Indian cricket's most special person

BY the time this series gets over, Sachin Tendulkar would have turned out in his hundredth Test. It is a phenomenal achievement for someone not yet 30 years of age.

I was his captain when he played his first Test in Pakistan (1989), and it gives me great pleasure to see this gifted player progress so far. He is indeed God's gift to Indian cricket.

He was just 17 when he made his Test debut under demanding conditions, yet, it never for a moment appeared that he was thrust or pushed into big time cricket. He was at ease against some of the finest bowlers in business.

Even at 17, he had forced his way into the Indian side on the sheer strength of his performances and it was not a case of a youngster given a big break for the sake of blooding them early. He had earned his India cap with hundreds in the Ranji, Duleep and Irani Trophy competitions. It's incredible!

So, when he was picked for that tour of Pakistan, we all knew here was an extremely talented batsman. I had a look at him and knew he was born to play cricket.

He is sure to end up with the most runs and the most hundreds in Test cricket. His knocks have not only been valuable, they have been entertaining too, which means he is, both, the favourite among his team-mates, and the spectators.

Hundreds have flowed from his blade, yet, if I were to pick one century, it would have to be his effort in Perth against a rampaging Australian pace attack on a fast, bouncy wicket.

On a surface where the others were struggling for survival, he produced awesome strokes, making batting look so simple. That Australian pace attack had Craig McDermott, an incisive fast bowler, Meryvn Hughes, a hustler, and Mike Whitney, a left-armer who could be sharp on occasions.

Tendulkar, hardly twenty then, not just survived, but launched into the Aussie bowlers, hammering them to all parts of the ground. For him, attack has always been the best form of defence.

I was in the Indian team at that time, and I can tell you the applause for Tendulkar from the dressing room was spontaneous. The Indian team was not having the best of tours, but the entire side's happiness for the success of this youngster was overwhelming.

It was only Tendulkar's first tour of Australia and to have come up with such a knock for India, in an adverse situation, was truly outstanding. This also reveals how quickly Tendulkar learns and adapts.

He has all the talent in the world, but what makes him such a world beater is that he has the mental attributes to go with his skill. Carrying the expectations of an entire nation on his shoulders can be an enormous burden, yet, Tendulkar accomplishes this rather effortlessly.

His consistency over such a long period, 14 years, has been remarkable. So much so that when he fails to come good for a couple of innings, critics talk about his poor form. This is easy to understand; Tendulkar has set the standards so high that he is judged by an entirely different yardstick.

It is difficult to detect a flaw in his batting. According to me, he is the most complete batsman in the game today. An attacking batsman, who seldom allows the bowlers to dominate.

What stands out is his impeccable balance, both, in attack and defence. When he goes on to his front foot, he is in perfect position either for an aggressive shot, or a defensive one. And he can so easily shift his weight on to his back-foot, to play the drive, the cut, the pull.

It is this quality that has enabled him succeed under all conditions. Be it the hard pitches in Australia, the seam movement in South Africa, the swing in England, or the spin in the sub-continent, Tendulkar has made runs in plenty everywhere.

He can withstand excruciating pain and still do duty for India. Tendulkar's century against Pakistan in Chennai in 1999, where he took his country to within a whisker of what would have been a memorable victory, is among the outstanding innings by an Indian batsman.

There was a fair amount of assistance to the bowlers on a wearing wicket, and Pakistan had a varied attack, that included Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq. I know Tendulkar was extremely disappointed that day that India could not actually win, but he had done his best, making light of the immense physical discomfort he was in.

Tendulkar scores over the other great batsman of our times, Brian Lara because he inspires confidence each time he walks out into the middle. The same cannot be said about Lara, who is given to mood swings.

With the ball, Tendulkar can, even in the Test arena, bowl leg-breaks, off-spin, and seamers, once again bringing to light his natural ability. And he can field brilliantly in virtually any position. A complete cricketer, he certainly is.

Not many know that Tendulkar is a natural left-hander. He eats and writes with his left hand, and it was only a minor problem with that arm in his very young days that forced him to develop into a right-hander. How remarkably, he's made the shift!

Considering his cricketing acumen and his sheer passion for the game, I feel Tendulkar has it in him to make a wonderful captain. I know, he has had disappointments in his earlier tenures as Indian skipper, but then, he led the sides in countries like South Africa and Australia, where India was up against rather daunting odds. And the West Indian side, when India toured in '97, still possessed the feared pace pair of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.

Considering his gifts as a cricketer, his sharp cricketing brain, his immense value to the side, and the respect he commands from his team-mates, Tendulkar has all the attributes required for a successful captain.

Perhaps his most endearing quality has been his simplicity, despite great achievements. He is a giant among Indian cricketers, still is not the kind to throw his weight around. Instead, he often goes out of his way to put the youngsters at ease.

At a personal level, his career has been free of controversies, and he has led a peaceful life with his family. A mild-mannered man, Tendulkar is not the type to wish anybody any harm.

I want to narrate a small incident to highlight the human touch in Tendulkar. There was a programme in Chennai some years ago to raise funds for spastic children. Tendulkar came to the function, was moved by the children, and without any fanfare, quietly made a sizable donation and left. That's the kind of person he is. Tendulkar, both as a human being, and a cricketer, is rather special. May he play 200 Tests!