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By Dhanraj Pillay
We are all fortunate that a sportsman like Sachin Tendulkar was born in this country and represented it for 24 years. He is one in a billion. To have played so consistently for the country would surely have required him to sacrificed a lot. His entire happiness and sadness lies in cricket.
Whoever follows the game world over, sees Sachin as an idol. Whoever wants to become a sportsperson, does so with Sachin’s image in front him.
Though Sachin is younger to me, we made our debuts in the same month and year. I have learnt a lot from him. When he walks into the field for India, the national pride is evident. His mere presence on the field is hugely motivating. He talks very little, lekin jo baat karta hai, ekdum tol-mol ke karta hai (but whatever he talks, he talks in a measured manner).
The entire nation salutes him. I don’t think a player like Sachin will be born ever again in our country. I rate Virat Kohli very high, but somebody like Sachin is truly exceptional.
Whenever Sachin returned home after playing for India, the next morning he was ready to practice. Such dedication is rare. He is so passionate about the sport that he couldn’t have done anything else. It is the same with me and with the likes of Leander Paes and Viswanathan Anand among others.
During the last World Cup, I messaged him before the semifinal and final. Before the semis, I messaged him, ‘Sachin, you have to win this match.’ I had also got a message from someone before playing a final in 1998, saying, ‘Dhanraj, if you win the 1998 Asian Games, you can play for four more years.’ I went into that tournament thinking it will be my last Asian Games and that I would never play for the country again. We won the gold there after 32 years. And I played for six more years. So I sent a similar message to Sachin before the World Cup final, saying ‘If you win this World Cup, you will play four more years.’
People wanted him to retire after that. But he played till 2013. My heart says he could’ve played for two more years. But somewhere even he would have been disappointed about what the media and people were talking about him. A player never retires from his heart. The hunger and eagerness is so much that one wants to represent the country even at 50. Sachin is 40 and he is still going strong, and could have kept going for a while.
It must have been very, very tough for Sachin to decide on retirement, because once you get into a sport very passionately, you only think about it. I’m sure even he will be doing that. The media can write good things about a player, but the second or third day it can bring you down also. In the last two or three years the media was after him to retire. I would like to believe Sachin never allowed all that negativity get to him when he entered the field.
If you have noticed, the only way Sachin celebrates — be it after a 100 or 200 — is to remove his helmet, raise his bat, look up and thank his father and God. I’ve seen him repeatedly get standing ovations in so many stadia whenever he emerged from the pavilion to bat. He really deserves all that.
I have met Sachin many times. My most memorable one was when we were going to attend wedding in Lucknow. A flight was booked for all well-known people from Mumbai — Bollywood stars, cricketers and others. I was the only hockey player invited.
I remember that hour-and-a-half or so with Sachin and Ravi Shastri in the business class. I was sitting next to Shastri, but after the plane took off, Sachin and I stood and spoke for a long time about cricket and fitness. That was the best moment in my life. After that, we met on many occasions and we always met with a lot of love and hugged each other. Whenever we used to meet we used to converse in Marathi with each other.
I have spoken many times in public about hockey being given step-motherly treatment compared to cricket, but you sometimes say such things in anger. I have never been disappointed with Sachin, I have always felt proud of him.
There is one thing everyone should know about Sachin: his humility, his dedication and his hard work. Not even once after so many years has he said that he is tired, and that he will rest after batting. He has given 40 years of his life to cricket. Not only did Dhanraj Pillay learn a lot of things from him, but even the younger generation will learn a lot from him. As a player, I salute Sachin.
—As told to Rutvick Mehta
(Dhanraj Pillay is a former India hockey captain and one of the greatest players the sport has ever produced. His career spanned from December 1989 to August 2004 during which he played 339 international matches. He is the only player to have played in four Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004), four World Cups (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002), four Champions Trophies (1995, 1996, 2002, and 2003), and four Asian Games (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002). India won the Asian Games (1998) and Asia Cup (2003) under his captaincy. The above article was first published in DNA)
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