Two Storms in Sharjah

On 22 April 1998, a sandstorm swept across Sharjah. However, it was Sachin Tendulkar who proved to be the more devastating t of the two storms.
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Tendulkar: A Step-Down And a Step-Up | Source: Hindustan Times

In the 90s, India's cricket was synonymous with Sachin Tendulkar. Carrying the hopes of a billion people, the cult of Tendulkar rose to seismic proportions. Despite being a formidable team and already a one-time World Cup winner, India did not have as many consistent performers as a team like Australia. Often, Tendulkar was India's primary hope for winning a match. If Tendulkar did not perform, viewers would switch off their TVs, believing that India wouldn't be able to set a high enough total or chase a target. This belief held some truth, and the iconic night at Sharjah only reinforced it.

Nearly four years ago, Sachin was promoted up the order. It is generally accepted that the best batsman plays at number 3; this is evident in the case of Ponting, Lara, Viv Richards, Kohli, and Sangakkara. However, with a team as handicapped as India, it made sense for two of their best batsmen, Ganguly and Sachin, to face as many balls as possible. This strategy would reduce the shine of the ball and assist the batsmen down the order. Despite being a modern great, even Dada (Ganguly) paled in comparison to Tendulkar's brilliance.

Tendulkar truly came into his own after his promotion to the opening slot. If he was relentless before, he became even more formidable now. It is a widely held belief that Tendulkar was at his zenith in the second half of the '90s, with his performance at Sharjah often considered as the crown jewel of his performances during this period. His 143-run feat against Australia in the Coca-Cola Cup is a unique memory despite being a loss. It stands out in every sense - both as a performance and as a cherished memory.

Australia had scored a massive 286 runs, virtually determining the outcome of the match. However, India's fate remained uncertain. To qualify for the final, they needed to surpass the net run rate of New Zealand, as they were tied on points. Both India and New Zealand had only one win each. To outdo the Kiwis, India needed to either win the game or score at least 254 runs to narrowly edge ahead.

Ganguly and Tendulkar took to the crease, but Dada was dismissed by Fleming in the ninth over, while Mongia's vigil at the crease lasted only 13 overs. Despite his short stature, Sachin stood tall on one end until a sandstorm interrupted the play. Due to the loss of 20-25 minutes, the target was revised. India now needed 276 runs from 46 overs to win or 237 runs to qualify. As Tendulkar returned to bat, someone from the dressing room whispered something in his ear. The content of the message remains unknown, but once the sandstorm subsided, Tendulkar unleashed his own storm on the pitch.

Fleming, Warne, Moody, and Kasprowicz were all dismissed with complete disregard. Kasprowicz especially fell victim to his bravado, with Sachin's flat-batted six over midwicket etched into everyone's memory. If that wasn't enough, he then proceeded to hit the ball towards the backward square leg. The innings was far from perfect, for he had been given two lifelines by the Aussies. However, very few teams have faced harsher repercussions for their fielding errors as they did that day.

As usual, Sachin appeared to have extra time before playing a shot. India quickly surpassed the 237-run mark, qualifying for the finals. However, with 34 needed off the last 19 balls, Sachin was out. A hush fell over the delirious crowd, followed by a thunderous round of applause for his talent. Many turned off their TVs as the remaining batsmen only added 13 runs in the next 18 balls. Despite India's loss, the audience felt victorious, having witnessed Sachin's performance. A few days later, India avenged this loss by defeating the Australians in the final. Unsurprisingly, Sachin scored another century, this time contributing to a win. While his performance couldn't surpass his previous brilliance, it was still a display that would outshine many other batsmen.

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