Lets reminisce the innings of 241* Vs Australia at Sydney,2003-04 apart from this innings there are other innings which I like the most and they are 63,64 Vs South Africa in 2006 in South Africa and his innings of 82 Vs England in England in the year 2007 which always gives a different high.These innings are as distinct as Sachin but only thing, that these innings were not blessed to go past three digits.
Why 241* is so important for me? Usually Sachin will always be in a steaming form whenever he toured to Australia. Be it 1991-92, 1999-2000 & 2007-08. But the missing link between 2000 and 2007 was 2003-04 series. Yes this was one series where Sachin looked out of sort. In this series, he was playing his natural game but was failing whenever he tried playing on the off-side.
This innings was uncharacteristic of Sachin. Yes, probably this will be the only innings in his entire career, where he cut down all his trademark shots and just concentrated on the on-side, no single run was taken on the off-side. One can’t imagine his batting without his trade mark shots which booms away either into the cover, short cover, extra cover, point, over extra cover and square etc but he programmed his mind to such a level where didn’t not try to play these shots during his epic-marathon innings,241*.
This series made everyone to skip their hearts. A series which begun on a very low note for sachin but went on to consolidate as the highest individual score getter on the Australian soil. His knock surpassed both the highest individual scores of the then inform batsmen Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid.
In my view,this is an innings of highest quality which is measured beyond cricketing limits.An innings which is worth to learn many things,an innings which teaches the brave lesson yet in a defensive mode and an innings which is a personified and remains exclusive for years to come.
This innings was a package of everything:
1) Mental strength
2) Sheer grit
3) Standing up to the challenge against ones own failures
4) Emerging out as the savior in all means.
Prior to this innings, he had an array of single digits. The more he toiled in the nets the worse was the result on the pitch.Though he was middling the ball but he was just falling short when it mattered the most. Even Shane Warne was surprised to see Sachin practicing for 10 long hours in the nets still he was failing to make his presence felt on the real pitch but at the same time Shane was also confident about Sachin’s big knock which was in the offing and to his gut feeling it turned out true at Sydney, the last test match of the series.
I still remember that day( A day before the start of this match) when I was in complete shambles because of his no-show for the majority of the series. But then, he wanted to do a poetic justice for his own cause and the poetic expression was ”genius people always keep their best for the last frontier” and the result was quiet evident in the Sydney test. Before the start of the match, my gut feeling made me to predict about Sachin’s score for this match. I felt that he would score 350 runs in the Sydney test match and to my devotion it almost turned out to be true. He eventually scored Unbeaten 301* runs (241* & 60*) from both the innings of Sydney test.
According to me “when chips are down, pick them, fry them and taste them”. That’s what Sachin did in this innings. It was a resilient and redemption act from him.
On the first day, at stumps sachin scored 73 runs and I still remember the next day’s headline in “The Hindu” paper and it stated as “Tendulkar becomes Tendulkar Again”. And in TOI it was published as “SACHIN crosses 9000, SENSEX crosses 6000 at the end of the 1st day” (This input of TOI was given by my friend Ritesh).One can imagine how true were these headlines? The confidence and the optimism shown by The Hindu paper itself was a testimonial for my gut feeling and also the vicarious feeling shown by TOI.
This innings of 241* was completely dominated on the “ON SIDE”, as in all his previous 3 matches he got out whenever he tried playing shots on the offside either by nicking the ball or getting trapped in front of the stumps (who can forgot Gillespie’s baseless call for LBW in the previous match, it was as though bringing back the horrifying déjà vu of 1999 where Sachin was given Shoulder before wicket of McGrath bowling).
Lastly, Thanks to the great umpiring by Steve Bucknor in 2003-04 series (Though it was the beginning of his blunder umpiring) who simply turned down couple of close appeals of Kumble and the final result was a draw.
I remember in the recently concluded down under test series (2007-08) when Steve Bucknor confessed after the Sydney test (which was the mother of all hopeless decisions taken by him which went against India and forced India to lose the match) that “To err Is human, to forgive is divine”and to which I would like to retaliate him by “To err finitely is human and to err Infinitely is demon”.
Even Martina Navratilova,The tennis Ace, on this innings and said “Every player should learn from him after watching this innings” (This input again was given by my other friend Ajith Kumar).
In this series, especially in Sachin’s case, “All wasn’t well, but that ended well”. That’s how the legends script their holy scriptures when it matters to them. Sachin, then became the only Indian batsman to score highest score of 241* runs and also helped India to go past 700 runs for the first time on foreign soil.
On Jan 6, 2004 just after the presentation ceremony, I wrote my first ever quote on Sachin to relive my grudge against his critics and it goes…
“Whenever he finds himself under CRITICISM, he always comes up with his own SACHINISM”.