'Sachin Tendulkar is a couple of levels above Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman’

Damien Fleming says to watch an Indian team play in Australia without Sachin Tendulkar (above) would be weird feeling © Getty Images

By Damien Fleming

It was in 1991-92 that I first came across Sachin Tendulkar, when the Indian team were touring Australia. I had played a game for the Prime Minister’s XI against the Indians at Canberra and he also featured in that game. However, my first distinct memories of Sachin are from the Test series that followed. Against a good attack comprising the likes of Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott and Bruce Reid, to name a few, he scored a couple of tons. For a kid that young, it was a phenomenal achievement. His technique was amazing. That was just the beginning for the genius of Sachin.

I remember bowling to Sachin in front of a packed Wankhede Stadium during a 1996 World Cup encounter. The atmosphere was absolutely electric and the crowd was boisterous. We batted first and got 258. Bowling under lights, I was getting some movement and I dismissed Ajay Jadeja and Vinod Kambli early. Then, I was up against Sachin. I bowled two out-swingers to him and he let them go through. So, I felt, I’ll bowl around middle and leg. However, it didn’t swing much and he smashed it like a bullet through mid-on. His bat seemed so broad!

Later on, he just got stuck into Glenn McGrath. And at one point we felt that if we didn’t get Sachin out, we would lose the game. Mark Waugh then bowled one way outside the off-stump quite intelligently and Sachin was down the track and missed it. Ian Healy then stumped him to end his amazing innings. At that time, India had quite a few good players such as Mohammad Azharuddin, Kambli and Jadeja, but the challenge was completely different when you bowled to Sachin. Two shots off his bat stood out for me — the leg-glance and the on-drive. When he glanced it, he would get it so fine and his on-drives were off t,he full face of the bat.

In 1998, Sachin was in terrific form, but I did manage to get him out a few times. I dismissed him with a short delivery at Delhi in a tri-angular tournament final (which was before the Sharjah tournament) and also got him off a bouncer during the famous Sharjah sandstorm innings. We thought it would a good way to get him out initially and that he didn’t like the short balls. However, he picked it and did not make the initial movement on the front-foot. Now, he stayed back and started pulling us over mid-wicket. As bowlers, we had to continually change our tactics while bowling to him. I have written about the challenge of bowling to him in one-day cricket in my book, Bowlology.

During the Sharjah sandstorm innings, he was motoring along, but after the storm passed, there was something that ignited the fire in him and he started smashing us all over. He scored 143 and India still lost. However, a couple of days later, he scripted 134 that won India the final. I share my birthday with Sachin i.e. April 24 and that final was played on that day. During the Indian run-chase, the big screen flashed “Happy Birthday Sachin” and 40,000 odd people cheered for him. As we were losing the game, there was a greeting for me on the screen, but there were boos!

When we were in India in 1996, I wanted to buy some music CDs and the security guys took us to a shop. When I reached there, I was surprised to see Sachin and Kambli also choosing their music. It was nice to see Sachin in the store moving about well, otherwise we all know he would be mobbed by people in no time.

India’s next tour to Australia would be their first Down Under without Sachin in a long time. I think we in Australia may not fully know his legacy till India arrive the next time. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman too scored a lot of runs against Australia and are truly appreciated for that, but Sachin was a couple of levels above them. The generation that has watched him play over the last 20-odd years would then realise his legacy. Actually, it would be a weird feeling that an Indian team would be in Australia without him.

However, Sachin will continue to live in our cricketing memories. He has not only scored runs at home, but also away. He has entertained the fans and his legacy is that he has set a high benchmark. I played in an era of three great batsmen — Sachin, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting. I didn’t bowl a lot of Ponting, but off the other two, I would put Sachin slightly ahead. He had lesser chinks in his technique and it was really difficult to spot a weakness.

An AFL grand final is the big day in Australian sports. However, you can sense the same euphoria almost every delivery Sachin faced in India. You ran in to bowl to him in a one-day game and you could feel it. Even if he missed, they would still clap as they would want him to come good. Bowling to him, I wanted to have 11 fielders outside the circle. During that 1996-98 period, you had to find a way to bowl to him as he was in outstanding touch. His batting was on a different level.

Sachin, well done on your great career. I wish the rest of your life has as much satisfaction for you as your cricketing career.

—     As told to Nishad Pai Vaidya

(Damien Fleming is a former Australia fast-bowler who played 20 Tests and 88 One-Day Internationals. He took 75 wickets in Test cricket — which includes a hat-trick on Test debut against Pakistan. In ODIs, he has 134 victims to his credit and was a part of Australian side that lifted the 1999 World Cup. After retirement, Fleming has turned to commentary. Recently, he authored the book Bowlology. He can be followed on twitter @bowlologist)

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