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Damien Fleming - Swinging It Right

Fleming recalls the fateful day when a fellow birthday boy took him to the cleaners

Friday, April 24, 2022
My Sharjah Birthday Bash

I’m all for Birthday bashes, something to celebrate each of life’s milestones with a bit of fun and panache. What I wasn’t up for was on for my 28th birthday was a bash in front of 30,000 screaming Indian fans and getting bashed to all sections of the Sharjah ground by a fellow birthday boy the little master Sachin Tendulkar.

It was 24th April 1998, the final of the Sharjah Cup. It was a culmination of a long tour for most of the Aussie tour party. We were crushed 2 to 1 in the Tests in India and were comprehensively beaten in all lead up games in the one-day series but we pulled off a memorable win over India in the fifth and final ODI in Delhi.

In this Sharjah Cup we had India’s measure leading up to the final, although Tendulkar was the big thorn in our side, who batted at a level, unseen of in my time in cricket but so far in losing teams.

We lost the toss and were sent in after we scored 272 mainly thanks to our determined Captain Steve Waugh and a bludgeoning 70 from the gifted Darren Lehmann.

I was given the first over to set the tempo and get us off to a brilliant wicket taking start. 11 runs off my first over probably wasn’t the start Steve Waugh and my teammates were looking for! But it then settled into an arm wrestle. Between me, Kasprowicz, Moody and Warny and the Indian top order. We finally dismissed Ganguly and Mongia but Sachin stood strong as he had all series. 

One of the greatest sights in World cricket is the battle between legends and being on the field is the best view. Tendulkar vs. Warne was a promoter’s dream, a colossal clash between the world’s best batsman and bowler. It was victory for the little master as he hit our peroxided leg spinner back over his head for numerous sixes.

I remember hearing a huge roar from the crowd and looking at the video scoreboard as the ground announcer wished Sachin a happy 25th birthday. I thought he was probably enjoying his milestone but he was ruining mine.

Tendulkar started to take control and it was hard for me to imagine how a batsman could have played better than he had in the last couple of months (in April 1998), considering how he wasn’t getting any batting support from his teammates. The Indians were not a strong team on paper but Tendulkar was simply unstoppable.

There was no “corridor of uncertainty “or “Avenue of apprehension “ when he was in full flight. Full balls were driven with class and power, pulls and cuts smashed square of the wicket as he brought up another 100 against us.

I was brought back on to try and break the Tendulkar and Azhra partnership. In my first over two huge lbw shouts against Sachin were turned down by Steve Bucknor who was obviously not keen to give me a late birthday present.

And the game went away from us, but it was small consolation when Sachin was given lbw when he was hit about metre outside leg stump.

Then suddenly I heard the crowd announcer give me a happy birthday and there it was on the video screen which was greeted by Bronx jeers from the passionate Indian crowd. 

So Id turned 28 years of age, just lost a final, been booed by 30000 people and I reflected on my day by myself, down at fine leg. I thought to myself that I have probably had happier birthdays. !