There was so much natural ability in him

Sachin Tendulkar cuts the cake on his 36th birthday in Durban, South Africa (April 24, 2009) even as Yuvraj Singh, Srikkanth and Harbhajan Singh clap.-PTI Sachin Tendulkar cuts the cake on his 36th birthday in Durban, South Africa (April 24, 2009) even as Yuvraj Singh, Srikkanth and Harbhajan Singh clap.

I was his first Test captain and saw him from close quarters as a 16-year-old cricketing prodigy in Pakistan, 1989. I also saw him play his last Test, a memorable affair in Mumbai 24 years later. By K. Srikkanth.

I am privileged and honoured to be associated with Sachin Tendulkar. I was his first Test captain and saw him from close quarters as a 16-year-old cricketing prodigy in Pakistan, 1989. I also saw him play his last Test, a memorable affair in Mumbai 24 years later.

In all these years, he did not change despite his phenomenal success. He remained the same Tendulkar I had seen in Pakistan in ’89. This to me is his biggest achievement.

From the beginning he respected everything associated with the game. From his kit, to fellow cricketers, to the umpires, to the opposition, to the media, to the fans, everything that had to do anything with cricket. This is what enabled him to stay level-headed for so long.

There is so much for the youngsters to learn from Tendulkar. He is an ideal role model and it is not surprising that he has inspired an entire generation of cricketers in India.

He has been so durable, overcoming injuries and vagaries of form. Several other big names came and left during his career. With his formidable mental strength, Tendulkar stayed on.

There was so much natural ability in him as a 16-year-old that the think-tank did not hesitate to play him in the first Test in Karachi.

He had made hundreds in important first-class matches in India and had already built quite a reputation for himself. Ahead of the opening Test, I remember telling him, “Play your natural game.”

It was a series where Tendulkar, apart from his serious batting ability, also showed he had the temperament for the highest form of the game. He took blows on his body, was struck on the face by a lifting delivery from Waqar Younis, but carried on bravely.

I asked him after his innings whether he felt all right and Tendulkar’s reply was ‘I am fine, sir.’ A boy in terms of years, he was already a man. He had both, talent and courage.

The last Test of the series was played on a green top in Sialkot and Pakistan put in everything it had to win the Test. The side had a tremendous pace attack in Wasim Akram, Waqar and Imran Khan but Tendulkar stood up to them and showed technique, application and shot-making skills.

He batted with such maturity that it was impossible to believe that here was someone who was so young. It was clear to everyone that a major cricketing star had arrived. In one of the one-dayers on that tour, Tendulkar’s flurry of sixes , off leg-spin great Abdul Qadir, told the world that he was not daunted by reputations.

I also had the opportunity to play alongside Tendulkar on the 1991-92 tour of Australia. The manner in which he adjusted to the pace and bounce of the wickets down under was awesome. He was not even 20 years old then.

Tendulkar’s century on a fast track in Perth on which cracks had opened up was an outstanding innings. On a surface where the more experienced batsmen struggled, Tendulkar appeared so comfortable at the crease.

Srikkanth, the chief guest of the evening, presents a silver salver to Sachin Tendulkar, The Sportstar Sportsperson of the Year 1994. Srikkanth also handed over a cheque for Rs. 1-lakh to Tendulkar on behalf of The Sportstar.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

He was a fine all-round fielder and could bowl just about everything. I recall Tendulkar bowling right at the end of an ODI in the triangular series down under where Australia and the West Indies were the other teams.

The West Indies was almost home when Tendulkar bowled his seamers with control. India managed to tie that match.

After my retirement, I was involved with Tendulkar in various capacities. I was a coach for a brief while and was the chief of the selection panel that picked the team for the 2011 World Cup.

Though he was not the captain, I sought Tendulkar’s views on several occasions and his suggestions were helpful in India eventually winning the World Cup. Even if he was not the skipper, Tendulkar’s inputs would always be taken seriously.

I wish him all the best in the days ahead. I am sure he would contribute to Indian cricket in a major way, such is his passion for the game.

As told to S. Dinakar