Fourth January, 1997. The second Test during India’s tour of South Africa is on at Newlands, Cape Town.
After winning the first Test comprehensively, South Africa had put on 529 and had India at 58 for 5 on the second morning when Azharuddin joined captain Tendulkar. The series was stake but India was looking at a 3-day demolition at that point. The two took the Indian total to 104 by lunchtime, still needing 226 to avoid a follow on.
And then, there was a formal introduction of the Indian players with Nelson Mandela (photo above), which ate up most of the lunch break, so it had to be extended by 15 minutes. Reportedly, the entire team felt inspired on meeting him; apparently, Azharuddin and Tendulkar more than others.
The two came out to bat, and the most scintillating batting display in the history of Indian Test cricket ensured. Donald, Pollock, Klusener and McMillan bowled primarily, with Adams and Cronje as support acts – as good as any attack in Test history, especially on that pitch.
Azharuddin, freed from the responsibilities of captaincy recently, had decided to revert to playing his natural game with abandon. It had come off very well in the home series against South Africa, but here, it was a different kettle of fish.
But it all came together today. Initially, it was Azharuddin taking all the risks while Tendulkar held up an end. Everything Azharuddin touched turned to gold that afternoon. Klusener was driven savagely (just like in Kolkata barely a month back) – Azharuddin touched 50 off 57 balls, with 6 of his 7 boundaries off Klusener and a six off Adams. Donald was cut fiercely, either side of point, and Azharuddin reached 100 in 96 balls.
Meanwhile, Tendulkar, at his imperious peak as a batsman, also decided to stop being a spectator, pulverising both Donald and McMillan – and runs began to flow spectacularly from both ends.
Two of the greatest strokeplayers in Test history were in the zone together. In the two hours between lunch and tea, India added 176 runs.
Then, as seemed the only way a wicket would come, Azharuddin was run out for 115 (110 balls; 19 fours, 1 six), and the normal business of collapsing continued. As wickets fell from the other end, Tendulkar let loose, and eventually fell to a great catch after making 169 (254 balls; 26 fours). India just about avoided the follow on, but eventually collapsed for 144 in the second innings (Tendulkar and Azharuddin made 9 and 2 respectively) and lost the Test by 282 runs, and the series was sealed.
2.92 and 3.81 gave India something to cheer about that afternoon.
That’s the impact Azharuddin and Tendulkar had on the match with those two innings.
Two South Africans had a higher impact than Tendulkar in the match and four higher than Azharuddin.
A brief moment of sheer genius had adorned abject business as usual. Nelson Mandela, who had during his long incarceration asked a visiting international delegation in 1986 – “Is Bradman still alive?”, got to see one of the highest points of a sport he loved so much.
NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.