Sachin Tendulkar cuts his birthday cake at Sun Grace Mafatlal office in Bombay on April 24, 1990 © Ricky Couto
Sachin Tendulkar cuts his birthday cake at Sun Grace Mafatlal office in Bombay on April 24, 1990 © Ricky Couto

It is that time of the year. It is April 24, yet another birthday for Sachin Tendulkar. This time, our correspondent Abhishek Kumar spoke to Sachin’s childhood friend Ricky Couto and his elder brother Marcus, now a well-known umpire in India’s domestic cricket circuit.

Marcus Couto is currently working in Cricket Club of India, while Ricky is employed in a company named KWE as Senior Executive Sales. Ricky credits his boss Allen De Mello and MD Karthi Bhaskar, who gave him the job and have always supported him. They have also given him the liberty to umpire. Both brothers consider themselves lucky one for being friends of Tendulkar and having shared many memorable days.

Marcus, however, is closer to Sachin’s elder brother Ajit:  “I am lucky that he knows me by my name and he knows my family as well. That is a pleasure. Actually my brother Ricky studied with him. I was the elder one. I am more close to Ajit”.

I had to begin with Ricky.

How it all started

Ricky Couto became friends with Sachin while playing at Shivaji Park during their childhoods. Both boys were soon enrolled in the same school: “It’s all started at Shivaji Park. I went for practice; then came Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli; and all three of us played together. One day [Ramakant] Achrekar-Sir told us that if we want to play cricket then we will have to change our schools. I used to go to St Joseph of Wadala, where there was no cricket. Sachin was in some Bandra school and Kambli was in a school in Marine Lines. We went and sought admission at Sharadashram. Then the first day in the school, Sachin and I sat together and from there on the friendship started, which has lasted till today.”

Being a close friend of Sachin till today, Ricky is like a celebrity to many of his friends. Do they all insist on meeting Tendulkar? “Kind of. But many believe and many do not. But whosoever believes, they think I can take them and let them meet Sachin. However, I try my best to take people to meet him, interact with him. A few days back, when the trailer of Sachin’s movie came out, a friend of mine from Pune got to meet him. He spent 8 minutes with him. My friend still has not come over it.”

© Ricky Couto
Sachin Tendulkar (from left) with Marcus Couto, Vinod Kambli and Ricky Couto © Ricky Couto

Marcus, on the other hand, got to know Sachin while umpiring a match. He declared out Sachin that day. He remembers that Sachin was shouted at by Mr Achrekar for not putting a cap on: “He was playing a game at Matunga and I was umpiring many years ago. He was probably around nine. That day he scored 40-odd runs before I adjudged him run out.” Marcus added.

But what was wrong about not wearing a cap? “Achrekar was really mad at Sachin that day. I asked Sachin why he was not wearing a cap. He responded that ‘it would come across as hero-giri.’ I asked him what Mr Achrekar was saying. Sachin replied: ‘It has an advantage. You can see the bowler better, which will save you from the direct rays of the sun.’ From that day he never batted barehead.”

Marcus continued: “The next day, my brother and Sachin were together in the Sharadashram classroom. Sachin complained to Ricky that I was standing very far off while umpiring. Actually, the Matunga Gymkhana’s 30-yard is like a boundary. It is a very small ground. So he might have felt that I was standing very far off. He didn’t complain about the decision. He said Marcus was standing far and gave me run out. And then, I told I saw that innings and many more innings. I told my brother that someday I will come to your school and click photographs with these two kids, Sachin and Kambli. When Ricky said why, I responded that Sachin is going to play at least one Test and Kambli will definitely play for Mumbai. I was confident.”

Remained padded 

Because of Sachin, Kambli and players like Amol Mazumdar, Ricky barely used to get to bat and mostly remained padded up, which later made him take up umpiring seriously. Revealing the story of how Sachin and Kambli indirectly helped him become an umpire, Ricky told: “Our Sharadashram was invincible. I don’t think we lost a single game from 1985 to 1992. We had Sachin, Kambli, Amol Mazumdar, later Ajit Agarkar and all. Kambli used to come at No. 3, Sachin was 4 and then Amol. And these players never used to get out. Sachin scored back-to-back triple-hundreds and then a double-hundred. So we just padded up and waited for our turn, which never used to come.

“So I thought of umpiring. Marcus told me that it gives you a closer look at the game. That was how it all started. I passed the Tests, and till today I have stood in more than 1,000 matches in the past 24 years.”

Sometimes, when 10-15 runs were required towards end of the day’s play, they didn’t score these runs. They would instead finish the match in first over next day and go for movies — not one, but three or four, in different theatres.

