If you ask a cricket fan from the nineties about his favorite memory of the sport, it would invariably feature the name of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Not unlike Virat Kohli of this day, the little master had begun to take giant strides into becoming the heartbeat of a nation. The cacophony of the crowd chanting his name wasn’t a regular feature then but the decibels kept growing with every run he scored. But long before he came to be the batting mainstay for India, he had produced magic with the ball against the Proteas in 1993.
It was the semi-final of Hero Cup, being held by the Cricket Association of Bengal (C.A.B.) to commemorate their diamond jubilee and South Africa had managed to pull the brakes on the Indian innings despite a heroic effort by skipper Azharuddin (90 off 118) supported by Pravin Amre (48 off 90) in the lower middle order. Playing at number five, a young Tendulkar failed to impress with the bat.
The opposition had only 196 to get in their stipulated quota of overs but the Indian bowling was never going to make it easy. With Manoj Prabhakar, Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath bowling tight lines and getting early breakthroughs, it looked like a day of Indian jubilation. When the 7th wicket fell with the scoreboard reading a meager 145, the game looked over for the visitors.
Brian McMillan was at one end but the following batsmen were all frontline bowlers. However, a certain somebody named David Richardson — who would go on to become the chief executive of the ICC two decades later — managed to hold his wicket together before falling in the penultimate over. Together, they strung together a 44 run partnership as their team now needed 6 runs to win off the last six balls. India had almost thrown it away after being inches close to victory. Such was the situation that Kapil Dev famously refused to bowl the last over, citing the lack of enough runs to defend.
Tendulkar to the rescue
Having been part of the historic tie against the West Indies two years earlier where he only had six to defend and gave away five, the skipper decided to trust the nerves of this curly haired individual once more.
McMillan attempted two off the first delivery. While the second run was on, a certain lack of coordination between the two resulted in a run out. Fanie de Villiers was out for naught without having faced a ball. South Africa needed 5 off 5 but it was Allan Donald at the crease. As the crowd behind Tendulkar kept growing in noise, the tension kept growing on the field. A steady mixture of accuracy and variations found a clueless Donald missing the first three balls he faced. Though he did manage to get bat on ball off the 5th ball of the over, McMillan was left to score a boundary off the last.
With Azhar putting fielders out deep and the stadium having turned into a mishmash of chaotic prayers, a victory for South Africa looked unlikely. An almighty heave and a disconcerted sigh later, the Proteas found themselves on the wrong side of the line as Sachin had gifted India a victory from the jaws of defeat. And to note that it was not Sachin the batsman who had done so but a curly haired bowler with nerves of steel will tell you why this 20 year old kid went on to become what he did.