World Cup match-ups don’t come any bigger than India v Pakistan and with over a Billion people watching in 2003 Sachin Tendulkar played a truly brilliant World Cup innings at Centurion; one that he himself would rank as one of his very best.
Greatest CWC Moment 98 Days to Go
Both India and Pakistan needed to win this Pool A match. Victory for India would ensure a smooth passage into the Super Six phase, while defeat for Pakistan would mean it would be out of the running. The match-up between the traditional rivals was towards the back end of the league stage, and it was expected to be crucial even before the tournament began. Tendulkar later confessed that the match had been building in his mind for over a year, and when the occasion arrived, he was ready to let the pent up energy and emotions loose.
The scene was set in Shoaib Akhtar’s opening over, the second of India’s chase, Akhtar was fresh from bowling the fastest delivery in World Cup history earlier in the tournament against England and it was a fearsome Pakistan attack featuring Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Akhtar that Tendulkar had to face. He hit the fourth ball of the over for a six over point – a stroke that was audacious in its conception and execution. The ball might have been called a wide, but Tendulkar slashed it over the ropes. The next two balls were cut and driven for fours, with 18 runs coming off that over all with the most glorious and impeccable timing.
It was only one over, and Pakistan had racked up a substantial 273 for 7, driven by a Saeed Anwar century, but that one over signalled a definitive momentum shift.
Tendulkar had come out with intent, and though he lost Virender Sehwag early and Sourav Ganguly fell first ball, India’s Little Master was in the zone, with nothing seemingly affecting his concentration. Every run came with precision and grace, it was an innings of outstanding beauty as he caressed the ball around the ground; the only impediment he faced was from leg cramps towards the end of his innings.
There was already a carnival atmosphere at Centurion, with Indian and Pakistani fans filling the stadium to the brim, and Tendulkar treated those who had come to one of the greatest innings in World Cup history.
“I have never seen such a concisely expressed cricket stroke. He simply met the ball and the entire execution began there and finished there. And by now the crowd, the most vividly alive of the tournament, had gone quite wild. Visually it was like a cinematic special effect: everything moved in a blur – flags, roars, horns, waves, the ball, Shoaib – and amid it Sachin and his pure stroke appeared magically frozen.”
Rahul Bhattacharya, noted cricket writer and award-winning novelist.
Akhtar, who had been taken off the attack after that first over, eventually returned and dismissed Tendulkar with a well-directed short ball, but by then the Indian had blasted 98 off 75 balls and changed the game for India with an innings to match the occasion of the world’s biggest stage.
What happened next
Tendulkar was dismissed in the 28th over, with India 177 for 4. The side needed only 97 more to win in 22.2 overs, and the composed duo of Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh ensured there would be no roadblocks while completing a six-wicket win in just 45.4 overs.
Victory also meant that India maintained its unbeaten record against Pakistan in ICC Cricket World Cups, a record which stands to this day. Tendulkar was awarded the man of the match award for his game changing innings and India went on to finish as runners-up to Australia.
‘The game against Pakistan was the biggest of my life. The buzz over this match had started in 2002….I remember a few innings and important among them is the innings against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup.’
Sachin Tendulkar, quoted in 2009