Credit must also go to Marcus, for he was the one to suggest him to opt for umpiring instead of playing. “Ricky came home and complained every day that Sachin and Kambli had kept on batting and he did not get to bat as a result. He used to complain about having his pads on all day. I think that was the only way he could be involved closely with the game,” said Marcus

“They were very clever. They used to ask about every new rule. They used to prevent other kids from touching the ball, threatening them with handling the ball appeals. They knew more about laws than the other boys. That helped Ricky. He used to come and ask me about the laws. In that way, Ricky became a sharp umpire at a very young age. He got his lessons practically.”

Behave normally

Later, when Sachin became a huge name, both Ricky and Marcus sometimes spoke to him with respect, something Sachin never liked. He insisted on normal conversations. Marcus recalled: “I remember talking to Sachin normally in Marathi, saying “are, tu re, kai re tu”. But suddenly, over the past decade, I started referring him by ‘tumi’ as a mark of respect. Sachin would have none of that: “Don’t talk to me that way. Talk properly. You don’t need to refer me by saying tumi and all.”

Ricky agreed: “Sachin could never accept the formal conversation. He insisted that there was no need to talk that way. He has remained the same.”

Only cricket talks

Marcus went with the flow of our chat and revealed many stories. One of them was about conversations the three used to have. As per Marcus, they never talked anything outside cricket. Marcus used to get irritated sometimes with their talks but they never stopped talking cricket: “These three were best friends at that time. I don’t know what they used to do after match at Sivaji Park — only on cricket, nothing else. I used to ask what they talked about for so long. They responded that they were discussing some random match. They talked cricket throughout the day.”

A childhood picture of Sachin (centre) with Vinod (left) and Ricky (right) © Ricky Couto
A childhood picture of Sachin (centre) with Vinod (left) and Ricky (right) © Ricky Couto

Marcus also revealed how Sachin and Kambli planned watching movies whole day: “Sometimes, when 10-15 runs were required towards end of the day’s play, they didn’t score these runs. They would instead finish the match in first over next day and go for movies — not one, but three or four, in different theatres. And then at night they had vada pav and continued talking. They were very good friends, and used to go everywhere together.”

More busy after retirement

According to Marcus and Ricky, Sachin has become busier after retirement than what he used to be during playing days. Ricky said: “He is busier than what he used to be. There are a lot of social commitments. His movie is coming up. He is Member of Parliament, Member of UNICEF and Ambassador of World Cup.”

Marcus agreed: “He has been the same for me as a person. He is probably still as fun-loving, but there are more restrictions these days. We have not met in over two months now. However, we have interacted on phone. Family is his priority these days. He has adopted a village in Andhra Pradesh. He is doing a song. His movie is coming out. And then, there will be IPL. He has become busier than ever, for me at least. Earlier, you could at least go to the match and meet him afterwards. We could meet him even around the dressing-room when someone else was batting. These days he is busy travelling half the time.”

The 664-run stand

When the partnership happened nobody was aware that it was a record. Later on, Marcus tried his best to prove it a world record, which also helped him in getting publicity from Indian Association of Cricket Statisticians and Scorers (IACSS).

Marcus recalled: “IACSS was founded in 1987, and the partnership between Sachin and Kambli took place in February 1988. We wanted to market that we have actually discovered a world record. We decided to honour them for the sake of publicity. We went to the school and told them that the boys have said a world record and they should arrange for a programme to honour them. As things turned out, there were barely 10 to 15 people when they were felicitated at the school. I remember Sachin speaking 4-6 words on the lines of ‘thank you very much.’ On the other hand, Kambli spoke for 4-5 minutes.”

I knew that he would do anything if you challenge him. So I made him to bring the bag to school. The bag was so big that everyone insisted I would fit easily inside it. So during the break, he took everything out from the bag and put me inside.

“To confirm that it was a world record, first I went to Kanga Library. Then I went to Anandji Dossa, but he said that he does not maintain these records. Then we went to Sudhir Vaidya. At that time, Anandji was the premium cricket statistician in the country, while Sudhir was just taking over. Sudhir, too, said he does not keep school cricket records, but there was someone in Reliance who did. So we approached Mohandas Menon. In no time Mohandas confirmed that it was indeed a world record partnership at that time. He asked for the score-sheet, and believe me — it looked horrible. It was very untidy. About 15-18 scorers must have done the scoring. And there was no space in scoring.”

Ricky added: “Nobody knew it was a record when it happened. Only later did my brother find it out, with the help of Mohandas Menon. And then the world changed for them. We are very proud of that.”

But where is that score-sheet?

