Sachin’s Forgotten Genius: IPL 2010 And The ICC World Cup 2003
As the little master turns 46, we look back at one of the lesser talked about chapters of his glorious cricketing career
Sachin Tendulkar’s cricketing career came a full circle in 2011 when he finally became part of a World Cup winning team. The scenes of him being lifted around the Wankhede on the shoulders of younger teammates signaled the realization of a personal and a collective dream. It was a dream that a billion Indians had dreamt with him, a dream we came agonizingly close to achieving in 2003 but had to contend with seeing it slip on that forgettable afternoon in Johannesburg. Somewhere, by the end of the first decade of the 2000s, we had come close to accepting that Sachin’s greatness had to be delinked with his cup winning abilities. Most of them had started believing by then that his ability lay in scoring tons of runs but a cup wasn’t probably in his destiny.
In less than a year before the World Cup started in the subcontinent in 2011, Sachin had once again demonstrated his greatness by single-handedly carrying Mumbai Indians into the finals of the 2010 edition of the Indian Premier League. It is an effort that now lies largely forgotten for his career’s crowning achievement followed soon. But if someone wants to understand what Sachin was made up of, it’s a story that needs to be told and retold.
The story begins in 2007 when the holy trinity of Indian cricket decided to step aside and let the younger crop take the country ahead in the game’s newest and snazziest avatar – T20 cricket. Tendulkar, along with Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid made themselves unavailable for the World T20 in South Africa and the rest, as they say, is history. MS Dhoni leading his unheralded young troops to the trophy sans the big stars seemed to give credence to the theory that an ICC Trophy might just not be in Sachin’s fate. After all, Sachin himself was part of the disastrous World Cup campaign in the Caribbean a few months before the World T20 glory.
This was the background which made Sachin’s IPL participation a lip-smacking proposition in 2008. Everyone wondered how would he take to the format in which he had experience of playing a single match – India’s inaugural T20I against South Africa. But 2008 didn’t bring the answers the fans and experts were looking for. The fans got the first glimpse of Sachin in IPL a lot later than they would have liked and by then, Mumbai Indians’ ship was already sinking. He fared well but failed to take it to safer shores. The 2009 season in South Africa saw some improvement as the strike rate jumped from 106 to 120 while he averaged 33 runs every inning. It also saw him put KKR bowlers to the sword along with Sanath Jayasuriya in a knock that rolled back the years.
But the real rolling back of the years happened in 2010. As the IPL returned to India, there was an air of anticipation around it. Sachin was 36 and there were murmurs of the retirement of the legend with the quadrennial event to follow next year. The fans didn’t know what to expect of him though. Although he didn’t exactly seem to struggle as his contemporaries did in the previous IPL editions, he hadn’t lit it up either as one would expect from the special cricketer. Moreover, Mumbai Indians finishing seventh under his leadership in the previous edition had cast doubts over the decision of the management to persist with him as the skipper.
The first match stretched him as a skipper as despite posting a 200 plus total on the board, Mumbai Indians looked clueless against Yusuf Pathan’s onslaught and managed to win the match by the skin of their teeth. In their next four fixtures, Sachin blossomed and how! There were three half-centuries and three Man of the matches. The Master had cracked the code, it seemed. The 63 against Delhi was scored at a Strike Rate of closed to 200 but didn’t include a single six and was one of the better risk-free knocks in T20 cricket. He then shepherded a tricky chase of 155 against Kolkata with a calm 71 before combining forces with Dhawan to scale down a 181 target against Chennai with minimum fuss.
The Orange cap remain stuck to his curly mop for the rest of the season as he kept churning one endearing performance after another, destroying notions on the way that the format was a young man’s party. There was no major tweak to technique. There was no change in style. It was just Sachin at his masterful best, reveling like a kid who had just figured out a new formula to get around a problem while his friends still scratched their heads. The crowds were chanting “Sachin! Sachin!” once again in the stands, making the neutral wonder whether it’s an ODI from the late ’90s. He accumulated 618 runs at a strike rate of 132, 200 more than anyone in his team did. Halfway through the season, Mumbai were almost assured of a semi-final berth.
But then there was a meltdown, a meltdown so hauntingly similar to the 2003 final and the 1996 Semi Final that it convinced every Sachin fan that the master batsman will forever remain the Cup-less legend. Up against Chennai’s gettable total of 169, his team never looked to find its way in the chase. An unconvincing 48 by the right-hander gave hope but once he got out, it didn’t take long for things to fall apart, just as they did in Kolkata 14 years ago against Sri Lanka.
Just like in the 2003 World Cup post-match presentation, an expressionless Sachin stood to receive the Man of the Tournament award from Garfield Sobers, he looked blank with the Orange cap on for his efforts with the bat in the post-match presentation.
As much as the genius of Sachin lay in cracking a format he was introduced to in the fag end of his career, it also lay in not giving up. Just as he didn’t after the 2003 tournament in South Africa or the debacle of 2007 World Cup. He put aside his IPL disappointment to chase the World Cup dream for India and soon, in a two-decade-long career, the whispers of a World Cup not being in the fate of the greatest batsmen were laid to rest.