Dubai: The term ‘Desert Storm’ is familiar to almost everyone living in the Gulf but for cricket lovers across the world, it is synonymous with Sachin Tendulkar’s historic knock of 143 off 131 balls against Australia in the Coca Cola Cup at Sharjah Cricket Stadium - which came 22 years back on this day.
This knock that put India into the final of the tournament, despite being interrupted by one of the strongest natural desert storms to hit the stadium, is an example of a batsman’s undeterred focus and determination even amidst nature’s rage. An innings, which inspired many youngsters thereafter to take up cricket and emulate Tendulkar, which includes a certain Virat Kohli.
As a cricket writer, I consider this knock as my most memorable birthday gift. I was hoping to celebrate the day with the Gulf News team and other reporters at the stadium but instead, celebrated the day witnessing one of the great knocks in the history of the game. Two days later, Tendulkar celebrated his birthday (April 24) through another classic inning of 138 in the final to help India lift the trophy, beating Australia by six wickets.
During those days, there were no security checks at the stadium entrance and hence it was packed to the brim hours before the start. This tournament was a triangular series involving India, Australia and New Zealand and the Australians had already booked their place in the final. India had two options: to beat Australia or lose only by a certain margin to reach the final. Though India lost the match, Tendulkar ensured India a place in the final.
The press box those days was not very far from the dressing rooms and journalists could get a reasonably good view of players’ emotions and reactions from where we were seated. When the sandstorm broke out that afternoon, most players were taken aback by its sheer force, although we as local journalists had experienced it before.
Chasing Australia’s 284 for seven, India were off to a slow start and then accelerated through Tendulkar - who hit Michael Kasprowicz for a six over long-on and another six over square leg off the very next ball. Sharjah officials Mazhar Khan and Ali Anwar Jafri can recall the spots - to where those sixers went - to this day. That was the start of an epic knock that saw the legendary leg spinner Shane Warne being thrashed all over the park.
After the respite from the sand storm, India was faced with a revised target of 276 in 46 overs to win or needed to score 237 to reach the final. India could muster only 250 for five in 46 overs. Tendulkar fell with India’s score at 242, five runs after placing India in the final. The champion batsman hit nine boundaries and five sixes before getting caught behind by Adam Gilchrist off Damien Fleming. Incidentally, Fleming shares his birthday with Tendulkar.
The day after Tendulkar retired from cricket, I asked him about the Desert Storm knock during a chat with him at a Mumbai hotel - and on how delighted his mother was when he returned a hero after the ‘98 event. “Whether I scored a 100 or 15 it did not matter for my father and mother...they always had encouraging words for me. Their reaction to me, when I got back from any tour, was never related to how I performed. It was more about parents and their child and that has always stayed that way. Like any other Indian family, we used to buy a packet of sweets, offer it to the almighty and be thankful for all that we have in our lives.”
More than two decades later, cricket lovers thank the master batsman even now for gifting the world with such a gem of an innings - which stands out among his 100 three-figure innings in international cricket.