Sachin Tendulkar completed 23 incredible years in international cricket on the opening day of the ongoing first Test between India and England. Nishad Pai Vaidya talks about the giant steps the baby-faced Tendulkar took in the testing conditions of Pakistan in 1989.
On November 15, 1989, a precociously talented 16-year-old walked into the league of big men. The baby-faced teenager was picked to play against arch-rivals Pakistan in their own den, against the three-pronged firepower of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. While his talent was obvious, there were a few who looked at the move with scepticism and trepidation. Sachin Tendulkar, however, gave ample evidence not of his talent alone, but also his character – something that has been pivotal in the making of a legend. Tendulkar’s remarkable journey at the highest level began on this very day 23-years ago – a journey that has been glorious and taken Indian cricket to a number of peaks.
When he scored tons of runs in school cricket, Tendulkar was earmarked for greater things. At the age of 14, he was named in the Bombay Ranji Trophy probables, alongside the great Sunil Gavaskar. He made it into the final squad, though it was only a year later that he got to make his debut in the premier domestic tournament.
The Ranji Trophy debut announced his arrival of a legend in the making, as the 15-year-old Tendulkar smashed a hundred. The transition to the higher level was seamless and the doors to the Indian team opened up when he scored a brilliant hundred on Irani Trophy debut - a fairytale knock.
Tendulkar’s progress through the ranks was quick and even at that tender age; even then he attracted copious attention. As a measure of caution, he wasn’t exposed to the West Indian bowlers during a tour earlier in 1989. But the kid wasn’t afraid and had even declared that he was up for the challenge. In Pakistan, he made his point with fighting performances that captured the imagination and presented hope to a nation.
In the first Test at Karachi, Tendulkar walked into bat at No 6, with India reeling at 41 for four. It was the second day of the Test match and India were in pursuit of bettering Pakistan’s total of 409. That occasion was picked by the TIME Magazine as one of the Top 10 Sporting Moments. Describing the moment, the magazine wrote, “While his 15 runs can hardly be considered memorable, the way in which he withstood the numerous blows to his body was an instant indication that the boy was quickly becoming a man.” Tendulkar’s tenure was ended by another debutant, also a legend in the making -- Waqar Younis.
The series itself was a drawn affair with India battling it out against the strong Pakistan bowling attack. Tendulkar had notched a few gritty knocks, which included his maiden fifty in Test cricket. But the moment that assured one and all that this “boy” was a fighter, came in the fourth Test at Sialkot. India were battling for survival in the third innings of the match, on a green top. The stage was set for a moment that defined a player early in his career as Tendulkar entered the contest at 38 for four.
A vicious Waqar delivery struck Tendulkar bang on the nose and he was down with a deep wound. With blood gushing out and the Indian medical staff attending on him, he famously said, “Mein khelega” (I will play). Salil Ankola, India’s 12th man in that game told this writer, “Once the blood was wiped off and his wound was cleaned, I could see fire in his eyes. The famous song Eye of the Tiger is apt for that moment.”
The wounded tiger got up, got his concentration and was ready to battle it out for his country. Letting his bat do the talking, the next ball was dispatched to the boundary. In partnership with Navjot Singh Sidhu, he took India to safety and ended up with 57 – a remarkable effort that consumed 134 balls. At Karachi, the boy showed signs of maturity, and at Sialkot he showed that he had indeed become a man.
While his run tally may not have been as prolific as Sunil Gavaskar’s record in his debut series, Tendulkar did show a lot of guts and grits. At the age of 16, boys are usually in high school or indulging in simple pleasures of youth, but here was someone who was walking amongst legends and blowing their minds with his precocity. For the generation that grew up in India in the 1990s and the 2000s, Tendulkar is more than a cricketer.
In the aftermath of Sunil Gavaskar’s retirement, India was searching for a batting icon – one who had the aura of pulling off the impossible. As the years progressed, Tendulkar became a symbol of hope as typical Indian side of the 1990s depended heavily on him.
Be it the16-year-old who entered the stage in 1989, or the 37-year old stalwart who tasted World Cup glory in 2011, Tendulkar proved that age is nothing but a number. Calls for his retirement have surfaced periodically, but he has bounced back to smash all those notions. For someone to play the game for 23 years with the same passion and intensity is beyond the understanding of the common man. Irrespective of the format, he has excelled and delivered his best for India. With the amount of cricket being played these days, it is truly amazing that he has maintained his fitness and passion for the game he loves the most.
In a recent interview, Tendulkar admitted that he doesn’t have much cricket in him. Those comments were numbing. Having been around for 23 years, it is difficult to imagine a day when he doesn’t walk on to the field of play and look up at the Heaven after reaching his hundred. With his superhuman feats, he has become a part of everyone’s lives. The void, when it will eventually be created, would be unmistakably felt by one and all.
For the moment, let’s enjoy the great man’s journey, now in the home stretch. Let’s enjoy it before it’s too late.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site's YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)