I saw a tiny 12-year-old Sachin Tendulkar at the Kamat Memorial Cricket Club, which was handled by Ramakant Achrekar sir. Sachin was very regular in the nets. The wickets during practice session were mud-tracks on which the ball used to do all sorts of tricks. But young Sachin would get into good position and had enough time to play his shots. He hated getting out in the nets and always put a price on his wicket.
I vividly remember how he used to stand behind the nets while I used to bat. He would often ask me in Marathi, “batting zhali ka (Are you done with your batting)?” He had a huge appetite for batting. I used to get satisfied batting for an hour or honing my wicket-keeping skills for two hours, but Sachin would want to bat on and on and on. He would get into whichever net was free and courageously faced all kinds of bowlers. The long hours in the nets bode well for him as Sachin scored bagful of runs in the school-level cricket.
As a young boy, Sachin was shy and an introvert and didn’t indulge in much conversation. He always wanted to listen to the cricketing conversation going around and wanted to absorb every minute detail.
Achrekar sir once instructed us seniors to include Sachin in one of the games. It did not matter to him if we won or lost, what he wanted was Sachin to rub shoulders with the seniors. The bowlers — established club cricketers — were 20-22 years old, about 10 years older that Sachin. We felt Sachin was not ready for the challenge, but we had no other option but to obey sir’s orders.
In the first game, Sachin batted for 10-12 overs but he couldn’t score runs freely. He was not strong enough. Though technically he was very sound. In the next game we devised a plan to run him out because we wanted to win the game. Let me clarify there was no malicious intent in that thought. We wanted to win the game and felt how a young boy can win us the game. When one of our batsmen tried to go for a non-existent single, Sachin immediately shouted “no.” The batsman who had committed to the run expecting Sachin to respond fell in his own trap and was run-out. This incident highlighted his cricketing acumen. He had a sense where the singles existed. Not bad for a young boy!
By 1988, he made the cut in the Mumbai Ranji team. I got an opportunity to bat with him during his debut season. At the end of the over he would talk about the minute details. What stood out was his knowledge of the game. He would tell me which bowler to attack, which bowler to watch out for; how we should proceed in the next half-an-hour. And I was his senior, a Test cricketer! But that was what he was. He would think far ahead of the game and would play according to the plan.
In 1992, I was part of Indian squad that toured Australia just prior to the World Cup. Sachin was part of the team that had Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri and Mohammad Azharuddin — the top Indian batsmen. There used to be intense discussions about the batting and how we should bowl at the Australians. Sachin would put forward his points as well. He used to regularly contribute in the discussions. When he was not batting, he used to do shadow practice or hit the ball in the middle of the bat.
Sachin scored a brilliant unbeaten 148 in the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and his 114 at Perth in the fifth Test match ranks among the best hundreds scored by him. The first time I got an opportunity to bat with him was in the third Test at Sydney. When I walked in, he talked to me about which balls to be careful about. He even went on to say that if we bat for 10 overs we could score another 30-odd runs. He used to think so far ahead. I went for a hook off a bouncer from Merv Hughes. I missed the ball which hit me on my neck. I was in some pain but could see Sachin running for a quick single. I responded to the call and made my ground. Sachin came up to me and told me that he was eager to take the strike since he was well set. He was easily our best batsmen in an otherwise disappointing tour, where we lost the five-match series 0-4.
When I became the coach of the Mumbai team, Sachin would often make my task easier by giving a lot of inputs. His experience and the understanding of the game came to the fore when he gauged the nature of the wickets. He would often devise the approach Mumbai should follow well in advance which was commendable. In the 2003 Irani Trophy game, Mumbai were playing a strong Rest of the India side at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai. Sachin devised lot of strategies against the established batsmen. He had employed two mid-wickets for Rahul Dravid, who ended up offering a catch to one of the mid-wickets. He was a thinking captain and often his ideas were out-of-the-box.
Sachin is a very humble cricketer. His feet are firmly placed on the ground. I recall an incident where I had asked him to come for the launch of my cricket clinic in Andheri. Sachin agreed to come for half-an-hour. When he arrived all the young cricketers were mesmerised. He spoke to them about his experiences and motivated them. He stayed there for an hour and it the number of people entering the arena increased exponentially. Finally we asked him to stop and leave the arena before things went out of hand.
When I was the director of Mumbai Cricket Association Indoor Academy, Tendulkar would often visit the academy to hone his skills. I often requested him to talk to the young cricketers. He has provided them with invaluable tips and often his presence radiates positivity. While talking, he often comes across as a proud cricketer who cares about the performances of the young cricketers. Believe me he works very hard on his game. That is why he is a champion — miles ahead of other cricketers when it comes to preparation and planning. He would bat for hours and hours perfecting his shots, checking his balance and feeling the ball in the middle of his bat. He once simulated the bowling machine to face the in-swinging yorkers that he might have to face off Lasith Malinga before the tour of Sri Lanka. He batted till he perfected his technique against the delivery fired at the blockhole.
When Sachin was young a few of the cricketers discussed what will he go on to become? The group came to a consensus that Tendulkar will play at least 100 Test matches. And he has doubled his tally. I do not think he has anything left to achieve in cricket. The farewell Test match is history making, something which the world of cricket has not seen before. Sachin has been an once-in-a-lifetime cricketer who given the nation plenty of joy for 24 years.
If he manages to score a ton at the Wankhede Stadium in his 200th Test, imagine the euphoria in the nation! It will come to a standstill.