An amazing cricketer

Tendulkar and his clone... “I will never forget what he said after watching my batting — that it reminded him of his own batting. That is the greatest compliment I have received,” says Sehwag.-AP

What makes Sachin Tendulkar the great player that he is? Here’s what some of his former and current team-mates have to say. By Vijay Lokapally.

Virender Sehwag

I had watched him for years on television and wanted to be like him. I met him for the first time only in 2001. It was in the one-day match against Australia in Bangalore, where I was adjudged the ‘Man of the Match’. I was very shy and was taking autographs of all the team members on the big replica of the cheque. Sachin wrote, “Keep Smiling. You have great talent.” It was, in fact, great of him to encourage a new-comer like me in such an affectiona te manner.

I don’t think there can be a bigger cricketer than Sachin. He is indeed the God of cricket. He has a solution for everything, every field placement, every attack. He can make runs on his terms, regardless of how you try to challenge him. I don’t want to talk about his technique. I am not qualified to do that, but I wish I could get his consistency. It has been amazing. I think God made him only to play cricket. He is 36, but his enthusiasm is that of a 16-year-old.

If I am playing one-day cricket today, it is only because of him. I was close to retiring from one-day cricket because I was not getting runs. I was 26; I was devastated and I spoke to him. He scolded me. He recalled how he had gone through a similar phase when he was 23. I shall be indebted to Sachin for saving my one-day career. That advice showed how the man analysed cricket, for himself and for others.

I will never forget what he said after watching my batting — that it reminded him of his own batting. That is the greatest compliment I have received.

If I were to play an innings of his from one-day internationals, I would pick the century in the final against Australia in Sharjah (in 1998). He was so devastating. If I were to pick one Test innings of his from the many great ones he has played, it would be the double century in Sydney (in 2004). It was flawless.

Anil Kumble

It is amazing the way he has lived up to the expectations of the nation, how he has been carrying the burden of expectations of millions of people. That he has managed to deliver almost every time he has been expected to shows his consistency and commitment. See how he has managed to maintain his image on and off the field. Watching him has been a wonderful learning experience for us.

I remember our first meeting in a Wills Trophy match (in 1987). But we did cross each other in Kanpur when playing the under-17 tournament. In fact, I have a newspaper cutting from that tournament where I and Sachin share the headline. We had both hit centuries for our respective zones. That, I think, was our first interaction.

As soon as I saw him bat I knew he was special, very special. He had enormous time to play his shots. He could pack tremendous punch to his shots. I saw it from close quarters on the tour of England in 1990.

I like the way he prepares himself. He is so meticulous in the ‘nets’ and in matches — look at how he keeps his kit bag. I have never seen him lose his temper. When he gets a bad decision, he comes to the dressing room, watches the replay and asks, “out tha? (was I out?).” No tantrums, no throwing of bat or helmet, no flinging of gloves and pads. That’s the way he has been.

He has always remained a quiet person. Last five years or so he has managed to relax a bit. We have not had many conversations but his conduct has been exemplary and his concern for his colleagues remarkable. I remember how he would never miss an opportunity to play a benefit match for former players. He would be the first to participate in such matches. He knew he was a crowd puller and it was his way of saying thank you to the senior players for their contribution to the game. It is indeed incredible how he copes with people who demand so much of his time.

I think he knew more about my bowling than anyone else. He would watch me and just a nod from him was enough to convey the message. There was no video analysis those days and his judgement was paramount for me. In turn, he would also ask me about his batting, his feet position.

There are so many of his innings to pick from but if you insist on one I would say the century against Australia in Chennai in 1997-98 when he smashed Shane Warne in the second innings and we won. I also liked his double century against Australia in Sydney in 2003-04.

Rahul Dravid

His journey is a tribute to a lot of things. It is a tribute to his abilities as a cricketer. The fact that he has played for so long at the highest level shows his class and commitment. He has performed so commandingly against the best of bowling and with such consistency. His mental strength is obviously his strongest point. His enjoyment of the game has not ebbed a bit. Irrespective of the ups and downs he has never allowed his cricket to suffer. Look at the longevity o f his cricket. Twenty years at the top. With a profile as high as it can get in India, it is amazing how he has managed to keep his focus. Look at how he continues to enjoy his cricket. I think this is the factor that has helped him play for so long.

