Team-man to the core

Team-mates and friends…Ajit Agarkar with Sachin Tendulkar at a net session prior to the Ranji Trophy final between Mumbai and Saurashtra at the Wankhede Stadium.-Pics: VIVEK BENDRE

It was sheer joy to see him enjoy a team-mate’s success. Cricket is a team sport and Sachin always put the team before him. By Ajit Agarkar.

I probably met Sachin for the first time at a Kanga League game. I think he needed some practice before a series. That was the first time he actually saw me bowl; I was essentially a batsman then. After facing me, he told me that I should concentrate on my bowling as well. He also told me that I had a fair enough ability as a bowler. Mayank Khandwala was the captain of the Cricket Club of India (CCI) then and Sachin told him that I should bowl more often. Since then I started to get more bowling opportunities and kind of turned into a bowler.

Until this happened I used to bowl second or third change, and played as a batsman. It was in a Kanga League game against National Sports Club that I picked up a couple wickets. We lost that game but Sachin, who was standing in the slips, saw something in me as a bowler and liked it.

We came from the same school I had met him during a double-wicket tournament before and by then Sachin was already playing the Ranji Trophy. However, the Kanga League match was my first competitive game with him.

He was not in the Bombay team when I started playing the Ranji Trophy, but he was part of the one-day team that played a match in Valsad. He helped me with my bowling, but he was only available for one game.

I remember another incident when I was in Chennai for the Buchi Babu tournament. Sachin called me over to bowl in the nets at the India camp in Chennai. This happened between two Buchi Babu matches. He told me not to feel shy and have a go at all the batsmen. I bowled to Azhar, Rathour and Kambli. Sachin told me even to bump them. So, he was that sort of a guy — very, very encouraging. It makes a massive difference when someone like him talks to a youngster. This incident is one of my early memories of him.

Another feather in his cap…Sachin Tendulkar and skipper Ajit Agarkar celebrate with the Ranji Trophy following Mumbai’s victory over Saurashtra in the final in January this year. “Sachin’s involvement with the team was the same as it was before,” says Agarkar.-

During the same season, I had a few good Ranji and Duleep Trophy games and went on the ‘A’ tour to Pakistan. When I returned, I was picked for the Indian team and I somehow hit it off with him straightaway. He was very senior to me. We got along, may be, because we spoke the same language. We hung out together during my first match for India in Kochi. Vinod (Kambli) was my room-mate. Since then, Sachin and I have been team-mates, but more than that, friends.

Sachin has also been great playing with us in the Mumbai team; last year he played all the knock-out matches. His involvement with the team was the same as it was before. This is a great lesson for any youngster. Some of the guys, who never got a chance to interact with him, got a chance to play with him. He was amazingly focussed in the three knockout matches he played last year. A few young players were somewhat nervous before the final, but his presence eased the situation for them. He was part of the Mumbai team in the last Ranji game I played, and what else could I have asked for as captain?

Sachin was pretty relaxed during the Ranji games; he watched the game, but not fully. With the dressing room having a TV, it is easy to know what the ball is doing. He always tried to be relaxed, looking around a little bit and picking up every little thing. During the Ranji final (2012-13), there was a massive shadow caused by the roof of the Wankhede Stadium. It was difficult to bat in the evening when facing a bowler from the pavilion end; the shadow was falling on half the pitch. Sachin wondered if anything could be done to overcome it. He was very particular about details.

It was sheer joy to see him enjoy a team-mate’s success. Cricket is a team sport and Sachin always put the team before him.

As told to G. Viswanath