Sachin Tendulkar turns 45 today. The batting legend, who retired from international cricket more than 4 years ago, is still one of the most celebrated cricketers in the country. The wishes that have been pouring in since early morning is a testament to fans' love for him.
Twenty years ago on the same day, it seemed Tendulkar had thrown the biggest birthday bash of his life as an entire nation entered celebratory mood on the evening of April 24, 1998. Thanks to the Master Blaster, who single-handedly led India to Coca-Cola Cup glory in Sharjah.
On his 25th birthday, Tendulkar, carrying the burden of expectations on his shoulder, was leading India's chase of 273 in the final of the tri-nation tournament against Australia, the top-ranked ODI side at that time.
Tendulkar had taken the likes of Shane Warne and Tom Moody just two days before the final in the last league game. Scoring a 131-ball 143, popularly known as "Desert Storm", the India opener had single-handedly battled the harsh conditions in Sharjah and led India to the final.
The Mumbai batsman did not buckle under pressure in the big final as he hit yet another century, this time a 131-ball 134, which included three sixes and 12 boundaries. It was Tendulkar's birthday but there was no shortage of ruthlessness as he tore into the Australian bowling attack, considered one of best going around.
"Birthday or not, you want to go out and win always. It does not matter if it was the first game or the final or a special day like a birthday. For me it has always been representation of the nation," Tendulkar told the Mumbai Mirror.
"And once you go out in the middle, you would want to win – be it a club-level, state-level or an international game. Winning is something I never wanted to compromise on. That spirit was always in me right from the childhood. It was not just in cricket, I always wanted to compete and win in any sport I played," he added.
Felt like having blisters all over my feet: Tendulkar
Meanwhile, Tendulkar revealed that the focus he had been giving to fitness right from the early stages of his career helped him big time during the Coca-Cola Cup, which was played in the harsh weather conditions of April in Sharjah.
The superstar of Indian cricket credited his coach Ramakant Achrekar for helping him realize the importance of staying fit.
Tendulkar was not just up against Australia also against the harsh conditions as temperatures reached a maximum of 41 degrees Celsius at the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium during the last match of the league phase.
A sandstorm swept through the stadium and forced a 20-minute stoppage of India's chase of 285. The target was revised to 277 in 46 overs. However, Tendulkar's single-minded focus on winning had helped him tame the Australian attack.
"Heat was quite a bit. There were occasions when you feel the heat even in your shoes and socks. So, the sole of your shoes would become tender and soft," Tendulkar said.
"Literally, one felt that there were blisters all over your feet. There were occasions when I had gone back to the dressing room in the intervals and would put my feet in a bucket of ice.
"Running in such heat and then changing directions would increase the friction and that would generate more heat. It was challenging. But in the end, it was something at which you look back and feel that every little thing was worth it
"I used to work on my fitness from my school days. I would bat and then run on the field with my pads and gloves on. It was at the direction of my coach Achrekar sir. So I had become mentally tough that day."