Sachin Tendulkar’s breathtaking display of batsmanship at Cape Town reverberated by generations to come
When the Newlands stadium at Cape Town is bathed in radiant sunshine with the blue sky draping over the monumental Table mountain and Devils Peak in the background, it is arguably one of the most beautiful cricket grounds going around.
Back in the 1996-97 season, India’s legendary batsman wielded the willow with mystical brilliance against, , Lance Klusener and Brian Mcmillan that left cricket fans wet with excitement. The luminous lustre of this gifted artist at Cape Town that day would be reverberated by generations to come.
In the first Test match of the series against South Africa, India had been steamrolled on a trampoline Durban track for scores of 100 and 66. Incidentally, the writer believes the track at Durban in 1996 was the quickest pitch on which the Indian team has played a game of cricket. At that time, it seemed like after Mohammad Azharuddin brandished the willow like a master painter in India to help overcome the pillaging South Africans, Hansie Cronje and his men wanted to see bloodbath at Durban.
Even on a slightly slower surface at Capetown in the second Test, India was in deep trouble when in reply to South Africa’s mammoth total of 529, they found themselves in dire-straits at 58 for 5. Tendulkar and Azharuddin though, with mesmerising magic sent South African fielders virtually on a leather hunt, for the next few hours. It felt like both were saying to the knowledgeable Cape Town crowd that we also know how to cut, pull, flick and drive Allan Donald and company in their own backyard.
Tendulkar started his innings with a fabulous off-drive off Shaun Pollock’s bowling. The fiery Allan Donald though, was always going to be a different kettle of fish. He had dismissed Tendulkar in the Durban Test in the first innings with the one that had nipped back viciously to shatter the Master Blaster’s timber. Everyone could only wait in bated breath as to what might happen in the round 2 of Tendulkar vs Donald contest. This time around, it was Tendulkar who came out victories by playing a volley of thunderous strokes off ‘White Lightning.’
Donald backed his God-gifted ability to bowl genuinely quick by again attempting a nip-backer. But after being cleaned up at Durban, Tendulkar was aware of South Africa’s well thought-out strategum against him. With felicitous stroke-play, he flicked almost every-time Donald attempted to send his stumps for a walk in the park by finding a gap between his bat and pad. The flick shot that Tendulkar essayed off Donald with the score reading 44 for 4 was bathed in regal elegance. The sheer arrogance of Tendulkar left even Donald stunned and gobsmacked that day.
From nowhere, suddenly South Africans were being swept away by a gigantic tidal wave of brilliance and unmatched excellence from both Tendulkar and Azharuddin. Even when Donald pulled his length back, it only hit the sweet spot of Tendulkar’s, willow as by standing tall he coaxed, cajoled and convinced the ball to be guided with pinpoint perfection between the slips and gully region. It was one of the jaw-dropping moments of the game, as Tendulkar guided a raising delivery on an off-stump channel on the front-foot.
South Africa’s strapping all-rounder Mcmillan was another bowler who suffered heavily at the hands of Tendulkar. Mcmillan tried to dig one short to surprise Tendulkar for a bit of pace and bounce, the great man with superhuman-like skills though, rocked onto the back-foot in a flash to play a glorious pull shot. He drove and cut Macmillan with gay abandon that day.
The young and budding all-rounder Lance Klusener wasn’t spared either. The on-drive he played against Klusener had a touch of flamboyance interspersed, by copybook technique. He also essayed a twinkling square-drive of the same bowler which ricocheted off the boundary boards at the speed of red-lightning. However, Klusener was the only one who produced what can be called as a half chance and that too in technical terms. By bowling from wide of the crease and getting the ball to straighten a bit on the angle, he induced a false shot from the wizard’s bat. Unfortunately, the ball was travelling like a bullet in the air and it required superman-like skills for someone to catch it in the slip cordon.
When Tendulkar punched the metronomic Pollock for a stunning on-drive after India had crossed the 200-run mark, it could be said that he was batting in a rarefied zone. But, with his partner-in-crime Azharuddin being sent packing to the pavilion after both had shared a magnificent stand of 221 runs for the sixth wicket, India began to lose wickets like nine pins. It led to Tendulkar playing more like a gambler. Finally, it took an outrageously brilliant catch by Adam Bacher to end one of the greatest modern day innings seen.