50 for Sachin - Vinod Kambli: “Tendlya has always been there for me”

‘In our long journey, there have been challenges, and that’s life — it never follows a set direction. There have been differences, emotional outbursts, misunderstandings, but every time, we have come out stronger and happier.’

Published : Apr 24, 2023 10:20 IST , Mumbai - 5 MINS READ

The beginnings of the genius of Sachin Tendulkar were at the iconic Shivaji Park in Mumbai. Who better to take us through those memories than one of his oldest friends - Vinod Kambli? | Video Credit: Emmanual Yogini and Shayan Acharya

I was at the Shivaji Park the other day. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and braving the scorching heat, several young cricketers were busy with their local tournaments. I walked around the park, obliged a few selfie requests, and gradually walked towards the pitch that, once upon a time, was our home.

That afternoon, as I strolled around the park, I was eventually searching for two of my favourite people, who have been an integral part of my journey — the late Ramakant Achrekar sir and my dost Sachin Tendulkar, who turned 50.

When I met this little curly-haired boy for the first time, Tendulkar — or Tendlya, as I call him — was just eight, and I was a year older. Back then, none of us thought that we would be friends for life and would eventually go on to don the India colours. We went to the same school — Shardashram Vidyamandir — and chased the same dream of playing cricket. Though he appeared shy, Tendlya was a prankster, and so was I. You would hear so many stories from our old friends about how both of us would fool them and as I look back at those days, it brings a smile.

We were in Indore for a junior national camp, where Vasoo Paranjape sir was our coach. On one Sunday afternoon, Tendlya and I decided to play a prank on two of our teammates, Sourav Ganguly and Sanjay Das. When they both were fast asleep, Tendlya and I took buckets of water into their room and splashed it all around. By the time Sourav woke up around 5 o’clock in the evening, all they could see in the room was water, and their kits were floating.

They called up the hotel reception, inquiring whether the pipe burst. But to their surprise, they opened the door and saw me, Kedar Godbole and Tendlya standing outside with buckets of water. They realised who was behind it!

Both of us were die-hard film buffs, but were too scared to discuss anything in front of Achrekar sir. So, once our local match got over early and we were excited to go and watch the Tom Cruise-starrer ‘ Top Gun’.

However, on reaching Sterling — a popular cinema hall those days — we realised that only those above 18 were allowed. Since both Tendlya and I were under-age and looked it, we decided to sneak in behind our taller friends, who were a bit senior to us. And luckily, we were not caught.

Achrekar sir somehow got to know about it later and was not very happy. But then, we ensured that we never skipped our training and gave our hundred per cent on the field. Back in those days, we did not have money and every time we would feel hungry after practice or a game, we would go near the Shivaji Park Gymkhana to grab a vada pav or on days, when we had some pocket money, we would relish wraps. Those were simpler times!

We shared a strong bond on and off the field and that kept the ‘ Tendlya-Kamblya’ pair going. We would compete, score tons of runs, but at the end of the day, we knew that we were there for each other. There would be days when we would throw challenges at each other and the rule was that whoever scored higher, deserved an extra pav. We continued that tradition for quite a few years.

And I think, it’s this understanding and bonding that helped us share a record 664-run partnership, playing for Shardashram Vidya Mandir against St. Xavier’s in a Harris Shield fixture on February 24, 1988.

Back in those days, the bowlers from the opposition teams were scared of facing us and I remember how the captains had to motivate the fielders because they knew that we would hit all around the park and they would have to struggle.

And, we enjoyed this attention. That Harris Shield outing was the highest partnership, but Achrekar sir ensured that we did not lose focus. Sir was a very serious man and meant only cricket. Without Achrekar sir, we would not have come so far, and one can’t imagine having a coach like him in today’s times. Tendlya made his debut for India before me, but Achrekar sir always encouraged me and made me believe that I, too, would certainly don the national colours. He made both of us work very hard and always made us believe that we were a family first and being youngsters, that idea inspired us. We played as siblings and were happy with each other’s success.

In our long journey, there have been challenges, and that’s life — it never follows a set direction. There have been differences, emotional outbursts, misunderstandings, but every time, we have come out stronger and happier.

Tendlya has always been there for me, and more than anything else, that’s something I will always cherish. I am glad to see Arjun (Sachin’s son) making his debut in the Indian Premier League and making a mark. I am proud of him, as much as I am proud of my dear friend, who has helped me overcome challenges, take things in my stride and has walked alongside me, through thick and thin.

Be the way you are, my friend. Tere jaisa yaar kahan?

(As told to Shayan Acharya)

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