A big feat for a small man

AS an Indian it does make me proud to see Sachin Tendulkar drawing level with Sir Donald Bradman in the matter of centuries. It is a significant achievement for an astonishing cricketer.

It was nice of Sachin to speak about his father after his 29th hundred. My mind immediately went back to his father who was an extremely simple person.

I once invited Ramesh Tendulkar for a dinner function in Mumbai and he readily agreed. Even a semblance of pride for being the father of one of the greatest cricketers was completely absent in him.

In fact, I remember him sitting quietly in a corner, with a ready smile for anybody who greeted him. Sachin and his wife had graced the occasion too, and it was just wonderful being with this special family.

Having interacted with his father, it is easy to understand why Sachin is so humble and simple even after such stunning accomplishments as a cricketer. He has inherited a lot of those old values, which have also made him disciplined and committed, providing the cutting edge to his god-given talent.

The first time I heard about Sachin was from Dilip Vengsarkar, who spoke highly of one little batsman from Mumbai, who was thumping the ball around the park, belying his age.

Later on, we had an opportunity to watch him at the nets. We were not disappointed, as this young cricketer was stroking the ball with such ease.

Yours truly had the privilege and the honour of being this great cricketer's first captain. It was a difficult tour to Pakistan but Sachin stood up to the severe challenge wonderfully well.

That was also a tour where there was a dispute between the senior cricketers and the Board over the issue of payments to cricketers, generating quite a bit of acrimony.

I told Sachin early on during the tour not to worry about these things. He was young, was gifted, and his only job was to play the game to the best of his ability.

There was enough evidence during this demanding campaign to suggest that Sachin would be a formidable batsman in the years to come. He was so young, yet was not intimidated.

We all got a glimpse of his aggressive instincts when he went after Abdul Qadir, who is the finest leg-spinner I have played against, in a one-dayer. I was at the non-striker's end and it was amazing stuff from a boy only in his teens.

It is this ability to take the attack into the opposing camp that has separated him from lesser batsmen - he wants to dominate the bowlers. Indeed, when Sachin is in the middle, it is the bowlers who come under the pressure.

It was also a tour where Sachin was up against some of the best fast bowlers in the business - Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis. Not once did he flinch.

It was evident to us during that tour that we had an awesome batsman in our midst. I can recall telling him - "Look, one day you are going to become a great cricketer. But please remember me as your first captain." He smiled.

Then in 1991-92, when he batted quite beautifully on the bouncy Australian wickets, it was crystal clear that the batting records would tumble as this great batsman pursued runs for his team.

By the time he finishes his glorious career, Sachin should have all the world records in his pocket. It wouldn't be surprising at all if he gathers over 100 centuries in both forms of international cricket.

He is so cool under even the most testing situations that one so easily forgets that the bowlers had been calling the shots before he walked in. And Sachin adapts to the conditions so quickly.

How would he compare with Brian Lara? Both are brilliant batsmen, who can turn the course of a contest with ease, but my vote would go to Sachin for his ability to get big runs under all conditions - pace and bounce in Australia, swing in England, and the turn in India. Remember Lara has struggled in the Indian conditions.

Sachin is also more consistent, forever willing to carry the burden of responsibility on his shoulders. An average close to 60 and nearly 8000 Test runs do reflect his hunger for runs.

Among the batsmen I have seen and admired, Sachin is probably the only player who would merit a comparison with Vivian Richards, the most destructive customer of our times. Both are exceptionally brilliant stroke-makers.

Sachin has such natural ball sense that he would have been a success in any sport. I remember the 1992-93 tour of England to India, when the teams were in Chennai for the second Test.

I had invited the Indian side to my residence for lunch and it did not take long for Kapil Dev and Sachin, forever loving a challenge, to duel it out - in another game.

There is a tennis court in my house and Kapil and Sachin were involved in a well contested match that was eventually won by the latter. It was an unforgettable encounter.

That's not all. I can recollect a table tennis match with him on a tour of Sri Lanka once. Sachin won the match which was not surprising. But he did that playing left handed!

Apart from being a great batsman, Sachin is also a complete team-man, and he has seldom put himself above the team. For him India always comes first.

I had the good fortune of witnessing an epic innings from Sachin in Chennai in 1998-99, during the India-Pakistan Test. The wicket was providing assistance to the bowlers, and Pakistan possessed three match-winners in Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq.

The manner in which he guided the Indian team to the doorstep of victory, battling a severe back pain in the process was an example of dedication to the team's cause.

In the end it was sad that Sachin's tremendous effort could not give India a victory but I am sure, that innings will go down as one of the most courageous knocks played in the country, taking Sachin's physical discomfort into account.

Players like Sachin surface once in a lifetime. As a cricketer and a human being he is a jewel in the Indian crown. At a personal level, it has been just wonderful playing and knowing Sachin.

In the end, I would only want to say this to Sachin - "Keep up the great work. Keep the Indian flag flying. All the best for the future."