Just over fifteen years to this date, Sachin Tendulkar made his most memorable One Day International (ODI) hundred yet. The venue and city were so nondescript that neither Sachin nor the Indian team would ever visit the town again. The scenario though would be one that’d play out on television screens across India many times over time and again.
Going into that Sunday, India needed to not just win over a very average world worst Zimbabwe squad. They needed to win such that their Net Run Rate (NRR) was higher than Zimbabwe’s at the end of the game. Coming into the game, India had been winless on the tour, Javagal Srinath had tried and failed spectacularly at being a pinch hitter and Sachin Tendulkar was en route to having the worst year that an Indian captain would ever have. (For those who think India have it bad today, India would win eight out of their 48 international commitments in the year 1997!!!!)
Losing the game at Benoni or not making it to the final would have shocked and surprised no one. A fairly insipid bowling performance in the morning meant India needed 241 to win at about a run a ball to earn the right to get slaughtered by the hosts in the final. A Sunday evening TV audience of millions tuned in to see how long Sachin would last. On a pitch where the ball barely came on to the bat and batting in a lineup that had no real leadership, Sachin turned on ‘Masterclass mode’. Eight fours and a six were sideshows in a two-hour demonstration of aggressive running, concentration and masterful shepherding of a lineup that had precious little international experience. Every stroke carried the aura of the one superhuman on the field and every stroke revealed the determination that was needed to ensure India would not be shamed out of the tournament by the world’s lowest ranked and rated team. Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh would eventually steer the team to victory but no one would mistake their partnership for the reason behind the win.
When Indialogy is analyzed by our successors and aliens in 2554 A.D., that 1997 Sunday in Benoni would be a snapshot for all that was Indian cricket in the 1990s. A sport burgeoning in popularity, a nation of a hundred million TV viewers craving a hero, a team laying it all on the shoulders of one genius and the genius delivering ever so often in circumstances and settings that deserved far less.
As February 28 2012 dawns, I look back at that Benoni Sunday for inspiration and deja vu. The Tuesday at Hobart could be the last remotely relevant One Day international Sachin Tendulkar plays in. And I hope the hopelessness of the entire tour, the gloomy days ahead for Indian cricket and the overall incompetence of the squad push India’s greatest citizen to a place only he can go to. And by doing that here’s hoping he finally unloads himself off the unbearable weight of the hundredth hundred while steering the team to the finals of a triangular tournament. A tournament we’d all probably forget in a couple of years and a finals that in all likelihood will not go India’s way. Just like the 90’s, Just like when it all began!