Sachin Tendulkar has inspired many youngsters to follow or take up the game © PTI
Sachin Tendulkar has inspired many youngsters to follow or take up the game © PTI

For the first time in 25 years, Sachin Tendulkar will be celebrating his birthday without the pressure of a billion cricket fans weighing at the back of his mind. On the occasion of his 41st birthday, Shiamak Unwalla remembers how Sachin made him fall in love with the sport.

I have loved watching cartoons as far as my memory goes. Being a child of the 1990s, I have grown up on all the classics from Tom & Jerry and The Flintstones to Dragonball Z and Batman. I would watch these shows religiously, come what may. Except when there was a cricket match on.

Unfortunately we had only one television set at home in those days, and my father and elder brother, both huge cricket buffs, would immediately commandeer the TV whenever India was playing a match. This would inevitably cost me my cartoons, and as a result I used to hate cricket with all my adolescent vengeance.

This stayed the case until one fateful March evening in 2003 when I was invited to a friend’s birthday party. It so happened that India were playing Pakistan in a World Cup match that day. Now, I had no interest whatsoever in watching this match, but when 14 out of 15 eleven-year-olds are glued to a television screen, you do not really have much of a choice. I was not paying any attention to the proceedings, and I was doing my best to talk to my friends for the most part of the evening. Then India started batting, and Sachin Tendulkar strode out with Virender Sehwag. The collective anticipation felt by my motley group of friends was palpable. Of course, I couldn’t have cared less.

But then, Sachin played that upper-cut for six against a wild-looking Shoaib Akhtar, and followed it up with two more boundaries off successive deliveries. If it were at all possible to track down the one single moment that I started loving the game, that over would be it. Suddenly, in spite of myself, I was hooked. It was almost as if someone had flicked a switch. Ever since that match, I have been conscientiously following the game to an extent to make sports journalism my livelihood.

Since that match, the game has given me countless reasons to love it. Rahul Dravid’s double century at Adelaide, Irfan Pathan’s hat trick against Pakistan, Virender Sehwag’s 293 against Sri Lanka, Ishant Sharma’s spells to Ricky Ponting at Perth and Mohali, and VVS Laxman’s myriad fourth innings heroics barely scratch the surface of the unforgettable Indian cricketing moments I have experienced. And yet, none of these memories can quite match up to that Shoaib over.

Years later, I saw an interview in which Wasim Akram spoke of how Shoaib had avoided bowling another spell to Sachin for as long as he could. Akram said that it was at that moment, when Pakistan’s main strike bowler asked to be spared the Tendulkar onslaught, that he knew Pakistan’s World Cup hopes were finished.

It is stories like this that add to the Sachin legend, and deservedly so. For a man who could, according to US President Barack Obama, bring down the production of the United States of America by 5 percent when he was batting, producing moments that would shape generations of fans does not seem inconceivable.

Indeed, it is sometimes easy to forget how differently my life would have turned out if not for that one over. Destiny might have chosen any number of paths for me to follow, but in that one match, that one moment, my future was shaped to what it is now. This is the power Tendulkar wields, perhaps without being aware of it himself. Of course, Tendulkar himself isn’t the sole reason for me being such a huge fan of the game. If I think hard, I will probably not even consider him my favourite cricketer. However, he is the reason my heart beat for cricket for the very first time; for that I will be thankful to him forever.

Read more here: Happy Birthday, Sachin Tendulkar!

(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)