For Indian cricket fans, 1998 will always be special because that was the year in which Sachin Tendulkar batted at his best - and especially against the Australians. It was the year Tendulkar averaged 88.71 against them in ODIs, 111.50 in Tests; it was the year he won India a Test series against Australia even before it had begun, with a stunning double-centurion for Mumbai at the Brabourne; it was the year Tendulkar of that landmark 155* in Chennai in which he grabbed Shane Warne by the scruff of his neck; it was the year of Desert Storm, when Tendulkar's twin centuries in Sharjah stunned Steve Waugh's team; it was the year he rounded off by eliminating Australia from the inaugural Wills International Cup - now known as the ICC Champions Trophy - with a brilliant all-round performance. It was, by all means, the year Tendulkar owned the Australians.
Sample Tendulkar's ODI scores against Australia in 1998: 8, 100, 15, 80, 143, 134 and 141. At a strike-rate of 105.97, with 51 fours and 18 sixes. After scoring two outstanding centuries in Sharjah - his 134 in the final included a stunning straight six off Tom Moody which forced the late Tony Greig's unforgettable line "The little man has hit the big fella for six! He's half his size!" - Tendulkar had become a source of frustration and desperation for the Australians, but if they thought they had seen the last of him after his UAE heroics in April, they were mistaken.
On October 24, Australia faced India in the third quarter-final of the Wills International Cup in Dhaka. Waugh opted to field, and soon Australia had India at 8 for 2. Sourav Ganguly, caught behind of Michael Kasprowicz for 1, and Mohammad Azharuddin, lbw to Damien Fleming for 0. But such was Tendulkar's mastery of his craft that the scorecard and loss of those wickets had no bearing on him. His first boundary was a superb back-foot punch off Kasprowicz, the ball hurrying past point and evading third man with ease. Next ball, another sweet stroke off the back foot, this one piercing two fielders at cover. In the sixth over, Kasprowicz was taken for further boundaries: through point, midwicket and extra-cover. His first seven overs went for 62.
There was no looking back. Tendulkar sped to a half-century, eased into and through the seventies with consecutive sixes and a late cut for four against Brad Young's left-arm spin, and reached his 19th ODI century in 94 balls. He was eventually run out for 141 off 128 balls, with three sixes and 13 fours. Dhaka cheered as Tendulkar walked off, but he was not finished. There was more to come from the genius.
Given the ball after Mark Waugh (74) had given Australia a chance, Tendulkar flummoxed the batsmen with his assortment of offbreaks and legbreaks. Steve Waugh was caught and bowled, the dangerous finisher Michael Bevan was bowled, and Damien Martyn and Young lured into false shots as the innings disintegrated to 263 in the 47th over. Tendulkar had 4 for 38, India won by 44 runs and Australia were packed off from the tournament.
Tendulkar would score two more ODI centuries in his annus mirabilis - both in Sharjah, incidentally - but it was that hat-trick of centuries in consecutive innings against the mighty Australians which led a nation to believe - and, subsequently, even spoil - in his invincibility.
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