"To be a successful opener one must have a solid technique and the patience and application to play long innings,” Saeed Anwar had said while talking to a Pakistani newspaper in 2009, when he was setting up a month-long specialist training camp for Pakistan's opening batsmen.
If we rewind back 19 years to May 21, 1997, Saeed had done exactly what he later believed was the key to playing a long and successful innings at the top of the order — he stood alone against Indian bowling attack as a force reckoned with, to destroy them in Chennai during the Independence Cup.
The four-nation tournament including Sri Lanka and New Zealand saw each team win one match each. The fifth and sixth matches then presented themselves as the semi-finals. Sri Lanka overcame New Zealand to book a spot in the last-two, while India faced off against Pakistan in a fight for the second spot in the final.
Under Ramiz Raja, Pakistan won the toss and Saeed, who would go one to score 8,824 runs in 247 ODIs at an average of 39.21, walked in with Shahid Afridi to open the innings. Afridi, being his usual self, skied a length ball from Abey Kuruvilla in the second over only to get caught at mid-on by Sourav Ganguly.
In came Ramiz to assist Saeed as the left-hander sliced, cut and smashed every Indian bowler. At the end of the 19th over he asked for a runner and Afridi was sent in to assist him in what would become one of the greatest innings in the history of cricket.
“Saeed bhai’s innings was an outstanding one,” said Afridi while talking to The Express Tribune. “It was memorable for me because I was his runner. After he scored 50 runs, I was running for him till he scored 194. It was an amazing innings; I saw it very closely when Saeed played that inning in front of a huge crowd.”
However, Saeed didn’t make Afridi work too much. He kept finding the fence with his smart, calculated, timed and well-placed shots. He accumulated a total of 22 boundaries and five sixes during his 194-run knock — the then highest score in ODIs.
“His shot selection was immaculate," added Afridi. "The boundaries and sixes he hit were classic. Whenever I talk to him, I remind him that you made me run a lot. He also cherishes that inning.”
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Ironically, the man who dismissed him on that day, Sachin Tendulkar, would go on to break his record and become the first man to surpass the 200-run mark in ODIs but after a wait of 13 long years in 2000. A top-edge and a backward running catch by Ganguly at short fine-leg will deny Saeed of registering his name as the first-cricketer-ever to score a double ton.
“There came a moment when I had to dive to prevent a run out and he was saved," Afridi reminisced. "Overall, it was one of the best innings that I have seen in my whole cricketing career.”
Saeed’s innings of 194 will always be remembered as one of resilience. In a match where all of his partners kept losing wickets after getting mediocre starts, Saeed made batting look as easy as Virat Kohli does nowadays.
There are many theories to decipher his resolute knock that day but in 2003, when India toured Pakistan, Saeed in an interview to Times of India revealed what it meant to the Pakistani cricketers to play against India.
"They [the dressing rooms] are quite tense and different," he had said. "Everybody is told that any performance against India can make or break their careers. We saw what happened to Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed after they suffered at the hands of Ajay Jadeja during the 1996 World Cup quarter-final in Bangalore."
He also proposed a solution to the aforementioned problem: "We just tell each other to play without worrying. I know this is difficult, but then, that's the key."
Well Saeed, you did hold your nerves that day and made every Pakistani proud. Thank you for the memories!
Take a look at one of the most entertaining innings from a Pakistani opener
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