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Sachin Tendulkar’s 1998 is a year that may never be topped

Adam Gilchrist watches as Sachin Tendulkar lofts a six during his i141 off 127 balls in the mini World Cup quarter-final at National Stadium, Dhaka on Oct 28. 1998
Abhishek Mukherjee by Abhishek Mukherjee
@ovshake42 5 minute read

The second half of the 1990s was the phase when Sachin Tendulkar firmly established himself in the pantheon of cricketing legends. But even by those lofty standards, 1998 was special, for he scaled altitudes no one had until then.

Let us get the most basic facts out of the way first. In 1998, Tendulkar amassed 1,894 runs in ODIs with nine hundreds. Both remain world records even today. In fact, no one has made even eight ODI hundreds in a single calendar year.

Until 1998, there had been only one instance of a batter scoring 1,600 runs in a calendar year – 1,611, in the World Cup year of 1996 – by Tendulkar himself. He had also hit four figures in 1994 and 1997. And had the BCCI planned things differently, he could have had attempts to breach the two-thousand-run barrier.


It was not about sheer volume. Tendulkar averaged 65.31 in 1998, the third-highest for anyone in a calendar year with a 1,000-run cut-off before him. The two men with better averages – Dean Jones (69.05 in 1990) and Javed Miandad (67.75 in 1987) – were giants of the previous decade. They also struck at under 80. The next highest ODI run-scorer in 1998 was Tendulkar’s teammate Sourav Ganguly, who, from two more innings, scored 566 fewer runs at a strike rate of less than 70.

Tendulkar had a strike rate of 102. Among those with a thousand runs in a year before him, only Sanath Jayasuriya (114 in 1997) did better, but at an average of 51.21.

Twenty-four years have passed since 1998. Yet, of the batters with a higher average and strike rate in a calendar year than Tendulkar’s 65.31 and 103, no one has come within 500 runs of that 1,89-run tally.

The year came roughly midway through a magical phase between the 1996 World Cup and the 2000/01 season, when Tendulkar amassed 6,967 runs – the most in the world – at 46.13 and a strike rate of 89. He scored 24 ODI hundreds over this period, more than all but eight others have managed in their entire careers.

This was the best year even by those standards – and that is without the bowling. His 24 wickets came at 26.50 apiece, and included 3-45 against Pakistan, 5-32 and 4-38 against Australia, and 2-29 against the West Indies.

Yet, it all happened after a blow. Immediately after Sri Lanka’s tour of India got over on December 28, 1997, Tendulkar was replaced as Indian captain by Mohammad Azharuddin. Living up to their track record of unceremonious sackings, the BCCI did not bother to inform Tendulkar: he found out through a media acquaintance.

Dhaka to Sharjah to Dhaka to Sharjah

Tendulkar began 1998 with the Silver Jubilee Independence Cup in Bangladesh. Apart from a cameo against the hosts, Tendulkar made 67 in 44 balls, 95 in 78, and in the third of the best-of-three finals, 41 in 26 – all of them against Pakistan.

In the first of these matches, he held four catches and took a wicket. In the second, he took three wickets. And in the third, he led the charge as India chased down a world record target of 315 in 48 overs.

Then Australia came over, and Tendulkar embarked upon a four-month phase that he remembered as the ‘honeymoon period’ in his autobiography. After the Test series – we shall come to that later – he took 5-32 in Kochi and a round 100 in Kanpur during the Pepsi Triangular Series that also featured Zimbabwe.

Then came the iconic Coca-Cola Cup in Sharjah, where he unleashed what is fondly remembered as the Desert Storm in Indian cricket folklore. He made 80, 143, and 134 against Australia, all at over a run a ball, all while chasing. The first two came in defeats, but India won the final.

Bangladesh and Kenya came over next, for yet another of many Coca-Cola Cups. As the BCCI used the opportunity to try out fringe cricketers, Tendulkar played in only one out of four league matches – what if he had played more? – but got an unbeaten hundred in the final.

Two fifties in three innings followed in the Singer-Akai Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka. In the final, Tendulkar (128) and Sourav Ganguly (109) put on 252 – at that time an ODI world record for the first wicket.

