18th February takes me back by 15 years to the summer of 1996. Those were the days before the marketers had laid the strict dictum of scheduling all of India matches as day nighters in marquee stadiums. The commercial dynamics were evolving and within Board for Control of Cricket in India’s (BCCI) permutation and combination tier B cities were allotted their share of big time cricket, a rarity these days as the format of this year’s world cup suggests. The images of that morning are still fresh in my memories.
The 1992 world cup’s razzmatazz appeal had colored the world and India was bubbling with excitement and anticipation as the next edition came home after four years. As per the tournament fixture Mohammed Azharuddin’s India were scheduled to play their first match against Maurice Odumbe’s Kenya at Barabati stadium, Cuttack; just an hour’s drive for my residence. On being educated about this my thrill knew no bounds and with just a solo live stadium experience prior to that of an international match featuring players in white attire, I was fantasizing and reassuring about my prospects of being there at the stadium to witness my first pyjama cricket match. The unknown quotient of world cup debutants Kenya, the African spirit of their fans and India’s expected dominance set the buzz around the stadium and made the experience enriching but what makes the day eternally memorable is Sachin Tendulkar’s maiden world cup century.
Before the world cup the Tendulkar phenomena had yet to grip the nation’s demographic in entirety. Though marked as a prodigy yet his scores had not gained the weight to reflect the mood of a billion and his bat’s fascia still did not have a sponsor logo. Having made his debut in 1989 he had played a miniscule role in the disastrous 1992 world cup campaign and with 3212 runs and 4 centuries from 102 matches there was still a lot to establish. The 1996 world cup came at the right juncture of his career, just when he was looking for the first big stage to showcase his credentials as a truly international icon. 18th February 1996 happens to be that red lettered day when he scored his first world cup century (127*) and with it the juggernaut that started rolling continues to mesmerize the world without any signs of slowing down.
How he rose to conquer every target that was once considered impossible and its overall impact on the country’s post liberalized macro economics are something that is there to be seen felt and cherished; today it forms a part of bed time stories for nursery kids. 1996 world cup defined the Sachin Tendulkar that the world was to see in the coming years. Not only did he become the highest scorer of that tournament (523 runs) but also rewrote his record in 2003 by scoring more than 600 runs and today with 1796 runs from 36 world cup matches he stands unparalleled and peerless. Let it be the swashbuckling 137* against Sri Lanka at Feroz Shah Kotla in the same world cup or an emotionally draining 140* against Kenya in 1999 after completing his father’s funeral or the appeasing 98 against Pakistan in 2003 after a series of sleepless nights or taking the attack to Andrew Caddick and company, all these accomplishments have made brand SRT a part of ICC’s world cup lexicon but on that distant afternoon in Cuttack when the base was being built for the future the singular thought in his mind would have been to carry the bat through and produce a match winning innings for the country.
Exactly a day after a decade and half since that century, in his 21st year in the international circuit he will become the second cricketer after Javed Miandad to feature in six editions of the world cup and once he walks into the park against Bangladesh he will be the most capped One Day International (ODI) cricketer surpassing Sanath Jayasuriya’s 444 match appearances. His longevity and consistency is a symbol of adaptability, concentration and single mindedness focus on the goal, it is a sheer example of perfect implementation of skills in four continents that he had honed at Shivaji Park and continues to polish at MIG Grounds or MCA Grounds in Bandra. With an international experience of 32000 plus runs and 97 centuries tomorrow he will embark on a mission for probably (probably because if he wishes then playing in 2015 world cup is attainable) the last time in the blue jersey towards realizing his unfulfilled dream of lifting the world cup on 2nd April 2011 at his backyard; Wankhede stadium, Mumbai. Ever since he made his thoughts known to the public, winning the world cup has become a mass aspiration but it is time for common sense to prevail.
For a country that has grown on Tendulkar these are indications of preparing towards the Sun set. Any day from today the little master might be playing in his last ODI and now is the appropriate time to once again stand up and salute the diminutive genius and the best way of articulating it would be to allow him to enjoy last phase of a voyage that has brought happiness to countless souls across boundaries. The new decade has convinced the fans that the hopes of winning the world cup are no more pinned on the shoulders of one individual but depends on the precise execution of game plan by 11 men and this will probably be the first time in his career that Sachin Tendulkar will be accompanied by ten equally competitive team mates to share the responsibilities of performance. Lastly the faster the mass realizes that the world cup has to be won for the country and not for Tendulkar, the better are the prospects for their favourite son’s dream coming true.
Many years from now when I will be sharing Sachinlore to my grand children; as much as I will talk about that chilly morning of February 1994 in Auckland when he opened an innings for the first time or the Ganesh Chaturthi evening of September 1994 in Colombo when he scored his maiden century against Australia that much I will be expressing them of how lucky I was to have witnessed live the master blaster’s first world cup ton at Barabati stadium, Cuttack on 18th February 1996.
18th February 2011,6.25pm
Link to the match against Kenya on 18th February 1996: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/65161.html
Statistics courtesy www.espncricinfo.com