| Sachin Tendulkar takes off for one of his 98 runs at the SuperSport Park in Centurion Sunday
Some bowlers intimidate batsmen, but it is a rare genius that intimidates bowlers as Sachin Tendulkar did in the high-voltage match against Pakistan when his competitive juices were flowing.
It was heady stuff!
And India will now take much more than just the points from their impressive six-wicket win against their traditional rivals through to the business end of this World Cup.
India booked their passage through to the Super Six stage and the win on Saturday continued the revival of the team since the demoralising defeat by the Australians at the start of the tournament.
In this form Sourav Ganguly and his team are capable of beating anyone, but they must believe in themselves and be prepared to play with the freedom they have shown in recent matches.
Pakistan have yet to win a World Cup match against India and if they are to do so they need to develop some subtlety to go with the sledge-hammer approach. Full frontal assault has not done the trick for them so far.
Thankfully it was a day game because Pakistan won the toss and decided to bat on an excellent batting wicket.
Saeed Anwar continued his love affair with Indian bowling in one-day cricket with an innings that started tentatively but grew into the more assured and elegant version that we have come to know and appreciate.
When he was finally bowled in the 41st over by a near perfect Ashish Nehra yorker, Anwar had anchored the Pakistan innings and had set the solid foundation for their total of 273 for seven.
Rashid Latif did a fine job in the last ten overs to ensure a competitive total, while Wasim Akram played some lusty shots at the end. The total of 273 would have been excellent had it been a night game but as conditions were not going to change in the afternoon, Pakistan will have felt uneasy about the Indian top order, especially Tendulkar.
The other thing that has to be noted is that grounds here in South Africa are generally on the small side and Centurion is one of the smaller grounds of the World Cup rotation. A score of 270 in 50 overs here would only be seen as par.
For me, the prospect of the Pakistan pace attack challenging the immense skills of Tendulkar and his look-alike Virender Sehwag was an exciting proposition.
Early wickets were always going to be important for Pakistan to make the score resemble 300, so Waqar Younis decided to go with his big guns Shoaib Akhtar and Wasim Akram. For India to win it would probably take someone to make 100 so Tendulkar would have loomed large in the sights of the Pakistani pace trio.
The scene was set for a classic confrontation and whoever won the first round was going to take a huge step toward winning the game and getting through to the next stage in good shape.
The showdown got away to an explosive start. Neither Akram nor Shoaib had a chance to settle in before Tendulkar struck the first psychological blows by despatching both bowlers to various parts of the ground. Tendulkar heaved a big six over third man in Shoaib’s first over and the young fast bowler looked unnerved. Everybody’s pace had quickened and the adrenaline was racing.
Wasim brought some sanity to the proceedings in his second over, while Waqar replaced Shoaib after just one. Sehwag proceeded to unsettle Waqar by hitting his first delivery for an even bigger six over third man. The pace and bounce was suiting the aggression of the two Indian openers. Fire was being used to fight fire. The question was: which side was going to break first'
Ten runs per over was just the start India wanted and Pakistan were psychologically on the back foot.
Akram has been as good with his craft as Tendulkar is with his and the old war-horse turned back the clock as he steamed in to deliver some fine deliveries. But conditions were in favour of the batting side and luck seemed to be running their way. Good players, though, make their own luck and Tendulkar pierced the field on both sides of the wicket with precision drives, pulls and cuts.
Waqar responded to being hit behind square on the leg-side from middle stump to bowling more to the off-side only to see deliveries race through the covers. Errors of length were hurting the Pakistan pace bowlers as they strived for even more pace.
Each time they erred, Tendulkar punished them. Sehwag finally fell to some clever bowling and good field placing as he chipped Waqar to extra cover. He may have also been sucked into the maelstrom of adrenaline sparked by Tendulkar’s brilliance.
Ganguly strode to the crease. He needed to settle things with a cool head and feed the strike to the rampant Tendulkar. Ganguly didn’t even have time to think about it as Rudi Coetzer adjudged him lbw to the first ball he faced.
The bowling skipper had won the battle of the captains and had reclaimed some ground for the beleaguered Pakistan bowlers. The entertainment level was exceedingly high.
Abdul Razzaq became the villain of the piece for Pakistan as he misjudged a catch from Tendulkar coming from a crude drive off the bowling of Akram when Tendulkar was on 32.
I bet I wasn’t the only one who immediately thought of Herschelle Gibbs’ muffed chance from Steve Waugh in the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup. Was this going to prove as costly a miss for Pakistan' Mohammed Kaif was promoted ahead of Dinesh Mongia in the batting order and he set about doing what his captain would have wanted done.
Pakistan proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot as they bowled no balls as the tide of the contest began to flow India’s way. Their pace was working against them. The body language suggested Pakistan were running out of ideas as well as belief. They had thrown their best punches but they were reeling from the body blows India had got in early.
Shoaib soon lost the plot. Pace was certainly not working for him and he seemed devoid of a back-up plan. He began flailing like a drowning man in a raging torrent.
Meanwhile, Kaif had dragged himself out of his ringside seat to join in the command performance. He played with a style that suggests he is also a player of rare skill. We should see more of him in the future. At the first drinks break India were travelling at nearly nine runs per over and only a disaster would stop them from taking the honours.
Once Tendulkar and Kaif departed it was left to Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh to see India home in what had been another in the titanic contests between these two proud nations.