It was a gamble of epic proportions, but one that paid off. Sachin Tendulkar, then just 20 years old, was thrown the ball in the last over with India needing to defend 5 runs in the last over of the Hero Cup semifinal vs South Africa at Eden Gardens. What would unfold in the course of that over on November 24, 1993 — as India ended up winning by 2 runs — makes this match an unforgettable chapter in Indian cricket history.
For Tendulkar himself, despite the mountain of runs he would amass over the next two decades, that performance would remain one of the closest to his heart. So much so that when ICC tweeted out his records earlier this year with the #MeAt20 social media hashtag, he reminded them — “Also bowled a fun last over in a semi-final match against South Africa at Eden Gardens!”
Why was it Tendulkar who bowled the last over though? India’s frontline bowlers Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Manoj Prabhakar all had overs remaining. Why then Tendulkar, who had not bowled a single over in the match before this?
“We were aware that any bowler could be hit easily for five runs at that level. So, we thought of a different strategy. Giving the ball to Sachin was a spontaneous thought. A quick decision had to be taken,” Azhar would say in a Sportstar interview 17 years later.
Time stood still as India prepared to bowl the last over. Skipper Mohammad Azharuddin, senior player Kapil Dev, Tendulkar were all part of a mid-pitch discussion. 12th man Venkatapathy Raju came running in from the dressing room with water bottles — and obviously a message from the management.
Team manager Ajit Wadekar, like most others, was counting on Kapil to do the job, and this was the message Raju was conveying. “As I remember it,” Wadekar said in a 2003 Outlook interview, “Kapil was a bit, just a bit mind you, reluctant to bowl. Sachin grabbed the ball”.
— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) April 21, 2020
It was almost five minutes before India were ready to bowl the crucial last over. “Thankfully the umpires were liberal with time,” Azhar would say.
Salil Ankola, one of the bowlers who was playing in that match and who also had overs left, said in a CricketCountry interview: “I was standing in the deep and I don’t know exactly what the conference among the Indians was all about. But it seems Tendlya was keen to bowl the last over. There was lot of dew on the wicket and Tendlya is very difficult because he bowls all kinds of deliveries.”
There was a run out pandemonium, Alan Donald then faced three dot balls and Brian MacMillan failed to hit a boundary off the last ball as India clinched a 2-run win. India then went on to win the title by beating West Indies in the final three days later.
Tendulkar himself credited an appearance by a mongoose in the stadium as a crucial factor in the win speaking earlier this year.
“It was quite memorable and completely different, the first day-and-night match where I ended up bowling the last over. The experience to see the entire stadium lit with torches was truly out of this world. They stay with you for the rest of your life,” he said.