'I can relate Sachin Tendulkar to Roger Federer'

Roger Federer (left) with Sachin Tendulkar during the 2011 Wimbledon tennis championship © Getty Images

By Nirupama Sanjeev

When he batted, the nation halted. In a career that spanned well over two decades, Sachin Tendulkar’s list of accomplishments and records makes the head spin! Whether it’s scoring the first double century in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) or becoming the first batsman to score 100 international centuries, it the intensity with which he has competed right through his long career that compels attention.

From the time he debuted against Pakistan as a 16-year-old prodigy to now when he is just weeks away from playing his final Test at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium as a legend, Sachin has truly shown what grit and focus is all about. He has shown the path to budding Indian talent how to remain single-mindedly focused, despite the trappings of glamour, money and politics that embrace the sport.

As a sportsperson, I feel privileged to have been born in the same era as Sachin. Whether it was World Cup or an Indo-Pakistan duel, every memory of a cricket experience was enriched with Sachin’s batting. I cannot even begin to imagine the feelings and the mental toughness Sachin goes through when he is playing a crucial match in a World Cup or any other important match. The pressure of having to carry the burden of expectations of an entire nation is something that young kids can learn from this legend.

The most remarkable quality I saw in him was amidst keeping cool under pressure, he was still a complete nightmare for bowlers like Shane Warne or Shoaib Akhtar.

I first saw Sachin at Mumbai’s Cricket Club of India where I was playing an Under-14 tournament in 1990. He was the new sensation after just returning from a tour of England where he hit his maiden Test hundred. It boggles the mind to think that it was more than 23 years ago! For a career to have spanned across so many decades, I think we can surely call him the Muhammad Ali of cricket. I am no cricket expert, but my father [KS Vaidyanathan] who played Ranji Trophy for Tamil Nadu, often remarked about the way Sachin watched the ball. “Look at the way he is focused on the part of the ball he is going to strike,” dad would say.

I could somehow relate Roger Federer to Sachin in this aspect. If you watched Federer in slow motion, you can see his sharp focus; his eyes do not leave the contact point even after the ball is struck. That struck a chord with me and I understood the technique behind Sachin’s batting prowess.

His nomination into the Rajya Sabha may have come as a surprise to many, but I don’t believe he will accept a position if he didn’t believe he could truly add value. Amongst the highly corrupt world of Indian politics, Sachin’s presence could be the breath of fresh air. As he bids adieu to the world of cricket competition, I hope his mastery on the field will transfer onto his next innings and he will make Indian politics cleaner.

As told to H Natarajan

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(Nirupama Sanjeev (formerly Vaidyanathan) is the first Indian woman tennis player to feature and win a round in the main draw of a Grand Slam even [1998 Australian Open] — a year after she achieved her highest ranking [132] on the WTA Tour.  She was the No 1 player in India for a full decade. Daughter of KS Vaidyanathan, a former Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy player, Nirupama runs her own tennis academy in the United States, where she is now based. She also provides expert comments alongside Vijay Amritraj on ESPN-STAR sports for major tennis championship and recently turned author with her memoirs on tennis)