November 7, 1989. Sachin Tendulkar scored a fairytale hundred for Rest of India in the Irani Trophy match against Delhi, just ahead of his selection into the Indian team for the tour of Pakistan as a 16 year-old genius. H Natarajan, who was covering the match from the Wankhede Stadium Press Box, captures the action in the middle and off it in a landmark game in Indian cricket.
The Irani Trophy in November 1989 was a match of very high importance from the perspective of Indian cricket’s future. India’s tours to the West Indies, Sharjah and the MRF World Series Cricket all put huge question marks over many of the national players. With the Indian team for Pakistan due to be named during the match, a heightened sense of interest gripped the game between the Ranji Trophy champions Delhi and the Rest of India.
The Rest was packed with many young hopefuls trying to break into the India team: opener Surendra Bhave, left-arm spinner Venkatapathy Raju and fast-bowler Vivek Razdan. But the focus of the nation was one player: the prodigy — Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, looking much younger than his 16 years of age.
Tendulkar was already widely accepted as the greatest cricketing talent the country has seen since Sunil Gavaskar. Anybody who saw Tendulkar even at that young an age knew that they were looking at a truly exceptional talent. Many of Mumbai and Indian cricket’s heavyweights were there at the Wankhede Stadium when he made his Ranji Trophy debut the preceding season. And Tendulkar lived up to the high expectations by cracking a hundred. He went on to hit seven more half-centuries to amass 583 runs from seven matches in his maiden Ranji Trophy season.
Delhi amassed 461, thanks to centuries by Bantoo Singh and Kirti Azad. It was on Day Three that one got the first glimpse of Tendulkar. The pressure was on him, knowing fully well that a good showing in the game would earn him a berth in the national team. He had missed the tour of the West Indies, not because anybody doubted his divine skills, but because the thinking then was the child should not be exposed to the sustained blitz of the then Caribbean nuclear warheads — Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop. While the fear was there in the minds of his well-wishers, Tendulkar himself had no such fears as he told in this interview to actor and cricket aficionado Tom Alter:
And if you thought that Tendulkar’s talk of fearlessness against pacemen was child talk, spare time to watch this eight-minute video by Navjot Sidhu where he narrates Tendulkar rare courage after his nose was smashed by a vicious Waqar Younis bouncer on the 1989 tour of Pakistan, with blood gushing out.
Tendulkar curbed his aggressive instinct, especially against the left-arm spinner Maninder Singh. But he was a delight against the fast bowlers. A bowler’s backdrive and a straight drive against Atul Wassan and a steer off Sanjeev Sharma — all for boundaries — reflected his class and control, as he essayed the strokes with plenty of time to spare. The dexterity with which he was able to target the gaps in the field was truly masterful. Tendukar scored just 39, batting at No 6.
Tendulkar had done enough to convince the selectors that he was ready for the tour of Pakistan. The great Sunil Gavaskar made a brief appearance at the Wankhede Stadium to present his light-weight pads to the young genius who was embarking on what everybody knew was going to be a phenomenal journey.
With his place in the Indian team to tour Pakistan secure, those at the ground on Day Five got to see the first big hint of Tendulkar’s greatness in a big match against international-class bowlers.
The match was already out of Rest of India’s grasp, but with so many youngsters vying to impress the national selectors, the needle in the contest was not over. But for most people in the stands, the focus was on Tendulkar. As wickets fell in a heap, Tendulkar took on the formidable might of the Delhi attack comprising Wassan, Madan Lal, Sanjeev Sharma and Maninder.
When the first of the tailenders, M Venkatramana, arrived at the wicket, Tendulkar was on 29. When Venkatramana joined the procession, the sixth Rest of India wicket to fall, Tendulkar was on 31. With Gursharan Singh in the casualty list, it seemed Delhi needed just three wickets to bring a swift end to the match.
Vivek Razdan, who had also booked his ticket to Pakistan, played a mature innings to score 59 runs. With just Venkatapathy Raju and Rajeev Seth for company, a Tendulkar century did not look likely at that point. All hope seemed to vanish when Tendulkar, batting on 66, saw the exit of Seth with the Rest score on 180.
Raju would have been the original No 11 had Gursharan Singh not been injured. Walking in at No 10, Raju hung on like a limpet. A few seats away from where I was in the Press Box, Raj Singh Dungarpur was visibly excited. Dungarpur was an unapologetic fan of Tendulkar and had even got the Cricket Club of India to amend its rules that had prevented under- 18s from entering the dressing room. He wanted Tendulkar to play for CCI and got his way — even if it meant amending the club rules.
Gursharan was watching the match close to Dungarpur, unmindful of the fact that Tendulkar could run out of partners in his quest for a hundred on Irani debut. Dungarpur almost angrily ordered Gursharan to wear his pads and be ready, if case there was need for him to go out and help Tendulkar get to the three figures. Gursharan fled, changed into cricketing whites and did what he was ordered.
The emergency, which Dungarpur feared, arose when Raju’s 34-minute defiance was terminated by Maninder Singh. Out walked Gursharan to help Tendulkar get the 11 runs he needed for an epic hundred.
A right-handed bat, Gursharan now played immaculately with his left-hand! He batted for 20 agonizing minutes, during which he played out 16 balls. He even hit a boundary! Gursharan’s bravery in adversity and Tendulkar’s defiance amid ruins paid dividends. A backfoot punch through the covers off Maninder got Tendulkar to the desired destination.
When Tendulkar reached his hundred, Gursharan retired, to bring an end to the Rest of India innings. So supreme was Tendulkar, that while his ten colleagues pooled together 110 runs, he single-handedly contributed 103 unbeaten runs.
As I was walking down the spiral staircase of the Press Box to meet the young genius, I saw Tendulkar’s philosopher and guide at the gate of the pavilion. I asked him why he was standing outside the gate, and the young man politely replied that he was not allowed inside. He chose to stand outside, instead of telling the guard that the boy he wanted to meet was the same whose destiny he had personally shaped and who now was the toast of the nation — his brother, Sachin Tendulkar! I had to tell the security guard who Ajit Tendulkar was, before he could get in and congratulate his kid brother.
One brother had taught, that day, that anybody can dream big, provided one has self belief and a burning ambition. And now another brother had taught me a huge lesson in humility!
A star was born on November 7, 1989 — a star that continues to shine till this very day. None of the players from either side who played that match are active in First-Class cricket, but the Tendulkar juggernaut moves on — defying time, odds and critics.
Delhi 461 (Bantoo Singh 136, Kirti Azad 111, Sanjeev Sharma 48; Vivek Razdan 3-113, Venkatapathy Raju 4-80, M Venkataramana 2-152) and 383-8 wickets declared (Manu Nayyar 91, Rajiv Vinayak 67, Sanjay Sharma 72, Sanjeev Sharma 70; Vivek Razdan 2-75, Venkatpathy Raju 3-93, M Venkataramana 2-114) bt Rest of India 290 (Lalchand Rajput 39, Gursharan Singh 31, Saba Karim 51, Sachin Tendulkar 39, WV Raman 33; Atul Wassan 3-76, Sanjeev Sharma 3-66, Maninder Singh 4-51) and 245 (WV Raman 41, Sachin Tendulkar 103 not out; Atul Wassan 2-89, Sanjeev Sharma 4-45, Maninder Singh 3-51) by 309 runs.