January 31, 1999 – Chennai, Chepauk stadium. India needing 271 runs to win on the 5th day were tottering at 82/5. Tendulkar was an epitome of solidity at the other end and in came Nayan Mongia to join him at the crease. India’s chances looked bleak as a star studded Pakistan bowling line up consisting of Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain and Shahid Afridi were making life difficult for the Indian batsmen.
Tendulkar probably played his best test inning and along with Mongia took Indian score to 218 before Mongia perished trying to pull Wasim Akram to square leg. Tendulkar in imperious form had completed his century and continued to march forward taking India to an improbable victory. At 254/6 India needed just 17 runs to win and Tendulkar was still there at 136 not out though struggling with cramps and severe back spasms. In an extremely tense situation Wasim introduced Saqlain as the last through of dice. All seemed under control until Tendulkar stepped out of his crease and tried to launch Saqlain over mid on. To every one’s despair it was a doosra which took the outside edge of the bat and soared high towards long off where Wasim took the catch three quarters to the boundary. The crowd was stunned and Tendulkar hobbled back to the pavilion in agony and despair. Pakistanis had tasted blood and they attacked the Indian tailenders like wild dogs and tore them apart. India had lost the match by 12 runs. Tendulkar could not make it to the presentation ceremony as he was overwhelmed by emotions and was inconsolable.
March 30,1999 – Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados. West Indies needing 308 runs to win against Australia were struggling at 105/5. Brian Lara produced one of his greatest knocks and was single-handedly guiding his team to victory. At 248/8 it looked as if the West Indian dream was all but over. Curtly Ambrose defended hard and long for Lara to take his team to 302 before Ambrose perished. Walsh joined Lara with crowd almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Walsh defended and allowed Lara to finish the game with an unbeaten 153 not out – exactly 17 runs more than Tendulkar’s 136. Had Tendulkar finished the game he would have been 153 not out as well. But that was not to be.
Lara’s 153 not out is rated by Wisden as the second best Test Innings ever whereas Tendulkar’s 136 does not get a mention even in the top 100. The importance of those 17 runs is much more than what the statistics show, it is the difference between being great and be being immortal.
Virat Kohli may not be as great a batsman as Sachin but he finishes games for India batting second under pressure. Cricket has changed a lot in the last 20 years but one thing has remained constant – demand for players who can see their teams home.