‘He made it look ridiculously simple’

Murali Kartik shares a light moment with Sachin Tendulkar.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

“In the era I have played and bowled to, Sachin Tendulkar is obviously up there with Brian Lara," says Murali Kartik.

I first saw Sachin when I was a 16-year-old. It was at the National Stadium where the Indian team had come to prepare for the Hero Cup (in 1993) and I was playing for Delhi under-16. I used to practise at the National Stadium and my coach (Gurcharan Singh) had asked me to come and be one of the many net bowlers who would bowl to the team. I don’t think I had a conversation with him during the time I bowled to the Indian batsmen. He hardly spoke and I was also very shy.

I think my first conversation with him, and that too very briefly, was at the Palam ground a year later and this time too I was a net bowler. I reckon my first proper conversation with him was when I was picked in the Indian team in 1999-2000 and he was the captain. His first words were, 'welcome'. He then asked me to be myself as I had been a match-winner in the teams I had played for.

As a cricketer he has always been a genius, one who made cricket look ridiculously simple, which obviously is not. He has gone from somebody who would tear into any attack to somebody who mellowed with age, albeit with the same ability to tear any bowler apart if he wanted to. I guess that is experience teaching you and that is one of the reasons for his longevity and consistency across all formats.

In the era I have played and bowled to, he is obviously up there with Brian Lara. They were sheer geniuses with the bat. Different types of batsmen but always a much cherished wicket.

In the nets I have played alongside him for nine years and bowled to him on different surfaces. I always had this to say, “As soon as I beat him in the nets I would give the ball to the coach and say that my day is made and I’m bowling no more.” I can’t think of any other batsman that I have bowled to who would notice the minutest of changes which I tried. In fact he would mention that and ask if I could repeat it. He could hit the same ball to different places and Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh) is privy to such instances.

I have bowled to him in domestic cricket and in the Indian Premier League and I think if he rated you as a bowler he would take his time and play according to the situation. His preparation for the match involved simple throw-downs. I have not seen him have a long net session like Rahul (Dravid) or (VVS) Laxman, who liked to have a proper net session before a match. If memory serves me right, he might have had a couple of nets before a match in Australia in 2004, otherwise it was always simple throw-downs to get his rhythm in order.

Personally I have learnt work ethics from him, never taking cricket for granted. As a team-mate and as a cricketer, he made batting look so easy for many mortals like me. I think the reason is his ability to adapt to any situation.

Another thing which amazed me always was his balance at the crease; even when he got out he was always in balance. These are qualities which are rare. His was a game which had watertight defence along with the ability to hit some very good deliveries to the boundary.

My personal equation has always been very friendly with Sachin, both on and off the field. I had the good fortune of hosting a dinner for him along with a few others at our place in Taunton when India was touring England in 2011. He had a great time as it was a relaxed evening at home.

Cricket after Sachin? I don’t even want to think about it. I have always said that in India when Sachin bats, people from all religions unite and pray for him. That signifies his universal appeal.

As told to Vijay Lokapally