© Ricky Couto
Sachin with Ricky and Vinod at their Sharadashram school © Ricky Couto

Ricky’s statement, it was kept in a room which was mistakenly burned. One can imagine how important and valuable that score sheet could have been in nowadays.

Marcus claims that the score-sheet has been misplaced: “They have lost the score-sheet. It would have been a memorabilia and could have fetched plenty in auction as well. I had a friend in Australia called Ram Murthy, who used to come here, collect memorabilia and sell them. He offered me Rs 10 lakhs for the score-sheet. We approached the school and told them about the offer and suggested them to use the money for school cricket. But they said they were looking for a sponsor. And they got Castrol or someone else for sponsor, and the score-sheet was never found.”

Ricky has a different story: “Do you know where that score-sheet, the proof of that world record partnership, is? It was not lost. It was three in the school. About 3-4 years back, they burned everything in the room by error. The score-sheet could have been huge otherwise. It would have easily sell for lakhs or probably crores.”

Inside Sachin’s kit bag

Sachin went to England with Star Cricket Club. He brought a massive kit bag from there, which he flaunted in school. To show how big it is, he actually made Ricky sit inside it.

Marcus recalled “Sachin was very proud of his kit bag. When Ricky insisted on seeing it, Sachin told him that it was too big to carry. Ricky used to taunt him every day till Sachin got it to school one day. He emptied it, shoved Ricky inside it, and made a round around the school with Kambli in front of him.”

Ricky has fond memories of the day: “We were mischievous school kids. We were not at all good in studies. We were all back-benchers. Kambli was a year junior but he used to come in recess and we hung around together. Sachin was always ready for challenges. I knew that he would do anything if you challenge him. So I made him to bring the bag to school. The bag was so big that everyone insisted I would fit easily inside it. So during the break, he took everything out from the bag and put me inside.”

Marcus also said that the three were like gundas (rogues). Nobody would dare to do anything to them: “They used to have lots of fun. If someone complained against any one of them in the classroom, they used to wait outside the gate like ‘Gundas’ waiting for that boy. They used to catch him, close his eyes and beat him. The following morning the boy could not tell anyone who beat him. That was why nobody used to complain against them; they were so mischievous!”

Sachin’s love for Bradman

In school days, Sachin used to visit Ricky’s home to watch a clip of Bradman that Marcus had. The clip had nothing much but Sachin used to keep on watching same thing every time. Ricky recalled: “He used to come to my house to watch those clips because my brother had CDs and all. He used to keep on seeing how Bradman used to play the stroke and all.”

Marcus echoed: “I had lots of cassettes. I have a collection of cricket videos. Sachin always wanted to watch Bradman. I told him that there was nothing but a few seconds of Bradman, but Sachin always used to insist me to play it.”

They wanted to somebody to bat in the nets against those budding fast bowlers at the MRF Academy. When Lillee saw him batting he asked him to stick to batting. In a way Lillee stopped Sachin from becoming a fast bowler.

There was also the story of the Parker pen, as Marcus recalled: “In school he got a new Parker pen from his father. He signed everything once he got that, just to check the flow of the pen. He probably thought he might have to sign autographs some day.”

Sledging, arm-wrestling and table tennis

Being an umpire and having stood in many school games, Marcus further spoke about the kind of sledging used to happen in those days and how Sachin always remained behind the curtain: “Oh, it used to be terrible. Vinod was the one who did it mostly, while Sachin used to support him. I remember them playing a Harris Shield match where I was an umpire. Kambli kept sledging an opposition batsman: ‘Hit yaar, you are wasting time. Be careful; you are going on back-foot; the wicketkeeper is trying to catch your bat.’ The batsman fell for that. He looked back, Sachin bowled an off-break, and he was out. They just drove him paranoid that day. They were cunning.”

“He was also a champion at arm-wrestling. Marcus and Ricky believe that nobody can beat him at that even today: “Yeah, he is still the best. A few days back I saw a Mumbai Indians commercial where Sachin was having an arm-wrestling bout with kids. I told my family that he must have done it on purpose. Sachin must have told them. Nobody could defeat him in arm-wrestling. Kambli and Sachin used to challenge each other a lot of times, and Kambli used to lose every time,” said Marcus. 

There was also table tennis, in which Sachin was so good that Ricky believes he could have represented India had he wanted to: “He could easily have played for India in table tennis. His table tennis prowess helped his coordination, eyesight and reflexes. I think Sachin would have excelled in any sport he had taken up. He has got great ball sense.”

Marcus narrated an incident: “Once he was invited to a prize distribution ceremony of a table tennis tournament. He simply asked the winner to have a game with him. And Sachin defeated him there.”

