India vs Pakistan at the World Cup- When Sachin Assaulted Shoaib Akhtar (2003)

India vs Pakistan at the World Cup- When Sachin Assaulted Shoaib Akhtar (2003)

When the World Cup moved to South Africa, the battle between the arch-rivals was eagerly anticipated, given that they hadn’t played each other in three years. Several cities event even declared a public holiday, and those that didn’t faced massive outrage! Movie theaters pulled off regular shows and announced that they’d be streaming the game live.

Of course, political tensions simmered on either side; a simple cricket match now had more ramifications than a sporting contest could handle. But then, a sense of proportion isn’t part of the equation when it comes to India-Pak matches. Believe it or not, the hype for this encounter on March 1, 2003 had begun more than 12 months earlier.

Sachin Tendulkar famously recalled that he was reminded of the match a year ago and further revealed that he suffered from insomnia for several nights leading up to the encounter. Not surprising, given the stones and effigies waiting on either side of the Radcliffe Line!

The Centurion was a swathe of blue and green as Waqar Younis, who had replaced Wasim Akram as Pakistan’s skipper, won the toss and decided to bat. Saeed Anwar and Taufiq Umer got the team off to a good start, scoring 58 by the eleventh over when Zaheer Khan removed the latter. The next two wickets went cheaply as Ashish Nehra, one of the two left-handed quicks that India had picked, accounted for Abdul Razzaq and Inzy.

With Anwar motoring along at the top, Mohammed Yusuf (then Yousuf Youhana) joined him to notch up a 73-run partnership that got Pakistan to 171 in the 39th over. Anwar scored a well-deserved century but Nehra got him soon after. Younis Khan, who walked out at four-down scored some quick runs, as did Rashid Latif and Wasim Akram, as a result of which Pakistan posted a daunting 273 in their 50 overs.

From India’s point of view, the score was a above-par one, since, till then, India hadn’t chased down anything above 222 in a World Cup encounter. So the opening overs had to be blistering ones, and who better than Sachin Tendulkar to come to the party? In just 20 minutes, the legend demonstrated his process against an attack that included Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.

Akram delivered a punchy opening over pegging the batsmen back. In the second over, Tendulkar merely unleashed his brute force on Shoaib Akhtar with a flurry of boundaries, none better than that slashed six over point.

To draw a context around this, it must be mentioned that since the arrival of Virender Sehwag as his opening partner, the Little Master had toned down his aggression.

However, very soon it became clear as to which Tendulkar had turned up at the Centurion on that day. Waqar Younis came back strongly to remove Sehwag and Saurav Ganguly off successive deliveries to leave them in a precarious 53-2 in the sixth over. Mohammed Kaif found himself promoted up the order to anchor the innings, a role which he played to perfection.

Which meant that Tendulkar could continue to be at his sublime best throughout the night, scoring boundaries at regular intervals. He battled cramps to get to 98 before being dismissed to a brute of a bouncer from Akhtar. Centurion stood up to applaud the masterclass and what was arguably Tendulkar’s best ODI innings. Akhtar would recall later that this was the best innings he had ever seen.

When Tendulkar was dismissed, and the scoreboard read 177 for four, there were fears of a batting collapse reminiscent of Pakistan's 1996 chase. But in Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh, India found two of the best and most contrasting cricketers of the game to ensure that the runs kept coming at a healthy pace and Pakistan didn’t get so much as a whiff of another wicket.

India eventually won the game with 26 balls to spare. Yuvraj cruised to a half-century and Dravid remained unconquered at 44, playing second fiddle like he so often did. Of course, the entire team played second fiddle to the magnificence of Sachin Tendulkar on that day.

This time, it was Pakistan which crashed out of the World Cup after the league stages while India had an inspired run, making it to the finals.

The thing that united the arch rivals is the mauling Australia handed them both in two successive WC finals.

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