Saeed Anwar produced a quintessential knock that is still etched in the memories of cricket purists
A full-length ball angled on the legs, swept for four towards square leg and that was it: Saeed Anwar knew that he had become the highest run-scorer in the history of ODI cricket breaking Sir Vivian Richards record that stood for almost 13 years.
It was the sixth game of the Independence Cup, a four-nation tournament where Pakistan were up against arch-rivals India. In tormenting weather of Chennai, Saeed Anwar produced a quintessential knock that is still etched in the memories of cricket purists.
Electing to bat first, Pakistan suffered an early blow as Shahid Afridi got caught trying to hit one out of the ground. Just likes so many times in the past, Saeed Anwar, unfazed by the situation, got into his groove and started showing his peculiar finesse with delightful shots on both sides of the wicket.
To stem the flow of runs, opposition captain Sachin Tendulkar turned to Anil Kumble in the eighth over. The leg-spinner was greeted with a four down the ground. A few balls later another one was dispatched to the boundary over Kumble’s head.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s captain Ramiz Raja was finding it difficult to score but it felt like Anwar was batting on a different strip. Shortly, the flamboyant left-hander reached his 50 off just 44 deliveries. In partnership, Saeed and Ramiz added 87 runs for the second wicket to consolidate Pakistan’s position with the left-hander scoring 67 of them.
After Ramiz’s dismissal, Anwar stitched brilliant partnerships of 116 and 84 with Ijaz Ahmad and Inzamamul Haq. It was a batting masterclass as anything that was being thrown at him was going to the fence. His immaculate wrist work helped him thread the gaps through the off-side, while anything on his pads was being flicked or hammered to the leg-side fence.
The Southpaw soon brought up his 12th ODI ton of just 82 balls, his first against India. Such was his dominance that he reached the landmark in the 27th over with the team total on just 143 at the time.
By the time, the hot and humid conditions had started to take its toll on the opener. And just when it felt like he won’t be able to continue, Saeed conjured up every ounce of strength left in his body and went into another gear.
He tore apart the Indian bowling. It was like the fielders had disappeared as everything was hitting the fence or going over it. This onslaught left Indians baffled, and Tendulkar, despite making countless bowling and fielding changes, had no answer to the batsmanship and craft being displayed by the left-hander.
In the moment it felt like Saeed Anwar was wielding a magic wand in his hand and with that, he had mesmerised an Indian crowd that had started to root for him.
The 41st over bowled by Kumble was hit for 24 runs, with the leg spinner dispatched for three sixes on three balls. At the end of the over, Kumble was standing like a mere spectator with his hands on his back looking at Anwar with his eyes pleading for mercy.
This coruscating knock cheered by a vociferous Chennai crowd came to an end on 194 as Anwar top-edged one to short-fine leg, which was caught by a tumbling Sourav Ganguly. Pakistan posted 327 for 5 and comfortably won the match by 35 runs.
It was not only a display of skill and elegance but also of great mental and physical fitness. To bat for the whole innings in such hot and humid conditions demands great will power and concentration.
In the post-match interview, talking about the conditions Anwar said, “It was my best one [hundred] because the heat was tremendous today, plus humidity was at the highest and after scoring 30 or 40 runs I was thinking about getting out.”
He thanked Shahid Afridi who walked out as his runner in the 22nd over, “I was really struggling at the time and Afridi deserves a lot of credit as he helped me out and I carried on.”
In the same year, Saeed Anwar was named Wisden Cricketer of The Year. The left-hander had amassed 2296 runs in 1996 across formats, most by any batsman in the world.
Saeed is widely regarded as one of the best to have played in the 90’s. Such was his prowess, that he was the most prolific scorer for Pakistan in the 1990’s. He scored 6,664 runs at an average of 40.63 with 17 hundreds. The left-hander went on to score 8,824 runs in ODIs at an average of 39.21. He still holds the record of scoring most tons for Pakistan with 20 to his name.
In the modern era, where players are scoring double-hundreds with ease, Saeed Anwar’s 194 at Chepauk still can still make a cricket purist purr.