Few can match Saeed Anwar's iconic 1997 ODI performance

20 years on, Pakistan is yet to produce an opener capable of constructing solid starts as well as Saeed Anwar did.
Published May 25, 2017

He swept the ball towards square leg and in that instant, he knew it was a boundary. But he knew more than that. When Saeed Anwar played that shot, he knew he had done what no man in 13 years could.

It was a full-length delivery by Sachin Tendulkar who tirelessly bowled to rid India of its nightmare. With no effort at all, Anwar swept it for four to wind up at 190 - the highest score by any batsman in One-Day cricket.

Arms risen in acknowledgement, he advanced towards Inzamam-ul-Haq, the non-striker, who lightly kissed his forehead. The crowd roared deafeningly and for that brief sensational moment, there was no India or Pakistan, just a hysterical subcontinent.

The city was Chennai and the year was 1997. It was the sixth game of the Pepsi Independence Cup between arch rivals India and Pakistan, on May 21. Opting to bat first, Pakistan suffered an early blow as Afridi fell in the second over.

Anwar looked comfortable from the start, hitting gloriously in the gaps. India's benevolent batting wicket paved way for a solid second wicket partnership (89) between Saeed Anwar and Rameez Raja. Abey Kuruvilla and Robin Singh were getting some bounce, but couldn't seem to work it to their advantage.

Skipper Tendulkar turned to Anil Kumble for help, who at the time was at his finest. The hosts began attacking and the crowd screamed louder in a combined effort to heap up pressure on Pakistan. But Anwar had other plans.

Also read: When Anwar surpassed the 'King'

Under the scorching Chennai sun, it was a contest of temperament and resilience. Despite frequent panting and apparent dehydration, Anwar continued determinedly, securing handy partnerships with Ijaz Ahmed (116) and Inzamam-ul-Haq (84).

No field changes or bowling shifts seemed to get through to the left-hander. In the 19th over, Afridi rejoined Anwar down on the pitch, this time as his runner.

With his eyes on the ball and heart on his sleeve, Anwar crafted an innings that perfectly reflected his calculated aggression in one-day cricket. He scored 194 off 146 balls, hitting 22 fours and five sixes (the runner was a mere formality).

This colossal knock - which was accelerating towards the 200 mark - was finally put to an end by Tendulkar in the 47th over, a top-edge flying to the fielder at short-fine leg.

Running backwards for the catch, Ganguly roughly hurt his head as he landed on the ground. Poetically enough, even as Anwar walked off the field, he had done India damage.

Pakistan defended the total by 35 runs and Aqib Javed clenched a 5-for. Anwar, however, was the prime architect of the victory and went home with a deserving Man of the Match title.

Explore: I played in Pakistan’s best-ever side: Saeed Anwar

Anwar represented Pakistan in 247 ODIs from 1989 to 2003, scoring 8824 runs at an average of 39.21. Over his illustrious ODI career, the gifted opener from Karachi stacked 20 centuries and 43 fifties under his name. He has, till date, the most number of runs (12,113) as an opener for Pakistan across all formats.

In retrospect, the essence of this majestic three-hour knock lies not just in the record aspect of it, but also in Anwar's ability to time and place the ball with gifted finesse.

Throughout his career, Anwar remained caught in an undisguised love affair with the off-side. He batted with unshakeable grit, displaying a mix of minimal footwork and poised hitting.

Coming down the track was not his style; Anwar waited for the ball to come in before stylishly driving it through cover. No loose delivery would be spared in Anwar's arena and anything pitching outside-off would be flogged straight over mid-wicket.

May 21 marked the 20th anniversary of this Chennai spectacle, perhaps one of the most monumental batting performances in one-day history. The previous highest score - Vivian Richards' 189* against England in 1984 - remained unbeaten for 13 years, till this stalwart opener from Pakistan altered the record books.

Anwar's feat was paralleled 12 years later by Zimbabwe's Charles Coventry, who scored 194* against Bangladesh. The following year, Tendulkar walked off the field unbeaten at 200.

At his peak, he was inarguably the world's most formidable left-arm opener. This glorious knock further cemented Saeed Anwar's name among the 90s batting elite.

In the same year, he was deservedly named one of Wisden's Cricketers of The Year. His last one-day hundred came against India in 2003, the year he retired from international cricket.

Read further: Saeed Anwar bids farewell to international cricket

20 years on, Pakistan is yet to produce an opener capable of constructing solid starts as well as Saeed Anwar did. Consistency remains a common deficiency among modern batsmen, and the craft of conversion seems lost.

Saeed Anwar was blessed with this and more. His batting resembled an art form; one that many could pore over but few could master.

So nonpareil, and so charismatic, was his natural game.

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