None of Sachin Tendulkar's record 49 one-day international hundreds came against Pakistan in the World Cup. That's a mere statistical irony. Tendulkar's influence in India’s five-out-of-five wins over the arch-rivals was as large as the very significance of this historic World Cup rivalry which started in the Tendulkar era.
Sachin Tendulkar and Shahid Afridi shake hands after Pakistan's 2011 World Cup semi-final loss to India at the Punjab Cricket Associaton Stadium in Mohali on March 30, 2011. PIC/AFP
One of the most under-played of Tendulkar's achievements could be the fact that he played a part in each of the five wins – from Sydney to Mohali and Bangalore, Manchester and Centurion in between.
For the record, he was man of the match in three of the five games.
This invincibility is not lost on Tendulkar, who for the first time, in 23 years is at home for a World Cup.
He spoke to SUNDAY mid-day before India’s opening clash in the 2015 World Cup:
You were part of all five World Cup wins against Pakistan. Would you consider this as one of your major achievements?
Yes, because it's such an important event, possibly the most important match that matters to the Indian public. We have proudly held a 100 per cent record. Without a doubt, that is one of the top achievements.
All your World Cup wins against Pakistan were special, but if you had to pick one being the most memorable, which one would that be?
The most memorable one has to be the victory in Centurion (in 2003). I still remember how we celebrated after that win. When we reached the dressing room, I spoke to my family, my friends and I could make out from their voice that the whole nation was celebrating - dancing and jumping around. Even though I was miles away I could feel that energy through their voice.
Which was the most tension-filled World Cup game against Pakistan?
Tension-wise, I would say the semi-finals at Mohali (in 2011). That was a very high-pressured game. Also, because I knew that it was my last World Cup. I knew we had come so close to reaching the final and the build-up to that was incredible. To feel that energy inside the stadium and the kind of response that we got was unbelievable. That has to be the most high-pressured game of them all. You felt that tension even more while fielding. When you are batting, you are constantly calculating and you are in the middle of the action. When you are fielding at long on, deep point, fine leg, third man — about 60-70 yards away from the action — you get more time to think. You think about different scenarios and that builds pressure.
In that 2011 game against Pakistan, I felt if we didn’t pick wickets, we could be in trouble. We really fought well in those critical moments and we won those moments. In each and every match there are those critical moments and if you continue winning those moments, the end result is terrific. Those short steps need to be taken at regular intervals and we continued doing that while defending the 260-total.
Yuvraj did a good job with the others...
Yes, Yuvi... I still remember Bhajji getting the wicket of Afridi. It was a full toss – caught at cover (by Sehwag). Ninety nine out of 100 times Afridi would clear those kind of balls. It’s just that he missed this one.
You were victim of some poor umpiring decisions in your career but here, the rub of the green came into play. Did it compensate in a way for all those bad decisions?
Sometimes you think that way, but this happened through the fielding side, not the umpire’s decision. You speak to any batsman and he remembers a bad decision. But you know, eventually, that evens out. There were three catches dropped and it evened out when it mattered. We needed that total. We got off to a flyer and we lost wickets in between, so we needed a reasonably competitive total. 260 was a good total, but I think we fell short by 20 to 25 runs.
What's the kind of tension a player goes through before an India-Pakistan World Cup game?
The 1992 World Cup was my first. I didn’t know how high-pressured these games are and what kind of reactions you get after the game. When you are new to it, you don’t realise, but when you have played once or twice then you know exactly the kind of enthusiasm there is. I was only 18.
We played with a lot of killer instinct and attitude. Our approach towards the game was terrific. Those days, there were no big totals; the format was slightly different. The batsmen approached the game differently. I still remember having a sore throat after the game. When we went to the dressing room, most of us had sore throats as we cheered for each other so much and supported each other. That’s why I cracked a joke that when you have a sore throat you know that you have played Pakistan.
There’s a tendency to view an India-Pakistan World Cup game as a war. Obviously, you don't subscribe to that view...
No, it’s not war. It’s about being competitive; being competitive in the right spirit and respecting each other. We definitely want to win. By no means I am saying that we want to be soft there and allow them to do what they want. Eventually, it boils down to how nicely you control your aggression.
Did you need help to sleep before a World Cup game against Pakistan?
No. As time went by, I got to know my body's preparation before the game and this is my mind preparing before the game. I got used to it. When I accepted it, it helped. When I fought back, it was difficult.
Do India have the best ammunition to make it six wins out of six games?
Of course we have that (ammunition). We have a balanced team. Everyone has been talking about the combination and all that. I just feel we should pick the best bowlers we have – those who are capable of delivering on that day and surface.
It’s not that the bowlers can't deliver. They can deliver for sure. We have to believe in our ability and what we have been able to achieve for such a long time so just continue to do what you are good at.
It doesn't mean things are not going to change. Things can always change. There is always a turning point – a match, a series or your career. Just wait for that moment and don’t give up. The key factor is not to give up hope because hope is something that allows you to push yourself harder.