‘He never thought that he was bigger than the game’

“I salute Sachin, a truly outstanding cricketer, a great ambassador for the sport itself and a terrific human being above all,” says V. V. S. Laxman.

I would like to first congratulate Sachin Tendulkar for all the invaluable contributions he has made to the Indian team and to world cricket itself. And also for all the entertainment he has provided the world over.

More than the cricketing feats, what I admire the most in Sachin is the way he carried himself right through — from start to finish. This, I believe, has a lot to do with the upbringing by his parents, the influence of his brother and later on his wife and kids. They really looked after him so well. I must say they all played a great role in the evolution of Sachin as a cricketer extraordinary, a special gem of our country and of the cricketing world itself.

The first time I met him was during the Wills Trophy in 1994 in Rajkot when I was playing for Hyderabad and he was playing for the Wills XI. We met later three or four times. By that time, he was already rated as someone very special by the critics. And what amazed me was the way he appreciated my performances in the under-19 ‘Test’ series against Australia. Honestly, I was surprised and also elated at the way he was following my career.

Having grown up watching this great cricketer, my joy knew no bounds when I eventually made my Test debut against the South Africans in the 1996 series under Sachin’s captaincy. I tell you he would be the first person to walk across to any youngster and make him feel comfortable. He knew that many of them would be in awe of him. I must say that I was very fortunate to have played alongside such a wonderful cricketer who was already some sort of a legend within a few years of his debut series in Pakistan in 1989.

It has been a really memorable journey for me with Sachin, a terrific gentleman-cricketer. Even today (when he announced his retirement from Test cricket after the two-Test series against West Indies), he made it a point to call and thank me for all the moments we enjoyed together. It was a very touching gesture.

Sachin is one of those cricketers who gave a lot of respect to the sport itself. He never thought that he was bigger than the game. This, I think, is an amazing facet of his personality. This was always evident in the dressing room whenever Sachin was around. He was a very special player who never took any aspect of the game for granted and always worked hard.

Sachin might come up as someone who is an introvert to the outside world as he doesn’t open up easily when in the company of some new faces. But, we always found him to be with a great sense of humour, like a kid enjoying every moment of his or her life. He also showed the same child-like passion for cricket. When it rained and most of us preferred to be indoors, Sachin used to start playing with a tennis ball, playing pranks. He was a very natural person.

Frankly, Sachin is a role model for all in any walk of life. That’s why I reiterate that the family background plays a big role in shaping one’s personality. And even though you chase dreams and realise most of them, this kind of a family back-up makes you behave like a normal person.

Well, I don’t say that I was not expecting that all the members of the ‘Fabulous Four’ — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Yours Truly — would fade away one after another with three of them leaving in the space of over a year. It was bound to happen as age was fast catching up with most of us nearing 40s. In fact, I was the youngest in this ‘Club.’

But, we all definitely enjoyed playing together. We played with a lot of pride. We always felt that we had to do well for the country. Under Ganguly’s captaincy, we all four were very conscious to do well overseas, which was not the case earlier on a consistent basis.

I have myself gone through this debate of sorts as to when to retire. At the end of it all, it is a purely personal decision. And obviously, Sachin knew what was the right time to retire. We have to respect his decision for only he knew as to when to call it a day.

Apparently, the most difficult task is to pick, say two or three best moments, I had with him on the field. For someone who scored 100 centuries in international cricket, I don’t think it will be fair to single out just a few.

But in terms of great personal satisfaction, I vividly remember being the non-striker during the famous ‘Desert Storm’ in Sharjah when Sachin walloped the Australian attack in two consecutive matches. I did see the video of his Perth century in 1992 which Sachin himself rates very highly. And no wonder why he does so, for there is so much of class writ all over that knock. The other great innings from him was the century against Pakistan in a Test match in Chennai when Sachin almost pulled off a sensational win. The 100s in Cape Town in 1997 and in 2011 are again special efforts.

Yes, sometimes you have a feeling of being in some other world when you are the non-striker when Sachin is batting. In fact, most of the cricketers feel like that. A lot of cricketers grew up watching his each and every moment on the field, especially the way he constructed all those beautiful knocks for 24 long years in different formats. I think he was always under scrutiny on the field by his own team-mates for they used to observe him so closely from the other end.

At the end of it all, I salute Sachin, a truly outstanding cricketer, a great ambassador for the sport itself and a terrific human being above all.

As told to V. V. Subrahmanyam