Sachin Tendulkar walked into the Indian team for the tour to Pakistan in 1989 and his hundred against Delhi in the Irani Trophy before that campaign sealed his spot. Atul Wassan, who played for Delhi in that game, shares his maiden experience of watching Tendulkar bat. He recalls interesting anecdotes from the time he shared a house with Tendulkar in England.
In the late 1980s, we all had heard stories about this prodigiously talented batsman from Mumbai. We always had this Mumbai-Delhi rivalry in the Ranji Trophy, so we felt that they [Mumbai] just hyped up someone. There was a lot of skepticism. Then we [Delhi] were up against Rest of India in the Irani Trophy game in 1989, which was the first time I came across Sachin Tendulkar.
Madan Lal, our captain, said in the team meeting: “How could a 16-year-old play?”
In the first innings, Sachin scored 39, but in the second he hit that magnificent century [103 not out] against a potent attack comprising Madan Lal, Sanjeev Sharma and Maninder Singh. I remember, I was standing at mid-off when Sachin punched a straight-drive off Madan for four. While going back to the mark, Madan looked at me and said, “This boy can play!” What happened next is history as we know he was selected for the tour to Pakistan after that game.
I missed getting selected for that series in Pakistan, but was named in the Indian team for the 1990 tour to New Zealand, where I was Sachin’s room-partner. Wherever we went, Sachin was the topic of discussion. After all, someone so young was playing international cricket. He came ever so close to get that maiden Test hundred against New Zealand, but was dismissed for 88. When he returned to the dressing room, one could almost see a tear in his eye as he had the chance of becoming the youngest centurion in Test history.
But, later that year in Manchester, he got that magnificent ton. I was the 12th man for that game and witnessed him saving the match along with Manoj Prabhakar. What a great effort it was! We all knew it was the first of many, but hardly did we know that it would be the first of so many! He has been at it for almost 24 years now and has 100 international hundreds to his credit.
In 1991, I was playing Minor Counties in England and Sachin wanted to come over to practice there. So, I invited him to stay with me as I had a good place. I told him, “I will cook, you will clean.” And, he did it very without any problems. So we used to go to the nets together and also travelled to play World XI matches. There again, he was at the centre of attraction.
We used to travel in a car. I drove, as Sachin was still very young to drive. Many times I would be tired after the nets. So, I once let him drive when we were on the motorway and asked him to stay on the slow lane. I then dozed off. I woke up and saw that Sachin had been driving along at a good speed in the fast lane! As a result we ran out of petrol and were stranded in the middle of nowhere. I then had to walk a long distance to get some petrol and when I was coming back, I was trying to wave and call him to help me. But, he was calmly sitting in the car listening to music with his headphones on. So I told him, “You drive fast and ensure we ran out of petrol and then I go and get it.” It was quite funny though.
Cricket has always been his life. What I realised then was that he was always focused on the sport and practiced diligently. Even at a young age, he had great poise and did not get distracted by all the limelight of being a cricketer. He didn’t let lucrative deals affect his practice regime, which was testimony to his focus. He had a lot of confidence in his talent and knew that he could play for a long time. One can get swayed by stardom and other factors, but not this man — despite his middle-class background in his formative years.
Sachin’s comeback from injuries defines him. If you see, all great players invariably would have come through bad times and emerged victorious. When Sachin suffered that tennis elbow, I felt his career was over. His bat was very heavy too. So, he worked his way around it and started using a lighter bat. He also started using his right-hand more and that is why you could see him play those shots towards mid-wicket. He may have got bowled a few times, but one could see that he was overcoming that problem. And did he get back in style! He smashed so many tons after that, including a double hundred in One-Day Internationals (ODI).
The legend of Sachin Tendulkar will magnify after retirement as we tend to value people only when they are away from the scene.
Sachin has put us on the map. There was a stage when he was the lone fighter and we could only take solace in his performances. We used to get beaten abroad. But, then came the likes of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid; together they built a strong unit that started winning away from home. So there was that new-found aggression. Sachin took us through all those phases leading up to the big moment at the 2011 World Cup. By playing with the previous generation and now with the youngsters, he has given them a lot of confidence. Someone like a Virat Kohli would be inspired by rubbing shoulders with him and he has given them that confidence.
Sachin may not play anymore, but his aura and persona would be missed by Indian cricket.
— As told to Nishad Pai Vaidya
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(Atul Wassan is a former India fast bowler who played four Tests and nine One-Day Internationals (ODIs). He played for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy from 1986 to 1998)