Desert Storm. Desert Rose.

14sachin-at-sharjah

In  1991, President George H.W. Bush invaded Iraq in a bid to quell Saddam Hussain’s Kuwait adventure. The attack was christened Operation Desert Storm. 12 years later his son George W. Bush invaded Iraq under the pretext of unearthing Weapons of Mass Destruction. Some people christened this misadventure the second Operation Desert Storm.

But in between both these fusillades, there was another Operation Desert Storm launched against an unsuspecting Australian side by a man all of 5 ft 5 inches. His weapon of choice wasn’t a tank or an AK 47. It weighed approximately 1.5 kg and back then, it was one of most valuable weapons on a cricket field.

There were many battles that Sachin Tendulkar waged in his 24 year career, but those two knocks in Sharjah against Australia where he was the army general and foot soldier, all rolled into one, still stand out. His opponent was a leather ball, hurled at him at varying speeds and angles by his enemies who were seeking to breach his fort.

On those two magical and ethereal nights in the summer of 1998, he lit up the night sky with an array of fireworks. There were no causalities, unless of course you counted the self-esteem of the bowlers as a tangible entity.

What were you doing in  1998? Had puberty already robbed you of your innocence? Did Philips Top 10 count as your Friday night entertainment? Did summer holidays mean endless hours of play before projects and studies robbed them of their innocence too? Does the summer of 1998 mean anything to you at all?

Damien Fleming, one of the meanest bowlers in the business was bowling in tandem with Michael Kasprowitz and Tom Moody. Shane Warne, with his tuft of blonde hair and white lip balm hadn’t yet gotten the measure of Tendulkar. He didn’t know it then, but he never would. Mohammad Azharuddin, whose career and life would soon go off the rails after allegations of match fixing, led the Indian side.

If I recall correctly, those were the days when the Indian team didn’t travel well. And any victory against Australia was something to be cherished. Sachin Tendulkar, whose first stint as captain had ended disastrously, was at his carefree best again, the lead weight of captaincy lifted off his shoulders.

Where would we be without youtube, trying to mine our minds and excavate the memories from a time when life was carefree. Before our jobs chained and then jaded us. Before EMI’s bound us with the promise of a better future. Before we were measured by our marks cards, our self esteem measured by the number of likes our status update gets. It was that kind of freedom that Sachin Tendulkar batted with. At the age of 25, he had the world at his feet and the weight of the world on his shoulders. And it remained that way for the length of his playing career.

There is a video on youtube that allows you to relive that magnificent innings.

On 22nd April 1998, India faced off against Australia in a match where they had to score at a brisk rate to beat New Zealand’s net run rate to qualify for the finals. Australia scored 284, considered almost unbeatable in that era. You must remember this was an era without the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina. The fate of most matches lay in the hands of Tendulkar.  A sand storm halted play for about half an hour and the match was reduced by 4 overs and India had to chase 276 in 46 overs. That was the main target. To qualify, they had to score 237 in 42.3 overs.

Then a storm of a different variety struck.

In the 4th over, Sachin Tendulkar came down the pitch and smashed Michael Kasprowitz for for a six over long on. The crowds went haywire. The late Tony Greig was going berserk in the commentary box.

It was playtime.

Which shot stands out to you in that innings? The one where he came down the pitch and struck Steve Waugh for a 4 straight over his head? The straight six he struck off Michael Kasprowitz? Or Tony Grieg’s drawling and excited commentary. Can you hear it again if you wanted to?

“They’re dancing in the aisles in Sharjah”.

“What a shot. It’s unbelievable.”

And it was. India qualified but Sachin Tendulkar wanted to go for victory. He was caught behind off Damien Fleming and as it always happened back in the day, if Sachin got out the game was as good as over.

On April 24th 1998, Sachin Tendulkar turned 25, the legal drinking age in his state of Maharashtra. Which was a good thing because that night, he caused a lot of alcohol to be consumed. And on that day, India took on Australia in the finals of the Coca Cola cup.

The script didn’t change with Australia batting first and amassing 272, considered a fantastic score in a final. Instead of receiving birthday gifts, he gave the his fans a gift they wouldn’t forget.

Tendulkar almost played on to his stumps in the 4th over. If he had been out, a lot of electricity would have been saved in India. But he didn’t. In all of your innocence, you thought there was a god that must have been watching over him. He smashed a straight drive that almost chopped off Sourav Ganguly’s head.

tendulkar warne

Shane Warne came to bowl in the 20th over. In the first ball of his spell, Tendulkar came down the track and smashed him for a six over his head. The look on Shane Warne’s face was priceless. A mixture of awe and helplessness. Warne would go on to claim that he had nightmares of Tendulkar coming down the track and smashing him. When  Tendulkar bats like a dream, oppositions can’t help but suffer from nightmares.

There was a shot he played on more than one occasion in that innings – hitting bowlers straight over their heads for six. One shot like that off Michael Kasprowitz stands out in particular. I know because when I went down to play in my apartment complex the next day, I attempted to hit the same shot and remember striking 3 sixes in a row.

Tendulkar went on to score 134 before he got out lbw to Kaprowitz. By then, the side was almost home. India beat Australia and went on to clinch the trophy.

Sachin Tendulkar’s late agent, Mark Mascahrenas, enveloped him in a bear hug.

On those two magical nights in Sharjah, Sachin Tendulkar, all of 25, came of age. He played many defining ODI innings in his career. The 82 off some 40 odd balls against NEw Zealand when he cemented himself as an opener. The 2003 encounter against Pakistan in the World Cup where he took on Wasim Akram, Waquar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar. His 200 against South Africa in Gwalior. But those two knocks in Sharjah are in some strange manner, closer to the heart.

It’s been 17 years since those two knocks. What has happened in those 17 years in your life? You fell in love, got rejected, then got married. You wanted to start working so you could buy your own beer. You went from girlie mags to CDs to torrentz. You fell out of love with your job. You went from idealism to pessimism. You found yoga.

But whenever you go to youtube and see that knock, you feel like you are 14 again.

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