'Sachin Tendulkar’s fearlessness as a 16-year-old in coping up with the pressure of playing in Pakistan was staggering’

Kamlesh Mehta (left) receiving the winner’s trophy from Sachin Tendulkar.

By Kamlesh Mehta

Like most people, one first heard of Sachin Tendulkar when he set that 664-run world record partnership with Vinod Kambli while playing for his school Shardashram Vidyamandir in the Inter-schools tournament. 

I saw him play for the first time when he was selected for the tour of Pakistan in 1989. What struck me were his hand-eye coordination, his incredible focus and the fact that he wasn’t scared facing the great Pakistan’s great bowlers — Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir. Sachin’s international debut series was in Pakistan. I have been to Pakistan as a player to appreciate the unique pressures for any Indian to play that country. It was staggering to watch young Sachin play fearlessly.

The first time I met Sachin was in Khar Gymkhana (Mumbai). He was invited as chief guest at the final of the Khar Gymkhana All-India Ranking Tournament. He was asked to give away the prizes by the gymkhana officials and was supposed to give the winner’s prize to me. But Sachin told the officials, “How can I give the prize to such a senior player him?” He was so humble; it really touched me.

Years later I met him at one of the Sahara Awards function. He had a protective ring of guard around him. I was seeing him after a very long time, and in the intervening years my appearance had undergone a lot of change. I went up to him, but he couldn’t place me because of the change in appearance. The guards stopped me. From a distance I told him, “I am Kamlesh Mehta.” He immediately came forward and apologised, saying that he couldn’t recognise me. Later on, we had good long and pleasant chat.

I know for a fact that Sachin always carries his table tennis (TT) bat with him wherever he goes, and doesn’t like to lose playing TT. He plays the game whenever he gets a chance as it’s a good exercise to improve hand-eye coordination. TT is a fast game and Sachin has is very proficient playing the game.

It is important to be a very good sportsperson, but it is equally good to be a human being. Sachin is a shining example of that — something that appeals to me most about him.

When he leaves the international stage in a few weeks’ time, emotions will run high. It won’t be easy for people initially to come to terms with the fact that he won’t be playing any more for the country. You can’t produce another Sachin Tendulkar, but the game has to move on.

As told to Sudatta Mukherjee

(Kamlesh Mehta has been the highest-ranked Indian table tennis player ever in the world. He played in the final of the national championships on 11 occasions between 1981 and 1994, winning the title eight times. Kamlesh represented India in seven World Championships, eight Asian Championships, two Asian Games, six Commonwealth Games and two Olympics) 
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