The great Sachin Tendulkar has had rivalries with several legendary bowlers. Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Allan Donald, Muttiah Muralitharan, James Anderson, Shoaib Akhtar etc. You name the bowler and memories of his duels with Tendulkar will flash in front of your eyes. However, one rivalry of Tendulkar that has been highly under-rated are his faceoffs against Saqlain Mushtaq. Saqlain, the former Pakistan spinner may not have dismissed Tendulkar as many times as Lee, Anderson or Abdul Razzaq, but whatever dismissals he plotted against Sachin went on to become the stuff of legends. The world knows about Saqlain’s doosra to Tendulkar in the 1999 Chennai Test that resulted in a heartbreak for Sachin and India, but that wasn’t the only time Saqlain had the upper hand over him. In fact, even during the exhibition match in 2015, Saqlain cleaned up Tendulkar with what he claims was the ‘Teesra’.
Tales of the Saqlain vs Sachin rivalry don’t often get talked about. Hence, here’s one never-before-heard story for you. Recalling an instance of needling Tendulkar, Saqlain revealed how his plan to get inside Sachin’s skin backfired. Tendulkar was no stranger to getting sledged – ask the Australians – but unlike many greats Sachin had his own way of dealing with such scenarios.
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“I once had an incident with Sachin. We went to Canada. I had come there after playing County cricket in England. I was a young boy then and I was in my own world of bowling. So after playing County I became a little cocky. Sachin was a very intelligent cricketer. I bowled a very tight first over to him and sledged him. I used some harsh words. He came to me and said very nicely “Saqi… I never thought you would do this. And you don’t even appear the kind of person who would say such words. I thought you’re a very decent person. He said it so nicely and believe me for the next 4 overs, his words hit me. I was so consumed by what he said to me that before I could realise, he had done his job. He got set while batting,” Saqlain said on The Nadir Ali podcast.
Between September of 1996 and 1998, India and Pakistan played 16 ODIs in Toronto, but going by Saqlain’s admission, this could well be the very first match between the two nations in Canada. In a match reduced to 33-overs-a side contest, India chased down a target of 171 with eight wickets and 19 balls to spare with Tendulkar remaining not out on 89 and completely throwing Saqlain off his game. The former Pakistan spinner then revealed how the same evening after the match, the two players caught up and discussed what had transpired on the ground.
“These are tactics. When someone talk to you nicely, you start thinking about it. While I was in my own thoughts, Sachin kept hitting at least one boundary in the next 4-5 overs and I began respecting him. When he finally stepped out and smashed another four, I felt a slap on my face. I then realised ‘He played a game with me’. By then he was well set and things had gotten out of my hands. Later in the evening, we met and the hotel and I said to him ‘You’re a clever person’. And he started smiling. How well did he trap me. Not with the bat, but only by using his words,” added Saqlain.