points System
That game has brought Australia’s only points so far. Behind Sri Lanka and India, and level at this stage with Zimbabwe and the West Indies, it’s easy to forget that Australia are in greater need of a win this game than India, who have accumulated maximum points. Sachin collected both player-of-the-match awards for his 127* and 70.
Forty thousand spectators pay due tribute to Waugh’s elegance but its coda is frenetic. For the first time since the 1975 final, five batters have been run out in a World Cup innings. Two of those five are among the final four Australian wickets, which tumble in a chaotic final over, outnumbering the runs four to two.
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Make no mistake, Australia have collapsed. The last seven wickets have fallen for 26 runs, the final four haven’t bothered the scorers at all. Australia finish on 258 – formidable, but it could, and should, have been much more.
The momentum is with India at the break.
Exposition – Australia stifle India in the powerplay
Like all epics, this one begins in the middle of things.
Glenn McGrath opens with a maiden to Ajay Jadeja. In time, he will bowl two more, carrying out along with Damien Fleming one of the finest powerplay snuff-out operations in the tournament.
It seems ridiculous to say it at such an early stage in the innings, but Sachin, batting in an adorably oversized India jersey, seems to have some preternatural awareness that the Australians are already smothering the death-overs momentum.
His body language betrays this unease. It’s amazing to see Sachin so incredibly fidgety. He takes a single first ball, but two more from Fleming hit him before he can get them away. All the while tugging the top of his pad, plucking at his groin, transferring the bat from hand to hand, a nervous glance behind point here, a cinch of the handle with his left hand there.
Then he tugs at his lid, cinches the handle again, looks towards mid-on, and assumes his mark at the crease.
Only the last of those twitches was meaningful. The last ball of Fleming’s first over is dispatched sumptuously down the ground. Its exploitation of the restricted field so total that mid-on may as well have not attempted his pursuit of the ball.
It’s 6/0 after two overs.
India Sinks, Sachin Swims
The anxious forecast is proving desperately, disastrously true.
It is 9/2 after six overs, the hapless pair of Jadeja and Kambli are back in the hut having managed 19 balls and a solitary run between them. McGrath’s awkward length is causing Sachin to hop and luck isn’t on his side either. A wide off Fleming isn’t called and a rank piece of leg-stump filth by the same bowler somehow eludes Sachin’s furious swipe and crashes into his pad.
It’s becoming scratchy, and what’s making Sachin especially restless is that every dab of lighter fluid he throws onto the flickering flame of the innings – such as when he expertly threads the eye of the midwicket needle in the seventh over – is immediately strangled by the noose that McGrath and Fleming have fashioned from the outside-off-stump line. The home crowd share Sachin’s suffocation – the “Sachin! Sachin!” chants that were first heard around the third over have perished of inanition like the Indian innings.
So how to explain what happens next?
How to explain that, with the asking-rate creeping towards six, Sachin pulls a Houdini in escaping the noose? How to explain that the four runs added in the eighth over to a total of 13/2 are actually the opening salvo of, to stay with the Houdini theme, a conjuring trick that Sachin seemed to have pulled from the glare of the Mumbai floodlights, such was the blinding speed with which he achieved it and so improbable the hammerspace whence he retrieved it?
The first ball of the ninth is smoked over the infield. One step onto the back-foot efficiently powering a two-handed tennis swing for four.
It seems McGrath’s length immediately bothers Sachin less.
Sachin Takes Control
The boundary is followed by a no-ball, and another four, and an inside edge from Sachin falls just shy of Shane Warne at mid-on. The over yields thirteen runs and the next one brings a further ten.
Sachin has gone from 20 off 26 balls to 28 off 29 balls, although truthfully he’s never been the one in trouble this innings. When India come within one run of matching Australia’s tenth over score at the equivalent mark, it’s the loss of the two wickets that still weighs heavily.
But the next over changes all that.
The second ball is dispatched for another peerless hit down the ground. Thus, taking Sachin to 35 off 32 balls. Off the next ball, McGrath fails to gather a difficult caught-and-bowled chance off a leading edge.
Off the fifth ball, Sachin races to 41 with his only six of the game. An outrageous whipped shot that wrests loose the game’s momentum from its outside-off-stump prison and hurls it over wide long-on. The raw power is breathtaking – there’s more than a little contempt in it, and Houdini is out of his shackles.
Having started so perfectly, McGrath’s psychological defeat to Sachin is complete with the last ball of the over. For a second time, completely thrown off his length and producing a loose delivery that Sachin guides effortlessly through the scrum guarding the off-side.
It’s 54/2 after 11 overs. It’s all happened so quickly that not only are they now ahead of Australia at the same stage, India no longer feel the burden of those two wickets.
Peripeteia – Warne Strikes Back
However, the respite is short-lived. Warne is animatedly setting the field at the top of the thirteenth over.