What impresses me about Sachin is his balance, as a batsman and as a person. It has not changed from the time I first met him. It has really been the most important facet of his character as a cricketer and as a person.

His judgement of line and length is incredible. His ability to judge it quickly gives him so much time to play his shots. It allows him to be in the right position to play a shot. I have been an admirer of this quality that marks him out as a different cricketer.

We have batted a lot together but we have not had to converse much in the middle. We know each other so well and react very well to a situation. He will be quick to warn you if you falter or lapse in concentration. He does not talk too much when he is batting; just a small word of encouragement. But it has been a great experience to have batted with him. Look at how he reacts when you do well. You get the runs and he feels happier.

When I was dropped from the one-day team (in 1998) he called me the next day and spoke at length to encourage me. “Bad luck but you’ll be back soon,” he said and that gave me a lot of confidence. I can never forget that gesture. And he was so glad to see me when I made a comeback to the one-day team.

I have seen him play some great innings. You want me to pick one and I will pick his double century in Sydney in 2004. He had not scored many runs going into that match but he was determined to fight. He can play shots all around, but during this innings I saw him cut out certain shots he was struggling with. He still retains that desire to succeed.

V. V. S. Laxman

I think I was 17 when I first met Sachin. We were travelling by train from Hyderabad to Khammam (in Andhra Pradesh) for a festival match. He was already playing international cricket. I remember the train was stopped at some station because people wanted to see him.

My first impression of Sachin was that of a man so humble. He was a bit shy, may be introverted, but very mature for his age. He still takes time to open up with newcomers but once he knows you Sachin can be great fun.

He has not changed one bit from the time I saw him first. Everyone knows he is a great player, but I know he has not changed at all as a person. That is a great quality. With such massive fan following all over the world, it can be tough to maintain your balance. He still loves the game, his old friends and has a lot of respect for elders. That to me is the hallmark of his character.

As a batsman, what can I say about him? His hunger for runs, big hundreds only grows with every season. He is technically so sound. It is amazing he has no flaws as a cricketer. Look at his eagerness to work on his game and improve. He works in such a methodical manner. I have not seen him waste time even in the ‘nets’. He never takes practice sessions casually.

His balance, his stance, is unmatched. Look at how he cares about his cricket, his equipment. He moves so swiftly at the crease. He is always ready offer advice but he will also allow you to play your game.

It is difficult to single out one great innings of his because he has so many. But I would pick his century against South Africa in Cape Town (in 1996-97). To adjust to the bounce and pace of Allan Donald, he tried a change in his stance on the morning of the day’s play. He tried it out in the match and smashed the South African bowlers. Only he could have done that. I also cannot forget how he battled a back pain and hit a century against Pakistan in Chennai (in 1999-00). He was devastated when he came back to the dressing room. He was in tears later, not because of the pain, but the team’s defeat. It showed how much he cared for the team and country. He has handled fame with such dignity.

* * * THE OTHER TENDULKAR

It is 20 years since he first walked to the crease at the fall of India’s fourth wicket in the first Test against Pakistan in Karachi. Waqar Younis was spitting fire. Sachin Tendulkar was consumed too. He was out after facing 24 balls. That night Tendulkar wondered if he ‘belonged’ to that level of cricket. But in the next Test in Faisalabad he scored 59 in the first innings and was convinced that he did belong to that level. And thereafter, he has gone on to set benchmarks that are quite unlikely to be bettered.

Tendulkar is a private person, but he can’t enjoy his privacy. If only he could hide, become invisible in order to enjoy life like a common man. “If I could,” he sighs. For a man who otherwise is a master at managing his time at the crease, finding time for himself in private life is a daunting task. He has grown with time, as a cricketer and as a person. He has grown into an icon, and many dread how Indian cricket would fare once he retires from the game.

It can be tough for someone with such a mass following to keep his feet firmly on the ground. We all know how Tendulkar bats and about the milestones he has achieved in his career. But there exists a different Sachin Tendulkar, away from the cricket field, one who would like to be as normal as any of us, but is not allowed to be.

