“I showed I could play a few shots and generate power for a guy who doesn’t have a big frame and earned an ODI spot for myself,” is his modest assessment of his heroics against Abdul Qadir, Wasim Akram and Mushtaq Ahmed, in what could be the first Twenty20 game ever played, as rain ruled out a full international match and because of the huge crowd presence, India and Pakistan decided to play an exhibition match of 20 overs per innings.
“Not a bad strike-rate even in today’s T20 era,” he later says, shedding a few ounces of that modesty.
As India gets set to play its 1000th ODI against West Indies at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday, Tendulkar took time out to reflect on the evolution of the ODI game.
Surprisingly, he started with expressing sympathies for a tribe he often treated with disdain. Fast bowlers.
“In the last 10 years, I have hardly seen reverse swing,” he laments and feels the introduction of two new balls from each end has caused it. New field restrictions (since 2013) also means one spot always available to go over the top.
“So much has changed,” he reflects. “We used to play a lot with the red ball and at venues in eastern India where games used to start at 8.45 am. The dampness in the pitch aided seam movement and the SG ball used to reverse beautifully too. Fast bowlers could plan their wickets. Opening the batting used to be a different dynamic,” explains the legend.
Tendulkar transports you back to a match against Zimbabwe in 2000 where the team didn’t shine the ball for seven overs. “Zaheer then came back and got Alistair Campbell bowled with reverse swing in the eighth over,” he states, almost yearning for those times to come back.
To make his point about reverse swing, Tendulkar casts his mind to the 1999 World Cup. “Wasim Akram used to bowl in the 47th over with a slip. It’s unheard of today.”
The old ball getting dirty and getting difficult to sight is also a factor that has gone away, he feels.
“Apart from reverse swing, a discoloured ball even against someone like Muralitharan offered a different challenge as you struggled to pick the release to know if it was an off-spinner or doosra,” he states.
In today’s day and age of IPL and T20 cricket, many reckon ODIs in India may be struggling for relevance, especially post-Covid, but Tendulkar disagrees.
“Not many people in today’s generation may have been exposed to the way ODIs were played earlier. Things change. What was a good strike-rate or economy rate in the 1980s and 1990s, may not be so good today. Those numbers have changed.”
He shoulders arms when asked to name his best Indian all-time ODI XI, but emphatically states that he would have loved one of those 463 ODIs to be the one India played on June 25, 1983, at Lord’s.
Tendulkar is more forthocoming when asked to recall his five best ODIs.
“World Cup 2011 final, Sharjah sandstorm vs Australia, Centurion 2003 vs Pakistan and the two VB series finals in Sydney and Brisbane vs Ausralia,” he rattles off.
While Tendulkar, like a true Mumbai batsman, values hundreds, he has a special fondness for the 98 at Centurion in the 2003 World Cup vs Pakistan.
“It’s one knock I would love to play again,” he says, “only for the pre-match tension, the build-up and the bowling attack, which I feel was the best at that time,” he adds.
That it took 40 years and his genious to break the double-century barrier in ODIs on February 24, 2010, in Gwalior, makes him send you a voice note again.
“Because it happened for the first time, it has its own relevance. It also happened against a good attack and a good opposition.”
And the fact that it has happened seve times since shows how easy things have become for the batsmen.