It was a partnership that created an unprecedented symphony between two artists of pristine batsmanship – Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar. It also gave birth to a book dedicated to the 222-run stand for the sixth wicket at the Newlands in Cape Town on January 4, 1997.
Sachin and Azhar at Cape Town is a riveting account of the partnership by two gifted cricket writers – Abhishek Mukherjee and Arunabha Sengupta. Their love for history is nothing short of obsession and the narrative if a tribute to their amazing capacity to remember details of the contest and their passion for storytelling.
The book emerged from their frequent cricket conversations and the beauty of the association between Tendulkar and Azharuddin was just the trigger for Sengupta and Mukherjee to plan a book. As Sengupta recalled the literature related to Tony Greig’s ‘grovel’ comment and Victor Trumper’s heroics, the two hit upon the idea of documenting the exploits of Tendulkar and Azharuddin.
“The lack of reportage is really quite disappointing,” was Sengupta’s view on the partnership. Mukherjee’s response was prompt, “So why don’t we write it? We have the material, we have watched it live, we have followed cricket in both countries thereafter through their highs and lows.” The two authors confessed the decision was a “spur of the moment” thing.
Mukherjee and Sengupta delved into the making of the partnership through hours of video footage of the batting against a quality attack that consisted of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Brian Mcmillan, Lance Klusener and Paul Adams, recalling the precise moments when they soaked in the excitement of the knocks.
Through extensive research and conversations with those who saw and wrote on the partnership, apart from their own observations, Mukherjee and Sengupta bring us a delightful book which, in their words, is “Indian and South African cricket through the prism of a partnership.”
The authors bring us some gripping anecdotes that form the background of the book, dealing with the period that marked the apartheid and isolation period of South Africa. The political and social turmoil of South Africa is visited through material gathered from various references with cricket being the focus.
Mukherjee and Sengupta analyse the partnership with admirable ability to fish out details from their part performances. The conversation between the two is delightful with some brilliant technical assessment of the range of shots that adorned the batting of Tendulkar and Azharuddin.
“People saw a different Azhar,” asserts Sengupta. “The paintbrush of the artist had been exchanged for a sledgehammer. The Protean fast bowlers bounced, and Azhar went after them with his murderous hook, a stroke he had shelved for several years.” The two had come together with India reeling at 58 for five.
Azharuddin remembered the day vividly. He told Sportstar, “It was not counterattack but yes the balls were there to be hit and we did hit them. Normally you would get one or two for those shots but that day we kept finding the gaps. We hardly did any talking as we went our way. It was one of the best that I and Sachin had batted together.”
In a chat with Sportstar, the two authors shared their love for history and also the drive to present it in a different picture. They argue that cricket history for long has been written with the perspective of the English. Not always fair. The book is a platform for Sengupta and Mukherjee to put forward their credible cricket reading.
Mukherjee and Sengupta are at their best when they bring out details of the day. “During lunch the Indian team is presented to Nelson Mandela. For the meeting the Indian cricketers don their formals. Even the unbeaten batsmen take off their pads, clean themselves up and slip into their blazers. The lunch break is lengthened by 15 minutes when the President, having met the teams, makes an impromptu address on live TV,” they write. There is detailed writing on Mandela’s connection with promotion of cricket in his tenure.
The hour after lunch was sensational. Azharuddin and Tendulkar were locked in a kind of battle to outdo each other even as the South African bowlers looked clueless in their efforts to stop the flow of runs. Azhar took less than 100 balls to get to his century, the third time in his career. “We just went with the flow. It was a great experience for both of us. I basically wanted to entertain the spectators. I have always felt that the spectators buy tickets to be entertained and we need to meet their expectations,” said Azharuddin remembering his approach during that partnership.
Mukherjee and Sengupta describe two shots, one each by Azharuddin and Tendulkar, one to the leg and the other the off in breathtaking writing. “Square leg dives to his right, deep square leg sprints to his left. The ball beats both,” reflects the magic of Azharuddin’s strokeplay. “The ball is shorter, on the off. Tendulkar goes back and punches through cover point and extra cover,” shows the classic Tendulkar in full flow.
Sengupta reveals, “Donald later wrote that it was difficult to stand back and applaud batsmen while getting the stick, but this was the innings during which he came closest.” The two rave about the aesthetic strokemaking by Azharuddin and Tendulkar and the book is a fabulous collection of top class cricket writing.
The authors conclude, “This association between two of the best batsmen of the game at the highest level required a volume on it as well. Since there was no Arlott writing the story, no Ross penning down the second Cape Summer, it was left to us.”
To the delight of the cricket lovers of this generation, two of the best writers of this game have crafted this beautiful gift – a book filled with rich anecdotes, reliving a tale of 25 years ago when batting rose to great heights as a form of art on the cricket field. It ranks close to Jack Fingleton’s classic The Greatest Test Of All (on the 1960 Tied Test).