What a role model!

Navjot Singh Sidhu with Sachin Tendulkar in 1994.-N. SRIDHARAN

“Barring captaincy every other responsibility made him better,” says Navjot Singh Sidhu.

My earliest impression of seeing Sachin Tendulkar was in the hotel balcony in Karachi before the first Test in 1989. The door opened and this little boy, curly haired, dressed in running shorts, was sleep walking in the balcony. He kept uttering “maazha bat, maazha bat” (my bat, my bat). I tried shaking him up but Manoj (Prabhakar) stopped me. “He is sleep walking,” said Manoj. Sachin took a round of the balcony and went back.

At that stage I did not rate him seriously. He was just 16 and the Pakistan bowlers were hunting in packs. It was a green top and the bowling was fiery. I thought they had bloodied him early.

I woke up to his talent when he whacked Abdul Qadir for four huge sixes. I heard Imran Khan reprimanding Qadir. “This kid is hammering you. What are you up to?” Qadir bowled a googly and Sachin spotted it early and hit him for a huge six. He grew in my esteem at that moment.

To me, he was an endearing kid. He had a glow on his face. Something special. He earned my respect in Sialkot with that half-century. That was the turning point. He got hit on the nose and fell like a sack of potatoes. I thought this was it. And then I heard him squeak “Mai khelega” (I will bat). This was stunning. It was a situation where he had nothing to gain actually. There was a ball from Waqar and Ravi said, “Well left”, and I told Ravi, “I never saw the ball.” Such was the ferocity of the attack.

At that point of time, to get up and want to play was suicidal. I knew the next ball would be a yorker. It went to Sachin at 100 and exploded off his bat at 150. Waqar glared. Sachin glared too. His confidence rubbed on me and I made 97. He was really special.

Character is not made in a crisis. It is exhibited. He had the tenacity to wriggle out of a difficult situation. He was not a shirker. Barring captaincy every other responsibility made him better. He steered cricket through difficult times. What a role model! He played with pride. No blemish on his character, a great sportsman. He made you believe that an Indian was the best.

The best thing about his batting was his dominance. He intimidated bowlers. Whenever he came to the crease, the pressure was on the bowlers. Of late it had tilted. The hunger for runs is the same, the mind is the same, the technique is the same, but the body is not the same. At 36, my legs did not take the pain. At 40, he has played like a champion. He never seemed satiated, always wanting more. He just can’t digest defeat.

He took the game to a new level. Scoring 100 international centuries, the first to make a 200 in one-dayers, always the first to raise the benchmark. His batting was always pristine, whether playing at home or overseas. I think he best qualified as a leader. He produced new shots, paddle sweep, upper cut… Amazing player. He was a truly fearless player.

On a wet pitch in Trinidad in 1997, I played the first over. The ball hit me in six places on the body, did not touch my bat. I told him the ball was misbehaving after pitching. Next over was Ian Bishop. The first ball, he took it on full toss and hit it for a six, the ball never landed. So, no question of the ball misbehaving. Only Sachin could have done that.

There was a special children’s function in Chennai and we all made donations, five thousand, ten thousand. He too gave but on the condition that his name will not be disclosed. I was eager to know who donated the maximum. He had donated Rs. 5 lakh. What a great human being!

We shared some great moments, jokes, the camaraderie was splendid. He always enjoyed whatever he did. I was his weatherman. He believed in me. It would invariably happen. He has been a great friend. He never changed, his humility is unbelievable. He will inspire generations. He is an institution like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi.

As told to Vijay Lokapally