It was only early July, and Tendulkar had already amassed 1,236 runs. Two thousand seemed on the cards – until BCCI decided to do a BCCI.

That September, cricket was part of the Commonwealth Games for the first time in history. The tournament, in Malaysia, coincided with the Friendship Cup in Toronto, between India and Pakistan. Pakistan sent a full team to Canada and a second-string squad to Kuala Lumpur, but India deployed two teams of roughly equal strength. Tendulkar went to Malaysia.

He played thrice, but these matches did not have ODI status. Once India were knocked out, the BCCI decided to fly out Tendulkar and Ajay Jadeja to Toronto. Unfortunately, Tendulkar had no inkling of these plans, and was away on vacation. He flew halfway across the world to play only one match – and make 77. Six days later, he made 127 not out in Bulawayo.

India now flew to Dhaka for the inaugural ICC Champions Trophy. There was a sense of inevitability by the time he ran into the Australians in the quarter-final. Perhaps annoyed by a ‘soft’ run out for a 128-ball 141, Tendulkar then routed Australia with 4-38.

He rounded off the year with two more unbeaten hundreds against Zimbabwe in a triangular tournament in Sharjah, sponsored by, surprise surprise – Coca-Cola.

Yet, despite the BCCI’s inconceivable planning, Tendulkar might still have – ‘should have’ is closer, perhaps – got those 106 runs. The Princess of Wales Memorial Match, at Lord’s in July, was a 50-over contest that featured some of the greatest contemporary cricketers.

After the MCC made 261-4, Tendulkar tore into Glenn McGrath, Javagal Srinath, Allan Donald, Brian McMillan, and Anil Kumble to make 125 in 114 balls. The Rest of the World XI won inside 44 overs.

No ODI that year had seen an ensemble cast to match this. In the next millennium, the World XI would play all three formats under the ICC banner. These matches would enjoy international status. This one did not.

Some things are not meant to happen.

Beyond the ODIs

Yet, it was not about ODIs alone. Tendulkar dominated Test cricket in the aforementioned period between the 1996 World Cup and the 2000/01 season as well: his 4,237 runs (at 60.52) and 17 hundreds were the most in this phase.

If he did not score an eye-catching volume of runs in 1998, it was because he played only five Test matches. In these, there were 647 runs at 80.87 including three hundreds.

Three of these Test matches were at home, in March, against Australia. As cricket media focused on his impending duel with Shane Warne, Tendulkar studied Warne’s bowling (“his biggest strength was the drift he managed to get, which meant that the batsman was somewhat blinded by the delivery if he was batting with a traditional side-on stance”).

He opened up the stance a bit, took guard slightly outside leg-stump, and planned to play Warne more from the crease, as late as possible, often with the horizontal bat. He practised against Sairaj Bahutule, Nilesh Kulkarni, and former Indian leg-spinner L Sivaramakrishnan, all of whom kept hitting the rough outside leg-stump.

Tendulkar implemented the approach first when the Australians played Bombay, slamming 204 in 192 balls. Perhaps taken aback by the onslaught, Warne returned figures of 0-111 in 16 overs. Tendulkar continued with his form, scoring 4 and 155 not out, 79, and 177 and 31 in the Test series.

After making 34 and 7 in a shock defeat in Harare, he rounded off the year with 47 and 113 in the Boxing Day Test match, in Wellington.

Beyond even all that

While spectacular, Tendulkar’s impact in India during this period was more than the numbers. During the second half the 1990s, inexpensive television sets made cricket India’s household evening pastime. With the brands stepping in with advertisements and satellite television spreading fast, Tendulkar became the first cricket superstar of India’s television era.

Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev both held world records in Test cricket, but Indian fans had not seen most of their feats. Tendulkar grew with television in India. And then, India saw him have an absurd year even by Tendulkar’s standards.

It is not clear when Tendulkar was first hailed as ‘god of cricket’, a ‘title’ deeply rooted in both adulation and irrationality. But by 1998, the moniker had firmly been in place.

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