'Sachin Tendulkar's reputation preceded him from a young age, but he never abused that privilege and let anybody down'

“Sachin Tendulkar  has always had this insatiable appetite for cricket and constant endeavor to learn, execute what he imbibed and evolve,” says Shishir Hattangadi © PTI

Sachin Tendulkar made his debut for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy as a 15-year old in 1988. Shishir Hattangadi, the Mumbai opener, recalls Tendulkar’s initial steps into Indian domestic cricket.

I first watched young Sachin Tendulkar bat from close quarters at the Bombay Ranji nets, where he took on some quality bowlers. What struck me was his positioning while playing forward or back and the way he struck the ball. There was this certainty about his batting as he knew how to answer each question posed by the bowlers. It looked like he wanted a challenge even while batting in the nets. There was a mix of an exuberance of youth coupled with an eagerness to face more challenges.

Sachin was a very focused kid, a stickler for detail. He enjoyed laughs and jokes, but when it came to the game, there were no compromises from his end. He was always keen to play cricket; be it at the nets, in the dressing room, or even at the hotel. In hindsight, all that was an orientation for the bigger challenges he wanted to face as he advanced in his cricket career.

At the tender age of 15, Sachin debuted for Bombay against Gujarat and scored a hundred in his maiden Ranji innings. That hundred on debut was a walk in the park as he looked very comfortable that day. First-Class cricket was only a step towards the bigger things he had set his eyes on. During that innings, he looked solid, positive and was just too dominant to be worried about pressures of a First-Class game. It was a prelude to the real symphony — Test cricket. He was like a mentally-prepared kid before an examination — confident, in control and enjoying it all.

Sachin’s second game for Mumbai was against Saurashtra where we lost two wickets without a run on the board. He walked out at No 4 to join me in the middle. I had a partnership of 133 with him during that game. I could see that he hadead the situation well, found the answers and essayed them in a free-flowing style. I could see dominance and positive intent. His reputation even at that young age preceded him. But make no mistakes, he never abused that privilege to let himself or others down with poor demeanour, on or off the field of play. He always looked keen and happy to bat — before, during or even after the game.

Sachin has always had this insatiable appetite for cricket and constant endeavor to learn, execute what he imbibed and evolve. Those traits of his always stood out in my memory. There was a lot of work behind the genius of Tendulkar. The beauty is that he may have never looked at it as hard work because he was doing what he always dreamt of — play cricket.

Years later, I was a part of the Mumbai Indians camp and watched Sachin adjust to the T20 format — at a time when he was a veteran. My feeling, and I may be wrong, is that he played T20 more for the excitement and the joy of the flavor the format brings to cricket. As a batsman, he’s always been a thinker, looking at scoring opportunities, and T20 only amplified that quality. I suspect he also accepted the risk factor in the format and the agony of being dismissed wasn’t as painful mainly because of the nature of the game. He must have always believed in the basics of the game, so his success is a result of his belief in the fundamentals of cricket.

I would say that Sachin Tendulkar has become a habit with the fans. His departure will be a loss to for them — who have made him a part of their lives. However, the game and the fans will recover gradually if someone as exciting doesn’t emerge and much quicker if a batsman comes along — showcasing some spirited performances. Sachin’s retirement will be a matter of getting used to it.

—     As told to Nishad Pai Vaidya

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(Shishir Hattangadi is a former Mumbai Ranji Trophy captain who played 60 First-Class matches and scored 3722 runs at an average of 43.78 with 10 centuries. He had been a key figure in the managements of Indian Premier League (IPL) sides Deccan Chargers and Mumbai Indians. Hattangadi is now a familiar face on national television as a cricket expert)