During the last league game featuring the Rajasthan Royals in this year’s IPL, it was not just the last sighting of Shane Warne the player; it was also the last time that he squared off against the greatest opponent of his era – Sachin Tendulkar. While the contest itself was nothing to write home about, for those who had witnessed some of the most memorable duels between these two over the last couple of decades, it was hard not to feel nostalgic about the times gone by.
The first meeting between these two legends was all one way traffic. In Warne’s first match for Australia, he took one wicket conceding 150 runs. In the same innings, Tendulkar, all of 19 years, scored an unbeaten century to draw first blood in the personal rivalry which would capture the imagination of a generation of cricket watchers.
Tendulkar and Warne would go on to play 12 Tests against each other, with the batsman falling to the bowler just three times, between the period of 1998-99. This is a classic case of figures telling just half the story. In truth, the contest was much more even than it appears. Who will forget the teaser of a first class match between Mumbai and Australia before the ’98 series? Warne was given a taste of things to come. In the first innings of the Chennai Test in that series, Tendulkar fell to Warne for the first time in his career, but returned in style in the second innings, scoring an unbeaten 155 including some unforgettable stroke play against the blonde leg spinner. The punishment continued in the second game at Kolkata as well, with Tendulkar scoring 79 at almost run a ball, and Warne going wicket-less. The final match of the series in Bangalore finally went in Australia’s favor with Warne picking 5 wickets in the game, but he couldn’t escape punishment from Tendulkar in the first innings as the Mumbai maestro racked up 177 runs at a strike rate of 85. India won the series and the legend of Tendulkar vs Warne was born.
Over the next few years, Warne had his fair share of success against Tendulkar, even if it didn’t always materialize in wickets. Australia was the top dog in the rankings at that time with a host of world class performers in their side including Warne, but when they came up against Tendulkar, they had to go around him most of the time to win against the Indian side. This led to some classic Test cricket featuring battles between Warne and McGrath against Tendulkar. While the 1999 series went in favor of the Aussies, there were some epic contests involving this trio, particularly in Melbourne. India were vanquished but Tendulkar stood tall amongst the ruins.
This brings us to one of the finest Test series in the history of the game. The 2001 series gave birth to the legends of Laxman, Harbhajan and Hayden. While the Laxman-Dravid-Harbhajan heroics in Kolkata will stay in the memories of cricket lovers for a long time, the Tendulkar vs Warne contest in the deciding Test at Chennai went a long way towards deciding the series in India’s favor. After Australia had scored 391 in their first innings, Tendulkar led India’s response with a brilliant innings of 126 to snatch a vital 110 run lead, which proved to be just about enough in the outcome.
They would go on to play just one more Test match involving the two, with Australia defeating India at Nagpur to overcome their ‘final frontier’. Tendulkar’s lone match of that series was a personal failure and Warne put up his best ever performance against the Indians. It brought to an end, one of the most fascinating batsman-bowler rivalries in Test Cricket, with Tendulkar having had most of the upper hand throughout the years. Still, the respect between the two was mutual, with each considering the other as one of the toughest they had faced, and since then have maintained a friendship which has even overcome an artificial spat in IPL 4.
The two had some fine contests in ODIs as well, none more memorable than the ‘Desert Storm’ clash in Sharjah 1998. Here too, Tendulkar managed to be one of a select few who tamed Warne at the height of his powers. Incredibly in 17 ODI encounters between the two, Warne dismissed Tendulkar just once, after he had scored a century in Kanpur in 1998. No surprise then, that Warne rated Tendulkar as one of the batsmen he least liked to bowl to.
Over the years, they have provided cricket lovers a lot of memories to cherish, and it is a little sad to see that no one is queuing up to take their place. Can a Kohli vs Bishoo or De Villiers vs Swann or Umar Akmal vs Hauritz (just kidding!) recreate such epic duels?
So, it is fair to say thank you, not just to Warne but to Tendulkar as well, for all the memories. There might be a lot of good players in international cricket today but they can only be judged as great, when they come up against an equally worthy adversary and hold their own. In that respect, Warne and Tendulkar went far and beyond that category, elevating the contests between them to a higher plane, and establishing themselves in the pantheon of cricket legends.
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