Was 1998 the best year of Sachin Tendulkar’s batting?
Countless Indian cricket fans will say yes, for it was the year in which Tendulkar provided some unforgettable memories while at the crease. Statistically, 1998 was his best year across formats – no T20Is back then, remember? – with 2541 from 42 innings, a combined Test and ODI average of 68.67 and strike-rate of 93.69 with 12 hundreds and eight fifties. Staggering, really.
Yet what sets 1998 apart was that Tendulkar was prolific against the team everyone wanted to beat, Australia. That year, he averaged 88.71 against them in ODIs and 111.50 in Tests. Overall, six of Tendulkar’s 12 international hundreds in 1998 came against Australia. Before the first ball of that terrific three-Test series in India began, Tendulkar had laid the benchmark for his and the Indian cricket team’s success over Australia by scoring a stunning double-century for Mumbai – his maiden in first-class cricket – at the Brabourne Stadium during the customary tour match.
Then, during the first Test in Chennai, after getting out to Shane Warne in India’s first innings, Tendulkar finished the match with a terrific unbeaten 155. Scores of 79 at Eden Gardens and 177 and 31 in Bangalore followed as Australia were beaten 2-1.
But, but … it was in ODI blues that Tendulkar truly bossed Steve Waugh’s team: scores of 8, 100, 15, 80, 143, 134 and 141 that year, at a strike-rate of 105.97 with 51 fours and 18 sixes. Let that sink in for a moment. Tendulkar’s ODI innings versus Australia in 1998 deserve their own web series, they were so mesmerising. Take that tri-series in Sharjah, for starters, when his twin centuries in Sharjah stunned Australia. His 134 in the final included a stunning straight six off Tom Moody which forced Tony Greig’s unforgettable line “The little man has hit the big fella for six! He’s half his size!”. It still gives goosebumps.
Chasing Australia’s 284, but more importantly a score of 254 to eliminate New Zealand on net run-rate and reach the final, India were lifted by Tendulkar’s mastery. His batting that night was of another level, with Tendulkar’s shots leaving everyone stunned. The match was lost, but India reached the final.
ALSO READ: THE BOY WONDER WHO PROVED EVERYONE RIGHT!
Two evenings later, on Tendulkar’s 25th birthday, India triumphed over Australia. Tendulkar’s 15th ODI hundred was the centrepiece of this title victory, and outdid his effort during the sandstorm 48 hours earlier. Some might even call it Tendulkar’s finest ODI century, coming as it did against the top team of the era and in a Sharjah final,
Indeed, Tendulkar had become a source of frustration and desperation for Waugh and his team-mates. But if they thought they had seen the last of him after his heroics in the UAE heat of April, they had another thing coming. On October 24 in Dhaka, India met Australia in the third quarter-final of the Wills International Cup. Waugh put India into bat and looked on as they slumped to 8/2 with Sourav Ganguly out for 1 and Mohammad Azharuddin gone without scoring. Tendulkar, in the mood, cut and drove and flicked Australia’s pace bowlers with unwavering focus. Michael Kasprowicz, who had struck first with the wicket of Ganguly, conceded 62 runs in seven overs.
Tendulkar hurried to his half-century and marched on to a 19th ODI century, from 94 deliveries, before he was run out for 141 from 128, having hit 13 fours and three sixes. He wasn’t done.
Four wickets came his way during Australia’s faltering chase as Tendulkar slipped in legbreaks among a routine of offspinners. His wickets? Waugh, out caught and bowled; the dangerous finisher Michael Bevan, bowled; and Damien Martyn and Brad Young out miscuing big shots. Tendulkar claimed 4/38 and India eliminated Australia.
His domination of Australia aside, Tendulkar reeled off ODI centuries in 1998 against Kenya, Zimbabwe (three) and World Cup winners Sri Lanka. Don’t for a moment scoff at the mention of Kenya, because they beat a depleted Indian team during the league phase of the Coca-Cola Triangular Series. And as for Zimbabwe, they were no pushovers back then and there was the tasty subplot of Tendulkar falling early to Henry Olonga during the Coca-Cola Champions Trophy in Sharjah. When India met Zimbabwe in the final, Tendulkar took toll on Olonga, who went for 50 runs in six overs, as he bashed his way to 124* from 92 balls and took India to a ten-wicket victory.
The aforementioned century versus Sri Lanka was another masterful innings in a final. On July 7, Tendulkar and Ganguly crafted a record opening stand of 252 in the Nidahas Trophy summit clash to set up India’s winning total of 307/6 which gave India another series win.
Around Tendulkar’s volume of runs, India did well in 1998. That year, they played 45 international matches and won 26, losing 17. There were no ties, only two washed out matches. This equates to a success rate of 1.529.
The closest, in this writer’s opinion, that Tendulkar came to matching his batting genius from 1998 was in 2010 when he scored Test centuries in Chittagong, Mirpur, Kolkata, Colombo, Bangalore and Centurion and became the first male cricketer to scale the 200-mark in ODIs. Who can forget that unbeaten 200* versus South Africa in Gwalior or Tendulkar’s 111* at Centurion? This was a man battling age and questions about his longevity, and responding sublimely.
But for Indian cricket fans, across generations, 1998 will always stand out as Tendulkar’s annus mirabilis. Not just because of the volume of runs, but because of the quality of his strokeplay and the distinctive feature he added that year: aggression.