'Sachin Tendulkar would play as many as eight-nine matches in a week at times’

Laxman Chavan (left) with Sachin Tendulkar. (Photo Courtesy: Laxman Chavan)

By Laxman Chavan

I still vividly remember Sachin Tendulkar’s first day at Ramakant Achrekar sir coaching. The first time I saw him bat, I went straight to Achrekar sir and asked him about the boy. His response was, ‘Ramesh Tendulkar ka ladka hai [He is Ramesh Tendulkar’s son].

Sachin made a great first impression in my mind — almost 28 to 30 years ago. Under Achrekar sir, cricket was all about discipline. There was one thing that only sir had implemented: at his coaching you first undergo practice, then play a match and then undergo more practice. This process was tough but often separated the best from the ordinary. It gave us an early indication that Sachin was no ordinary kid hoping to play for India. There would be weeks when Sachin would play as many as eight-nine matches; sometimes even two-three matches in a day and surprisingly that was what kept him going, at that young age.

Sachin’s career was shaped around the simple fact that he refused to waste even a minute of day light in doing anything else other than practicing or playing a match.

People still remember his 664-run stand with Vinod Kambli. It was an important game and we needed a result. But Sachin and Vinod kept batting. I was tired and frustrated signaling to them that the runs we had was enough. But they had decided not to pay attention. After a point I gave up and left Azad Maidan and went to my office [Bharat Petroleum] and rang up Achrekar sir to tell him about what those two were up to.

In the lunch break, Sachin went to Khau Galli and called Achrekar sir to tell him about what had happened in the game. Achrekar sir scolded him for not listening to me. When I returned to the ground, I was relieved to see them fielding.

The most important thing about that partnership was that it involved two very young kids sweating it out in the heat and running continuously. The amount of running they did that day was simply too much. The scorebook may show lot of boundaries, but the number of times they ran three before the boundary was signaled were just too many. When I reflect back at that performance and look at Tendulkar’s brilliant career now, I just feel “Wahaan se jo dauda, aaj tak daud hi raha hai’ [The run started that day continues to this day]. I can safely say that Sachin has never run as much as he did that day in any of his international knocks. None of his 100 centuries would have required him to run so much.

I saw great levels of dedication in him from a very early stage. I remember, just after he had made his international debut, he came up to me and said that he wanted to practice with wet balls in order to prepare himself for the conditions in the West Indies.

When he started playing for India, he initially toured Pakistan and then went to England. By this time he was a fairly well-known name. Yet, when he came back from England, he rang up my neighbour so he could reach me to tell that he wanted to come to the Sassanian ground [at Azad Maidan] for some practice.

It was his lucky wicket, so much that he once rated it as his favourite amongst the top 10 tracks — including international tracks — he had played on. I told him to come over and had to sneak him into the ground from a small entrance at 2.00 pm in the afternoon so that a crowd doesn’t gather around him. I arranged for some bowlers and he practiced for a couple of hours with the same vigour that he showed on the first day of coaching.

Sachin came across as someone who was in an eternal quest for answers and ways to improve his game. He was constantly on his toes. He had been picked to represent the Under-15 Mumbai side at the Wankhede. A day after that game he was out to practice at Azad Maidan where Achrekar sir and I were present. He walked up to us and said, “Sir, can I ask you something? I got bowled yesterday at Wankhede. Why?”

Achrekar sir explained to him how Wankhede had big rollers on the wicket and hence those wickets were faster than the ones at Azad Maidan and hence you had to play your shots faster. That point was conveyed so simply to him and yet it was drilled into his head so perfectly. He then began to alter his game based on the wickets at which he played. Such was his understanding so early in his career.

Sachin Tendulkar the bowler

When Sachin was about 13 years old, I took him along to play in a Kanga League semi-final match. We won the toss and elected to bat and I turned to him and asked, “Where do you want to bat?” He thought for a moment and then said, “I’ll play one down.”

When he came out to bat I was around 37. I was soon dismissed, but this kid went on to play innings of 121. He was the only centurion in the side that day and it helped us post 268 in the 45-over match. When he came out to field, I was apprehensive about his fatigue levels and asked him if he wanted to bowl. A prompt affirmative reply came my way. I said I would allow him to bowl on the condition that he would bowl his entire quota of nine overs and not complain of tiredness. He readily agreed and went on to bowl really well. He was a fast bowler back then and even managed to bowl a few bouncers. It amazed me how he did not look even a little bit tired at the end of the match, which we won.

Back in practice, he often asked me to stand behind one stump and he would try variations. He would bowl off-spin, leg-spin, googly, something that he has showcased at the international level as well. He was always full of questions: ‘What more can I do with the ball? Where should I pitch the googly? What length should I bowl off-spin at?

Sachin Tendulkar the fielder

During those days I used to make these kids practice high catches as they were very crucial. Most of them who attended our coaching would be scared and look for excuses to miss this particular session. Tendulkar would be the standout performer, taking the most number of catches. He never got tired of it. He kept saying ‘aur chahiye’ [I want more]. I used to ask these boys to stay 80 yards away and give them the catching practice. After taking his catches, Sachin would put in all his efforts to throw the ball back to the wicketkeeper. I was worried that he would end up injuring his shoulder in the process. Yet, he wouldn’t listen. In the end, I used to ask him to keep coming closer to take normal catches parallel to the ground. The attitude to invest all his efforts into every possible action on the field is what has taken him this far in his career.

Beyond his cricketing skills, one thing that I admire about Sachin is that he is a wonderful human being. Even today, before leaving for any tour, he goes to meet Achrekar sir to take his blessings. On Gurupoornima, you will find him at sir’s house. In those times when Sachin had just started playing, such good values were prevalent. To see him carry it forward even today speaks volumes about his character. Even after his full-fledged career began, he used to come and meet us. Our conversation would still be only about cricket and Sachin would excitedly narrate the different conditions and wickets he had played on and what he learnt from them.

Sachin has immense respect for Achrekar sir and me. So much so that he was scared of telling us about Anjali [his wife]. There were the days when he would drop me off at the CST Station and secretly go to meet his to-be-wife at the JJ hospital, where she was studying medicine. One day when I was at the hospital, I saw one of his bats there. When I enquired about how it landed up there, I was told that he had gifted it to the hospital when he came to meet Anjali.

Sachin Tendulkar and his confidence

From what I have seen all these years, I can only say that Sachin takes every cricketing decision based on his confidence levels. Back in his younger days, he was perhaps confident of giving so many countless hours to cricket and that showed in his game. Even today, when he has decided to retire, it is purely based on his calculation. I find sad that a lot of public pressure was put on him to retire from the game. They need to understand that Sachin always played on his confidence and not on the public’s.

Post-retirement blues

He may have decided to quit cricket, but I don’t think he will stay away from it. In some capacity or the other, he will continue to be associated with the game.

As told to Prakash Govindasreenivasan

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(Laxman Chavan is a long-serving cricket coach at the Sassanian Cricket Club in Azad Maidan and was an assistant to Sachin Tendulkar’s first coach, Ramakant Achrekar)