The foodie

Sachin’s love for vada pav is well-know. However, as per the Coutos, he eats everything, and loves eating everything. “He mostly enjoyed fish,” Ricky revealed. Marcus added that Sachin “eats everything. He doesn’t look like that because he works out, but he is a-big time foodie.”

Sachin Tendulkar along with wife Anjali raises a toast at Ricky's wedding © Ricky Couto
Sachin Tendulkar along with wife Anjali raises a toast at Ricky’s wedding © Ricky Couto

Opingo betingo

Sachin, for some reason, loved playing something called opingo betingo (no connection with opening batting) — and was, like every other aspect, excellent at it. Ricky confessed that Sachin has hit him more frequently than he has scored runs: “Sachin used to play opingo betingo a lot with me. He does that even today. Sachin has surely punched me more often than scored runs. All you have to do was to say opingo if you were standing; if you were sitting it was betingo. If you failed a punch came your way; and it used to be a deadly punch.”

Marcus concurred: “He fought a lot when he was young. He used to hammer. They used to play that opingo betingo. It was easy to enter the dressing-room about 10-15 years back. Ricky went to meet him and Sachin started beating him. There was never any half-measure from Sachin. The players were shocked.”

What really happened at MRF pace foundation?

We all know the story of Sachin going to Dennis Lillee’s MRF Pace Foundation to become a fast bowler and being denied by Lillee. What really happened? “He wanted to bowl as much as he used to bat,” recalled Ricky. “He used to bowl 30 overs in school matches. He used to start with fast bowling and bowled spin as the ball got old. When Lillee saw him bat at the MRF Academy he told him that he was a significantly better batsman than bowler and advised him to focus on batting.”

Marcus added “They wanted somebody to bat in the nets against those budding fast bowlers at the MRF Academy. When Lillee saw him batting he asked him to stick to batting. In a way Lillee stopped Sachin from becoming a fast bowler. Had he concentrated on bowling more he would have become an all-rounder because he simply loved to bowl. In local matches he used to take the ball first. After the ball became a bit old, he used to bowl spin of every kind. He never wanted to leave the ball.”

What happened in the 1994-95 Ranji Trophy final?

Sachin has never really sledged anyone — but what happened when someone sledged him? The 1994-95 Ranji final between Bombay and Punjab was an indication. Marcus reveals the entire story with full intensity by saying, “During the 1994-95 Ranji Trophy final, Bombay had scored 690. Manjrekar (224), Sachin (140), Kambli (107*) all got big scores. Kunal More and I were watching that match together.

“Sachin was walking back when Sandeep Sharma got him out. Unfortunately, Sandeep decided to give him a send-off, pointing a finger towards the pavilion. Sachin glanced at him for about 5 seconds. He looked seriously angry. Then Vikram Rathour got 177, Sidhu got 108, but they were still bowled out early, for 371. Despite having a huge lead Bombay came to bat again. Sachin came to bat at 4.

Sachin (centre), Kambli (left) and Ricky (right) on the ground © Ricky Couto
Sachin (centre), Kambli (left) and Ricky (right) on the ground © Ricky Couto

“Before his arrival at the crease, Sandeep Sharma had claimed two wickets in 7 overs, conceding only 10 or 12 runs. When Sachin walked in, Sidhu gave the ball to Sandeep, their main bowler. In the first over Sachin a four (or a six) — and showed Sandeep the pavilion. Then he kept hitting at the same direction where Sandeep had earlier pointed him in the first innings. In that one over, Sandeep got hit for about 18. He was taken off. He came to bowl again and got hit for some 14-16 runs. One of the sixes landed outside Wankhede stadium. Sachin scored something similar to his first innings score, close to 140. That’s the way Sachin answers.”

Sachin had scored 140 in the first innings from 130 balls, with 14 fours and 5 sixes. In the second innings he played a blistering knock of 91-ball 139, including 15 fours and 7 sixes.

Sidhu was asked in the post-match press-conference whether they had plans about Sachin. Sidhu confessed: “No, no, we are bowling only one side. Leave that fellow alone. Let him score as many runs as he wants. Focus on the other 10.”

Kiran More’s plan for Sachin

In career of 310 First-Class matches, Sachin played only 6 against Baroda. And in one of those 6 matches, Baroda captain Kiran More, who had already played with Sachin at international level, instructed his team to stick to a certain plan against the great batsman. However, one of his bowlers could not stick to the plan.

More later confessed to Marcus, who passed it on to me: “More instructed everyone to leave Sachin alone, to not even say a hello, to not wish him, to ignore him completely. When Sachin came to bat at two-drop he started in a defensive fashion. He hardly scored 20 in the first hour.

