'Sachin Tendulkar held cricket together during challenging times along with a few good men like Rahul Dravid’

In the phase of Indian cricket hit by match-fixing and underworld interference, Sachin Tendulkar (left) and Rahul Dravid stood up to the occassion and saw the team through the challenging times © Getty Images

By Saad Bin Jung

I first saw Sachin Tendulkar bat when I was sitting with my late uncle and former India captain, Nawab Mansur Ali Khan of Pataudi. This was during Sachin’s first tour, which was to Pakistan in 1989. In the fourth Test at Sialkot, Waqar Younis hit him on the nose by a bouncer. My first reaction was, “Christ! That’s the end of him.” The Nawab turned around and quipped, “Nope. Don’t compare them to cricketers of our times. Not with all that armour he has on. These boys are a different breed. I fear for the quickies.” I then watched him bat and realised he would be truly special.

Sachin should not and cannot be compared to Sunil Gavaskar. But I guess in a way he did take on the mantle from Gavaskar. Let me try and explain this. Gavaskar played cricket like the true greats of the game: Donald Bradman, Vivian Richards, Alvin Kallicharran to name a few. They were men of men and played in the pre-helmet era. They played when no batsman had the guts to step out to a quickie. Yet, they destroyed bowling of all kind and at will in their own way. In that pre-helmet era, Gavaskar was God. One cannot be stupid enough to compare oranges to apples; Tendulkar cannot and should not be compared to these batsmen.

Sachin’s greatness starts through the difficult era of a changing game — from around the early 1980s to the present day. During this interval, he was the best and had nobody even came close to him. He was that far ahead. In this period, he remains incomparable; he remains God. In this phase cricket was hit by match-fixing and there was underworld interference. Plus, the longer game gave way to T20 and the whole technical requirements of a cricketer changed. Sachin, at every stage, lead the way in overcoming those changes and challenges. Through these difficult times, he held cricket together along with a few good men like Rahul Dravid. And through these times, he became bigger than the game, for had he not steered cricket through these difficult times, cricket would still be floundering in the sleaze of the 1990s.
If one had to say how and when Sachin put up his hand up and said that he was a natural successor to Gavaskar, it would have to be the moment he played his first Test for India. Both Gavaskar and Sachin are Gods in their own right; Gods of their own eras. Let’s not ever compare these Gods across those eras. It is impossible.

The Sachin memories that would stand out for me are his contests with Shane Warne and Wasim Akram. His destruction of Warne and the way he worked out the other wizard — Akram — is something I would pick as my favourites.

I feel that whenever Sachin goes out to bat, it is a lesson for every cricketer; including all of us. I can recall each of his innings, even when he has failed, and it would be an anecdote, an incident worth remembering. Off the field, there is one interaction which I will always remember. We were having dinner at Nikhil Sen’s place and in walked Sachin. I overheard him speaking to my wife and that conversation will always remain with me. My wife Sangeeta asked him, “What do you do to keep fit?” He replied, “I diet, Sangeeta.” Sangeeta then saw the huge pile of rice on his plate and said, “You could have fooled me!” And Sachin laughed.

Sachin’s retirement means the end of an era. But I think the end of that era has also seen the emergence of Virat Kohli. Like Tendulkar put his hand up and said that he was a natural successor to Gavaskar, I suppose Kohli has also declared that he is next in line. If there was no Kohli, I would have been anxious and would have accepted that there was a cause for worry for our cricket loving public. But, with Kohli announcing his arrival, I feel Sachin’s retirement would be easier to handle for all of us for as we see another silver lining in the clouds.

As Sachin retires, my final tribute to him would be, “Thank you, God!”

—   As told to Nishad Pai Vaidya

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(Saad Bin Jung is a former First-Class cricketer who played for Hyderabad and Haryana in the Ranji Trophy. Nephew of the former India captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, he scored a memorable 113 against the West Indies while playing for South Zone when barely 16. Saad also played for India under-19s alongside Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Chandrakant Pandit. He is a wildlife author and has written two books, ‘Subhan and I’ and ‘Wild Tales from the Wild’)