But if someone asks you to name one innings from SRT which has left an irremovable mark on your memory, probably most of you will come up with the answer – “The one he played against Australia in Sharjah. The Desert Storm one”
That was first year of my graduation. Although exams were hovering over my head, I never cared much for them. Last few months had been full of enjoyable cricket – After winning the test series against Australia, India won all their group matches in the triangular ODI series. Just before the final of the triangular series, one of the Australians made a remark “India has won all the league matches. May be they will lose the final to us.” We obliged in the final.
India moved to Sharjah to play another triangular series. Suddenly the team which looked unbeatable in India found it difficult to win in Sharjah – a ground which has given me one of most painful memories. Soon, we reached our familiar territory – India can reach the final only if A beats B by C runs and India doesn’t lose to B by more than D runs and India beats A by E runs.
So before the final league match against Australia, India had its task cut out. They were not supposed to lose more than a certain margin.
Azhar did what he did best in those days. He won the toss. We batted first.
By halfway mark, Australians were looking set for a huge score. They had not lost many wickets and Mark Waugh was in ominous form. They kept scoring. Bevan scored a 100 and Australia reached 284.
India started its chase. Well, really no one was looking for a win. All we wanted to get pass the score of 252. That would have ensured India’s entry into the final.
SRT was his usual self – batting brilliantly. Suddenly for some or may be no reasons, one of the Australian bowlers decided to sledge SRT. I think it was Kasprowicz.
Never give your mail id on a porn site unless you want to close that mail account. Never switch to a channel showing Baghban when you have your parents sitting with you unless you want to listen to a lecture on how thankless your generation is towards their parents. Never let your wife know your real salary unless you want her to spend it all. Never sledge SRT unless you want to get hit badly.
Kasprowicz forgot one of the most basic rules of playing against SRT. What he got in return was two giant hits ending in the stands.
Ganguly got out but SRT had a good partnership with Mongia. But soon Mongia got out and so did Azhar and Jadeja. At 138/4 in almost 30 overs, it looked all dark. India was always behind the eight ball but with 3 quick wickets, dreams to make it to the final were almost shattered.
There was a strong breeze blowing throughout the Indian innings. Slowly it got stronger. It also started blowing lot of sand with it. Suddenly everyone realized that there was a sandstorm passing across the stadium. Play was stopped. Commentators told that it was raining somewhere close the city.
“Okay. The match is over. Let’s go and study” most of us thought. Lot of the guys went back to their rooms. I didn’t.
The sandstorm was so strong that everyone was looking for cover. Someone was lying on the ground and covering his face with his shirt, someone was trying to protect eyes by covering by his hat. Most had gone back to pavilion. Because of the sand, visibility had dropped to near zero.
Amid the storm, camera zoomed in on SRT. He was standing still, one hand on the waist, other holding the bat. He wasn’t looking down or trying to cover his face so that sand doesn’t go in the eyes. He was in fact staring at the storm; in its eyes as if he was saying “You want to scare me? Get lost. I have got a game to win.” Sandstorm took everyone by surprise that night but SRT looked unperturbed as if he faced it every day. He looked like a proud general of an army who was standing alone to guard his post.
All we could do was to pity him. Even though he had played so well, we were going to fail.
We were wrong. What followed after the storm was something even more ferocious.
Match resumed. Target was revised. India needed 237 to qualify and 272 to win the match. We never expected the victory. But now even qualifying for the final was looking a distant dream.
VVS Laxman, a newbie in those days, joined SRT. For SRT, he was nothing more than someone standing at the other end because as per the rules, one cannot bat alone. SRT kept batting. Few boundaries brought cheers in our hostel’s TV room. They brought back the crowd as well. The partnership started growing and we started hoping again.
Soon, the balls hit by SRT’s bat started looking like they were shot of a gun. If it was an average ball, it went for a six. If it was a good ball, it went for a four. If it was an excellent ball, he gave it respect, played it softly and ran like crazy to get 2.
SRT pushed the ball and called VVS for a single. VVS did not respond. What followed was an event even rarer watching a peaceful budget session in the parliament. We saw an angry SRT. He was so angry at VVS that VVS could hardly lift his face. SRT kept yelling at him for ages. 1 billion mouths were agape at this event.
Play resumed. So did the fours and sixes. But the target was so steep that even Gavaskar said on air “India should be happy to score 237. I don’t think even little master can win this match now.” Little master had other ideas.
India needed 76 in 6 overs which was unthinkable in those days. For us, we needed 41 in 6 overs to qualify for the finals.
We needed 67 in 5. Tony Greig had been saying only three words till now, “What a player.” He said something else this time “I think he wants to win this match.”
“Does he? Yes he does. He always does” we thought but “Can he?”
48 were needed in 4 overs.
34 were needed in last 19 balls. India had qualified for the final. But SRT was not playing for this milestone. He was playing to win, as he has always done.
Damien Fleming bowled a leg side bouncer. SRT tried to hook but failed. Gilchrist collected it and appealed with strong conviction. He always appealed with strong conviction. So did Fleming. SRT looked at the square leg umpire. The ball had surely bounced over his head. It should have been a no ball. Square Leg umpire, I think it was India’s old friend Steve Bucknor, remained unmoved. Umpire at the other end did not move as well. Australians looked frustrated as well as puzzled. They thought SRT had hit the ball but an umpiring error was going to result in continuation of their torture.
“No way is this out. Australians should be fined for showing dissent” we thought. But we saw something that left us at a loss of words. We saw SRT walking back. He used to always walk those days. Later replays confirmed that he had hit the ball before Gilchrist caught it. Replays also showed that ball had gone above his head hence it should have been a no ball. That is what SRT waited for. But umpire didn’t declare it a no ball and SRT walked.
“Stupid” I thought. But it showed his greatness. At a juncture when Australians looked to have accepted the defeat, because they knew there is no stopping to this storm, SRT showed his sportsmanship and walked. If you have worked real hard to achieve a goal and reached within touching distance, it takes a lot of courage to give it away for one word - ethics.
Soon after he got out, the difference between his and his teammate’s class was visible – not only in abilities but also in attitude. After his departure, India needed 34 of last 3 overs. All we could score was 8. Probably Australian bowling was too good for our other batsmen. Probably they were happy with the fact that India had reached the final.
In the presentation ceremony, SRT said “In India, we won all our league matches and lost the final to Australia. Here Australia has won all their league matches. May be we can return the favor”
2 days later, on SRT’s birthday, India did return the favor. SRT scored another master class century and India lifted the trophy. Not that this century was any lesser in quality than the previous one, just that the circumstances, the power hitting and the sandstorm added more drama to the previous century.
He has scored many centuries after that. No one knows how many he will score in the future. But if there is one century which stands out, it is the desert storm one.