SRT: Saying goodbye to Mr. World Cup

Written by  //  February 15, 2011  //  Sport  //  5 Comments

Sachin Tendulkar, India vs Australia, 1996 World Cup, Mumbai

Sachin on his way to 90 against Australia during the 1996 World Cup

The first World Cup I ever watched was in 1996. I had only started watching cricket in the October of the previous year, and, unlike boys my age (I was nine), my first introduction to the sport was on a television set. India played New Zealand at home in three dreary tests starring a lot of rainfall and an ODI series that was probably a lot less exciting than the score line suggests (3-2 to India). But I, like many Indians before and after me, was hooked to the game: within two months I had graduated from asking my father every ten minutes if we were “winning” the test match to rattling off the ten ways in which a batsman can be dismissed.

So I was thrilled when I learned that the World Cup would soon be coming to our shores. Being the odd, obsessive child that I was, I cut out every cricket-related article I could find on the different teams, past world cup performances, key players to watch and other random bits of trivia and pasted them into a scrapbook. Armed with this weapon of mass geekiness, I found a big cushion and settled down for a month of cricket.

Two things happened in that spring of 1996: I became a (probably lifelong) cricket tragic, and I had my first and only brush with the phenomenon of crazed hero-worship. Except, it wasn’t so much a brush as it was a dunking: I emerged from the World Cup as a firm believer in the cult of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.

SRT was already a star leading into the World Cup, though I had yet to fully appreciate his magic live (his top score in 6 ODIs and 3 tests against New Zealand in 1995 had been 65). Promoted to open the batting in an ODI in Auckland in 1994 after Sidhu was forced out by a neck sprain, SRT demolished the Kiwi attack with a scintillating, and match-winning, 82 off 49 balls and effectively rubberstamped his own selection as opener. Entering the 1996 World Cup, he had scored over 3000 runs in 102 games at an average of 36, but as an opener in 32 games since 1994, he already averaged 48 and had scored all his four centuries in that cherished number two spot.

During that World Cup, though, his form was elevated to a level that till then was unprecedented, and he scored 523 runs in 7 games at an astonishing average of 87. He was playing some of the most uninhibited cricket of his career, yet already carrying the ODI team batting as he would become accustomed to doing for the next few years. Unfortunately, as Arghya recounts, it’s hard to forget that till he got out for a steady 65 leaving India at 98/2, none of the demons of the Eden pitch had reared their ugly heads.

Tendulkar’s World Cup record is remarkable: in 5 editions of the Cup he has scored 1796 runs in 36 matches at an average of 58 (against a career average of 45), more than anybody else. Most of these runs were accumulated in two sensational Cups – 1996 and 2003, when he scored 673 runs at an average of 61 – a record for the most runs in a single World Cup (and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his big-scoring World Cups were the only ones in which he consistently opened the innings).

More than the statistical numbers, however, SRT dominates my consciousness of the World Cup tournament like no other player. One of the finest developments of Indian cricket in the last decade has been the emergence of outstanding players that aren’t called Sachin. Yet, even as we thrill at our many Test, ODI and even T20 heroes, the World Cup has refused to unlink itself in my mind from SRT. He is the World Cup. Some of the finest Team India moments of the last four Cups have featured him; my personal favourites include a devastating slog-overs attack in a run-a-ball 137 against Sri Lanka in 1996, a tremendous 140 not out off 101 balls against Kenya, just days after his father passed away, and the innings featuring that upper cut six against Shoaib Akhtar (not to mention the less epic but extremely satisfying six off Andy Caddick after the Englishman claimed to have worked him out).

Yet, his glorious form in the 1996 World Cup will always remain special for me. Suhrith writes evocatively about the razor-sharp intensity with which children watch and remember cricket matches featuring their heroes. And so I remember my favourite knock by SRT in World Cup cricket: a sparkling innings of 90 against the eventual finalists, Australia, in the group stages of the 1996 cup. He reserved special treatment for Glenn McGrath, flaying him through covers, swatting the ball back over his head and, most memorably, slogging him for a six over midwicket. His wicket in that game – stumped to a hideously wide ball by Mark Waugh – has been entrenched in the public memory through numerous highlights packages but the innings that went before was my first look at sublime batting domination.

Tendulkar will now be playing his sixth World Cup (no doubt, a page of my scrapbook will have documented that Javed Miandad was playing his sixth in 1996). I don’t know whether he will retire from one-day international cricket after this – honestly, I suspect he might – but this will surely be his last World Cup. And that will truly be the end of an era. World Cups will never be the same again, not for me and, I suspect, not for a lot of Indian fans my age.

About the Author

Anisha is currently reading for a DPhil in Economics at the University of Oxford.

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5 Comments on "SRT: Saying goodbye to Mr. World Cup"

  1. Harsha May 20, 2014 at 11:38 am ·

    Sachin in 1996 was at supreme best. He started with an outstanding 128 not out against menows Kenya..followed by sesnible 75 against Westindies in difficult situations against powerpacked fas bowling..

    Then the magical innings was against australia.. He was one man show all through.. what a magical 90, with boundary of first ball against shane warne. Just no one could dominate the Australian bowling the way Sachin tore apart this bowling atttack. I still remember news intervened when India lost 2 wickets for nothing before the amazing Sachin knock.
    Then came his brilliant 137 in a loosing cause as Jayasurya destroyed career of Manoj prabhakar.. Sachin also made significant contribution with bowling.. but the blaze of Romesh Kavitharana and Sanath Jayasurya had lost it for India,
    The story continued as Sachin stood between Srilankan victory and the birth in the final of world cup.. in a wicket which was turning square .. this young man carrried the aspirations of the country. But the day did not belong to India as wicket of sachin almost brought down the whole of the team like a landslide..Cant forget tears on Kambli s eyes that historic day in cricket for wrong reasons.

    There was only one match that sachin dint play well,, the match against Zimbambwe.. rest all the matches he carried the torch of indian cricket team

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