By this point, Sachin has made 46 of India’s 56 runs and when he clobbers Warne’s first delivery down the ground to reach his fifty. The message is underlined – despite Mohammad Azharuddin’s attempts at a calming word in his ear, Sachin has to keep going. It’s boom or bust from here.
But for the first time, Sachin looks in real danger of getting out. A careless miscue escapes the grasping Stuart Law at mid-off and the over somehow yields another boundary when Shane Lee fails to stay within bounds while attempting to keep Sachin’s outside edge from the fence. Warne is getting the ball to really spin and it’s going everywhere – outside off, straight on, round Sachin’s legs.
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It feels like that desperation is slowly creeping back. Sachin seems nervous again, bringing down his bat too fast, closing the face too quickly, taking a huge stride forward just to block – anything to get Warne away.
Clouting Lee helps somewhat – once past mid-on, once imperiously down the ground with a baseball swing. But, Sachin blowing out his cheeks is delightfully symbolic of how Warne has turned the earlier heat of the crowd, charged up by the frenzy of hitting, back onto him.
Houdini has met his match in the card sharp.
A Flow Of Runs
But the runs keep coming. Watching the ball close onto the bat, Sachin has kept his head above water by safely pushing Warne into the leg-side for singles. He soon produces two underrated ‘flashbulb’ shots. A couple of lightning-fast adjustments to slog-sweep Waugh from wide outside-off to the fence and to similarly punish Warne for a short one.
By the end, however, Warne achieved exactly what he was brought on to do. He finishes with 10-1-28-1. And when Sachin hammers Michael Bevan through square-leg, it is his fourteenth hit to the fence. There will be just one more this evening.
Denouement – Sachin Falls to Waugh
Batting on 90 off 84 on his home ground, striking at 107 with 68% of his runs having come in boundaries, having survived then dominated the opposition’s best bowlers, with 117 more to get off 123, the only way, surely, that anything can go wrong is if Sachin gets himself out.
And at first, that looks like exactly what happens.
When Sachin charges Waugh in the thirtieth over and misses a really wide one, Ian Healy’s stumping kills the Indian run chase dead in its tracks. It seems like the inevitable outcome of the red mist that Sachin has ridden to the brink of a second World Cup hundred in three games, but whose consequences he surely could not elude forever.
But to paint Sachin’s dismissal and the subsequent folding of the Indian innings as some kind of inevitability leans a little too hard into the ‘lone genius’ narrative of Sachin’s career – in control even of his own dismissal – at the expense of selling Australia really short.
An Intelligent Plan?
In truth, Waugh worked out Sachin’s game. During, the bowler’s previous over, Sachin had used his feet twice but drawn a blank both times, and the over brought only two runs. In the thirtieth over, Sachin took two and then swept Waugh again for four. Six runs in two balls cleared the path he was hoping for, a field change opening midwicket by pushing the man towards square leg.
He was comprehensively beaten. Having already been slog-swept twice on the same ball, Waugh improvised, spotting Sachin’s use of the feet early and accordingly throwing down a wide. The ploy was finished by the wicketkeeper; Healy was alert to Waugh’s scheming, already in position as Sachin began chasing the bait.
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The rest was elementary. A fantastic 100 by Sachin Tendulkar at the 1996 World Cup. Though, all good things must come to an end.
Sachin has waged countless lone hands. But, few of them have been punctuated by quite the sense of real and immediate danger that dots the landscape of the 90 made by Sachin Tendulkar at Mumbai vs. Australia at the 1996 World Cup like landmines.
Like he did against the West Indies in the previous game, like he did at various points in this innings, Sachin tapped into the anxieties of his stumble just before the World Cup in a one-day series against New Zealand where he opened but made only 142 runs from five innings. These anxieties were then stoked as India began sinking fast against their first decent opponent in the tournament.
But that is exactly why it is such a wonderful innings.
Later in his career, Sachin managed extraordinary, even inspiring, feats of determination and discipline. But, the kind of visceral thrill prompted by the desperation and the danger with which Sachin found himself in constant acquaintance in Mumbai is instantly recognisable as the fervour of youth.
Risk v Reward
The knife-edge risks and the stunning boldness with which those risks were chased – out of necessity. For the rewards that they promised betray a feeling of being thoroughly bulletproof, of immunity to the consequences of that risk.
Playing without fear is the number one reason why we are fascinated by young players. Before the body breaks down and cynicism sets in.
But that does not do justice to the smarts of Sachin’s game in this innings. That amazing ability to figure out ways to keep scoring. Even after two wins on the spin, the desperation that gripped, receded from, and slowly crept back into Sachin’s batting, was instantly recognisable as India’s own. As though, they didn’t believe the strength of their own position in a home World Cup.
For just over two hours in Mumbai, Sachin Tendulkar personified that rollercoaster dynamic of World Cup cricket.
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