The story of how Sachin Tendulkar became Yorkshire’s first overseas signing
Sachin Tendulkar (AFP Photo)

Long before Sachin Tendulkar became a name that needed no introduction, a loquacious raconteur from west Yorkshire knew him as the simple teenager, who once messed up his own kitchen while trying his hands at washing clothes.

Meet Suleiman Adam or Solly bhai, a man who is God-send for all Indian cricketers coming to play league or county cricket in the north of England. Solly bhai played a role in bringing Tendulkar to Yorkshire and breaking the county’s century-old tradition of not signing a foreign player.

From Sunil Gavaskar and Ashok Mankad in the 1970s to Tendulkar, Yorkshire county’s first-ever overseas professional, Solly bhai was their “one-stop solution centre” for years.

“They were never celebrity sportsmen for me. Sunil is like my younger brother. My wife Maryam was in hospital in Mumbai and he came to meet me. VVS (Laxman) is coming today to see her. You know Sachin attended my son’s wedding back in 1989 before he played for India,” recalls Solly bhai, a raconteur of journeymen Indian cricketers.

He was like the then 18-year-old Tendulkar’s local guardian when he signed for Yorkshire in 1992, but the association dates back to late 80s.

“Before Sachin, I had arranged a club contract for Vinod (Kambli) in the high-quality Bradford League. He was being paid 25 pounds per game. Sachin was also in England for Kailash Gattani’s club. He asked for 100 pounds per game. I spoke to Chickenley Cricket Club but they couldn’t have afforded 100 pounds per game and deal fell through,” he remembers.

He was asked how Yorkshire broke their century-old tradition, and Solly bhai had a hearty laugh.

“It’s a long story and I believe I had a small role in that as I am a member of Yorkshire CCC. Although I wasn’t a part of their cricket committee,” he says. “It so happened that I watched the 6 pm news sometime in 1991 where I saw it was announced that Yorkshire was changing the century old rule where no player other than ones born in Yorkshire could play for the county. They had decided on Craig McDermott as their first overseas signing.

“I thought it was a good move and then I suddenly learnt that McDermott is injured and had pulled out. I immediately called a committee member and told them that I can get them a good Asian international player Indian or Pakistani but they were not interested but I was adamant. I said I wanted to speak to the committee,” he recollects.

Next day when Fred Trueman, one of the greatest fast bowlers that the game has ever produced, saw Solly entering the Leeds ground, he was livid.

“Freddie said ‘I know Solly why you have come but I didn’t even want an Australian’. I said that I will place my cards in front of the committee and let them decide. The members asked which name did I have in mind and I promptly said: ‘Sachin Tendulkar’.”

Those were the days when the concept of sports agent wasn’t in vogue in India but Yorkshire did manage to sign Tendulkar after the cricketer was convinced by Gavaskar to take up the challenge.

“Sachin was signed for a very big amount at that time. I know exactly how much it was but I won’t reveal it to you. I also got Sachin a bat sponsorship deal with Slazenger,” he proudly recalls.

Tendulkar was lucky that a lot of Mumbai players like current national selector Jatin Paranjpe, Kambli and Sairaj Bahutule were also playing league cricket in England at the time, and home cooked meals were prepared by his wife.

“Sachin once tried using washing machine. He put all his clothes and emptied the whole detergent powder in it and then went to play his match. When he came back, the entire kitchen was flooded with soap water and he had to call my wife,” he starts laughing.

He also had a funny story about Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid‘s dream debut in England in 1996.

“Slazenger contacted me in 1996 that they have 10,000 pounds and they wanted me to sign a few top cricketers. Sachin told me that he had already signed a big deal with MRF.

“So there were two young cricketers Sourav and Rahul and one established star, Ajay Jadeja. I was convinced Jadeja will play all three Tests and he got a 6000-pound contract while it was 2000 pound each for Sourav and Rahul.

“These two boys were so simple that they were scared of carrying the whole wad of cash and my son went to Nottingham (before the 3rd Test) and handed them their fees.”

Born in Surat, he migrated to England as a school boy in 1963 and worked his way up from being a motor mechanic to owning a chain of petrol pumps. His offsprings (three sons and a daughter) have branched out in different businesses.

“You know cricketers, who played club cricket have worked at my petrol pumps. Because they would be paid 25 pounds for weekend matches. Madan Lal worked at 50 pence an hour, even VVS has worked when he was a teenager and played club cricket. I had few houses and they would stay there.”

Content with life, he lives in Dewsbury and owns a sports shop, Solly Sports.

“Me and my wife always felt that these boys were family and they still are. When Laxman came to know that my wife’s one leg had to be amputated, he said he is coming to see her. Sunil said he will also be coming. I love them because of my ‘keeda’ (passion) for cricket,” he says.

Asked about his age, he smiles and replies: “I won’t tell you that.”