“The volatile Rashid Patel was playing that match. Rashid bowled a bouncer just before lunch. Sachin was beaten completely. It was a good bouncer. Rashid shouted and More immediately ran up to him. Instead of applauding Rashid, More kept criticising him. Rashid defended himself, pointing out that it was a very good ball (it really was), and Sachin was beaten. But More started abusing Rashid because of that bouncer. In the next 20 minutes, Sachin scored another 20-30 runs; after that the match was totally Sachin’s.”

The match was probably played in 1994-95 season of Ranji Trophy, where Sachin scored 175 in just 141 balls, including 22 fours and 8 sixes.

How talented is Arjun?

Both Marcus and Ricky opine that Arjun is a gifted cricketer and had the ability to make it big. The Couto brothers added that Arjun is way more addicted to cricket than even Sachin.

“I have met Arjun many times, even while umpiring” said Ricky. “He is absolutely mad about cricket and is putting lot of hard work. I think he will definitely play for India. He is a left-arm pacer and bats as well.”

Marcus added: “I think Arjun should play for Bombay by 2019 — not because of the surname, but on his talent. Just like Sachin he wants to do everything. He is also mad about cricket. I don’t think even Sachin was as crazy as his son is. Sachin has also requested media not to create a hype over his son. You saw what happened with Sunil Gavaskar’s son Rohan. Then Bradman’s son changed his surname to Bradson because of the issue…”

Doing a favour to Geoff Marsh

You cannot blame anyone for admiring Sachin’s batting. Consider Geoff Marsh, for example. Marsh asked Marcus to record a video of Sachin’s batting; Sachin eventually scored a double-ton. However, as per Marcus, Sachin had foreseen that he was going to play a long innings. He also gave permission to record it: “I remember a match where Sachin scored his first double-hundred. I was working there and Australian manager Geoff Marsh asked me to get a video of him playing. I agreed. So we just needed a videographer. I had a friend called Nelson Patel who used to do shoot wedding videos. He agreed to shoot.

“Then suddenly I thought that I should inform Sachin about it. I did that the night before. Sachin simply just asked me who was recording. When I mentioned Nelson, he simply said, ‘tell him to keep extra cassettes.’ So I rang him back and told Nelson that Sachin might be requiring copies and asked him to bring enough cassettes to do extra recording. Later I came to know what Sachin implied: he knew he was going to play a long innings, and Nelson should not fall short of cassettes.”

The umpire’s difficulty, DRS, and more

In those days preceding the match referee, umpires had a tough time on job. Marcus opens up such difficulties which he faced during those days by saying, “It was very, very difficult for umpires before match referees were introduced. Otherwise, players behaved like Dadas (goons). The match referee had brought some control in the game. Umpires feel more secure. Earlier, when players did anything out of anger or frustration, we could not do anything.”

Ricky (left) with Sachin's elder brother Ajit Tendulkar (centre) and Marcus (right) © Ricky Couto
Ricky (left) with Sachin’s elder brother Ajit Tendulkar (centre) and Marcus (right) © Ricky Couto

Like many others, Marcus believes in technology: “All these technologies like DRS would have helped a lot in those times. Had this thing come up earlier, it could have been a huge help to the Indian team and cricket in general. I will tell you what used to happen earlier. Suppose a match is going between Delhi and Himachal Pradesh — a small team against a big one. You will often find that the last four batsmen were mostly given out leg-before: umpires simply lost interest and simply raised their fingers at any random appeal.

“It is different these days. The good thing about today’s generation is that players do not try to make scapegoat of umpires. Technology has taken care of that. This has also helped enhance the relationship between cricketers and umpires. We even guide them. For example, if we notice someone bowling no-balls in the nets, we suggest them to be careful in the next morning. Umpires are highly respected these days. They are also better-paid and have other facilities as well.”

Harbhajan Singh’s jacket

Marcus was officiating in a Ranji Trophy match at Delhi. It was quite cold that day. Marcus had not packed his warm clothes, and was trembling in the cold while umpiring. Marcus narrated the story: “The match was between Delhi and Punjab at Feroz Shah Kotla. It was a good match. Delhi had included the likes of Sehwag, Gambhir and Nehra, all of them eyeing comebacks. Punjab, on the other hand, had included Harbhajan and Yuvraj.

“It was very cold early in the morning. When Harbhajan noticed me shivering, he insisted I hold his jacket in my hand: ‘Keep your hand warm.’ I told him not to worry: ‘My finger will go up at the right time.’ But he insisted, so I had that jacket for the entire day. That was my second-last season in umpiring. When somebody asked Harbhajan about how he liked my umpiring he actually complimented me.”