That he is a priceless treasure to his team-mates was evident from an incident at the Feroz Shah Kotla in 1998. An inebriated cricket fan had managed to sneak into the dressing room. He only wanted to shake hands with Tendulkar, but was instead thrashed by the staff on duty. He returned soon and forced his way into the dressing room. This sent the players scurrying for cover. The pandemonium was frightening and Tendulkar hid behind a sofa while some players grabbed whatever they could lay their hands upon to defend themselves. A few players simply fled in fear. As the drunken fan closed in on Tendulkar, Navjot Singh Sidhu sprang to his feet with a bat in hand. “Tendlya ko bachana hai, Tendlya ko bachana hai (we have to save Tendulkar),” Sidhu kept shouting even as he menacingly moved towards the fan. Fortunately, sanity was restored when the ‘intruder’, who was overpowered by the staff, was allowed to shake hands with Tendulkar.

At the same venue, in 1996, one saw a caring Tendulkar take on a cop. As he walked from the ‘nets’ to the pavilion where the media was waiting for him, a kid ran up to Tendulkar but was pushed away by an overenthusiastic policeman. As the kid lay writhing in pain Tendulkar exploded. The cop stood clueless even as Tendulkar lashed out in chaste Marathi. And when he was reminded that he was not at the Wankhede Stadium, Tendulkar lambasted the cop in Hindi. The cop then beat a hasty retreat as Tendulkar helped the kid up, dusted his clothes and gave him a patient audience. The media could wait!

Tendulkar’s affection for children has to be seen to be believed. He can spend hours signing autographs for them. Once, close to a 100 kids stood in a queue at the Wanderers in Johannesburg and Tendulkar obliged each one of them. Another time he signed autographs for nearly half an hour in Guwahati. And one can say for sure, he never scribbled — that is one thing Tendulkar never does. He values the adulation his fans shower on him.

Tendulkar is also loyal to his sponsors. At a reception hosted by the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, he made it a point to enquire what the brand of the soft drink was even though it came in a glass. He politely declined the drink when he discovered it was not from the soft drink company that was sponsoring the team.

The most striking aspect of Tendulkar’s grooming is the respect he shows to his seniors. Kamal Juneja, a former first-class cricketer-turned-umpire, recalled: “Sachin was leading Mumbai in a match against Maharashtra at Thane (in January 1996). I called wide five times when he bowled from my end. He accepted the decisions with grace. I vividly remember he once appealed strongly for a leg-before. I said not out. At the end of the day’s play, he quietly came up to me and asked, ‘Sir, what was that?’ I told him the ball had missed the leg stump. ‘Oh’ he said with utmost respect. The entire match he addressed the umpires ‘Sir’. I don’t think I have seen a more humble cricketer.”

Another former first-class cricketer-turned-umpire, Suresh Shastri, narrated an interesting incident from Tendulakar’s early days which highlights his love of the game. “We missed our train to Jaipur for a club match and he was the only one who insisted we should not return home, which meant we had to travel unreserved in the next available train. We reached very early on the morning of the match. When the rest slept, this young lad was ‘knocking’ in his room, mentally tuning himself up for the match. I realised that day this boy was something special,” Shastri related.

The world discovered Tendulkar was a special cricketer in 1989. And he has remained a special cricketer since, carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, battling injuries and living up to the expectations of his countrymen. At 36, he displays the passion of a 15-year-old, still wanting to improve, still yearning to learn. Not known to miss even optional practice sessions, the maestro’s presence is a great experience for some who were just about learning to walk when Tendulkar made his international debut. They are floored when Tendulkar asks them, “Anything wrong with my batting today?”

Some of his contemporaries now sit in television studios while some are coaching. The others have faded into oblivion. Tendulkar’s journey continues though, his loyalty to the game ever growing, his commitment to the team unflinching. Nothing annoys him more than unqualified criticism of the team and the youngsters. He commands the respect of the cricket world with his towering performances.

Twenty years on, Tendulkar’s wicket continues to be the most prized one in international cricket. No wonder, Indian cricket still relies on him.