He was the first

NO other Indian sportsperson has achieved the iconic status that Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar enjoys. For, not a day passes without his name being referred to somewhere in the country or without him looking at you from the television screen in one of the many commercials that he features in.

Sachin Tendulkar with his bosom friend Vinod Kambli at the awards function.-N. SRIDHARAN

It came as no surprise then that even when the jury chose Kapil Dev as the Indian Cricketer of the Century, the 'People's Choice' award went to the maestro from Mumbai, the maker of 62 international centuries, before the Lord's Test against England.

Cricket, unquestionably, is the opiate of the masses in India, and Tendulkar, undoubtedly, is the demigod: the man who shoulders the hopes of millions of cricket fans.

Boast as India might of the best middle-order in the business, but to the average fan it all remains very simple: if Sachin gets a hundred India will win, if Sachin fails India will lose.

GUNDAPPA VISVANATH took batsmanship to another plane with his exquisite strokeplay. But the 'other Little Master' of Indian cricket was, above all, a gentleman to the core.

So much so that when he recalled Bob Taylor in the Golden Jubilee Test, 1980, in Bombay, that rare sporting gesture did not come as a surprise to the ones who knew him.

Gundappa Visvanath with the 'Spirit of Cricket` award.-N. SRIDHARAN

It was the turning point for England, 85 for five then in reply to the home team's first innings score of 242.

Taylor had been declared caught behind by Syed Kirmani off Kapil Dev by umpire Hanumantha Rao. Reluctant to leave the crease, Taylor told the Indian captain that he had not played the delivery.

The genial Visvanath, a 'walker' through his career, discussed the issue with the umpire and then with his colleagues who were in the slip cordon during the incident.

With Visvanath convinced that Taylor was not out and that the sound heard was of the bat making contact with the pads, he got Hanumantha to agree to reverse his decision.

On seven then, Taylor went on to make 36 of the 171-run partnership for the sixth wicket with century-maker Ian Botham.

So, England went on to win the match by 10 wickets. But then, what is sport without the spirit! For his magnanimity, Visvanath got the 'Spirit of Cricket' award.

SOME of the finest moments in sport are connected to the 'first' time. Like India's first Test series victory abroad (NZ, '67-68), India's first Test wins in England and the West Indies ('71).

It has its place in history. Like how Sunil Gavaskar was the first batsman to score 10,000 Test runs: Allan Border overtook him subsequently, a few more might in time to come, but when you talk about 10,000, Gavaskar's name is the first to come to mind.

In much the same way, Syed Mushtaq Ali has a special place in Indian Test cricket history, that of being the first batsman in Indian colours to score a Test century abroad: 112 versus 'Gubby' Allen's England at Old Trafford, 1936. Lala Amarnath is India's first century-maker (118 v England, Bombay, 1933). For this he received the 'Special Achievement' award.

Mushtaq Ali (far right), the first Indian batsman to score a Test century abroad, snapped with former Indian captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.-N. SRIDHARAN

Mushtaq's century came in the second Test of the three-Test series, the encounter which India drew (the host won the other two Tests by identical nine-wicket margins) thanks in main to the 203-run opening wicket stand between Vijay Merchant (114) and Ali in the second innings, a record for that wicket for India against England until Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan upstaged it in 1979.

Compiled by Sanjay Rajan