Sachin Tendulkar was nicknamed 'Diego’

Sachin Tendulkar’s had thunder thighs and leg muscles because of which he was given the nickname Diego. And to back it he also had great stamina and speed © Getty Images

By K Bhaskar Pillai

During the 1988-89 season, Delhi played Mumbai in a Ranji Trophy match at the Wankhede Stadium and that was the first time I came across Sachin Tendulkar. He was 15-years-old then and scored 70-odd against us. On a turning track, where the ball was tweaking square, he played Maninder Singh as if it was a placid wicket. The talent was obvious and the way he approached the game was admirable. Here was a teenager playing against grown-ups in the Ranji Trophy, but he was fearless and played without pressure. All that showed his class and temperament.

Before the 1989 tour to Pakistan, I was actually on stand-by for the tour to Pakistan, but Sachin was picked. During the fourth Test at Sialkot, he was hit on the nose by Waqar Younis. However, he brushed it aside and went on to score a half-century. And once his career took off, I was glad that he had made that tour instead of me.

We had been on a few camps together and I realised that Sachin was way ahead of his time. He had thunder thighs and had worked on his leg muscles. We all gave him the nickname “Diego” after the great Argentinean footballer Diego Maradona. For a 16-year-old, he was very strong, and had stamina and speed to back it. And, as we know he is ambidextrous. He may be a right-hander in cricket, but he is a uses his left hand for writing etc. That has helped him strengthen both sides.

To be very honest, I am very superstitious when Sachin bats. And it has been liked that for years.  Whenever I would relax, sit and watch him play; he would get out early. So, a time came when I would go to another room and not watch the games. I would momentarily enquire about his scores and missed most of the action — apart from the ones I played against him of course. Whenever he would get close to his century, I would ask my family not to tell me the scores and only sound me when he gets there. But, there was one occasion when my son kept running to my room to keep me updated when Sachin was in the 90s.

So, I have heard and read about most of Sachin’s innings. The one that I would rate highly though is the 241 not out against Australia at Sydney in 2004. He was having a tough time going into that game and decided to abstain from playing too much on the off-side. That showed his thought process as he restrained himself and scripted that magnificent knock. We all know that he loves the cover-drives and straight drives, but was getting out while playing them. To stop doing that and scoring a double is remarkable. And, he went on to get 60 not out in the second innings as well.

Sachin’s aura commands hero worship. It is like watching an Amitabh Bachchan movie, where you became his fan after being mesmerised by him. Similarly, millions fell for Sachin’s strokeplay and became his die-hard fans. It was like a dream.

For two years, I used to be in Mumbai with the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) specialised academy. Whenever we asked Sachin to have a word with the boys, he always obliged. During such conversations, he would talk about his planning and preparation; you cannot imagine how detailed his planning is. He spoke about tackling different bowlers such as Shane Warne. He prepares in a way that the script is already written for the match. He would go in and be ready to face as he had put in so much work mentally as well.

Before touring Australia or South Africa, he would prepare for the bounce etc. While practicing, he would prepare to face a bowler like Brett Lee, playing those upper cuts etc along the way. This would go on for hours and that helps something called “Muscle Memory.” Out there, he knows what is done and goes through the scripts. He also spoke to the boys at the academy about the need to strengthen certain muscles in the legs. That was because it could help them duck underneath the bouncers without too many problems.

The void left by Don Bradman was filled years later by Sachin. But who will fill the huge void that will be created after his retirement! Cricket will not be the same without him for millions. India would not only remember him as a cricketer, but also a fantastic human being.

I am very fortunate that I played with and against Sachin. I feel blessed to have played with greats across two eras, starting from Sunil Gavaskar, GR Viswanath and Mohinder Amarnath and later Sachin, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble.

Sachin, thank you for entertaining us for the last 24 years. It has been a pleasure playing with and watching you play. It is amazing how someone could survive so long at the highest level!

— As told to Nishad Pai Vaidya

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(K Bhaskar Pillai is a former First-Class cricketer who played for Delhi. In 95 First-Class matches, he scored 5443 runs at an average of 52.84 with 18 tons. Post retirement, he has taken to coaching)