I was a ball-boy when I first set my eyes on my idol. Sachin Tendulkar was fielding at long-on during a mid-90s match between India and West Indies in Visakhapatnam. The port city is where I was born and brought up. It was a special feeling to see him on my home ground. He seemed so focussed that I was scared to go near him lest I disturb him or upset his concentration.
When playing for India under-19, I watched my role model at the nets. The next time I sighted him was when we played for rival teams in the Challenger Trophy in Mohali in 2005/6, and may be hoping to catch his eye, I even cracked a century!
Direct interaction came when I shook hands with him at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai. Words failed me at that moment and I was reduced to a tongue-tied admirer.
As the corporate house’s brand ambassador, he had a word of advice for all promising youngsters. When he told me, ‘You are batting well. Keep playing well,’ it sounded magical to me. The star batsman then came within range during the preparatory camp in Bangalore for the tour of Sri Lanka.
Rather than interacting with him, I kept watching. I noted how he took care of his bats, prepared for nets and after practice how he interacted with other players. Backed heavily by Greg Chappell, I made my one-day international (ODI) debut in Dambulla in 2005 but the man I adored didn’t play in that series.
The next big moment was during a return tour by the island nation the following year. As Tendulkar’s die-hard fan I got to play alongside the cricketer of my dreams in Nagpur.
One incident from that visit to the Orange city, I cannot forget. The car which had M. S. Dhoni and J. P. Yadav in the back seat and Sachin in the co-passenger’s seat, came to a halt at a traffic signal. A group of girls spotted the batting genius and simply went berserk, much to my amusement and the rest of the gang.
I was amazed by the treatment Sachin got, something that will be reserved for him always. Playing with him was a dream and I consider myself blessed for that privilege.
As told to A. Joseph Antony
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