Sachin Tendulkar: World’s greatest cricketer later, wonderful human being first

 

By Manoj Tiwari

It was great to hear that people are liking Sachin Paaji’s biopic, even though I haven’t had the chance to watch it yet, I am pretty certain that it will inspire me in the same way his career first did, two decades ago.

It’s not a secret that thousands of aspiring cricketers of my generation grew up idolising Sachin Tendulkar, and I was among those thousands, almost hero- worshipping him to an extent.

The dream was always to watch him play from close quarters, but God was kind enough to have given me an opportunity to sit in the same dressing room as him, play alongside him and in some cases even against him.

My first encounter with paaji happened during the Ranji Trophy final of 2006/07. It was just my third first-class season with Bengal and my most successful till date. We were up against an incredibly strong Mumbai line-up boasting of seasoned pros like Wasim Jaffer, Amol Majumder, India regulars like Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, and of course, Tendulkar himself. It was a little bit of a respite that on our side, we could lean on the experience of Sourav Ganguly.

While the match would go down as one of the more competitive Ranji finals and many would congratulate me for my second innings 94, it remains the most special till date because I got to share the field with Sachin Tendulkar.

I distinctly remember how excited I was to be playing against him for the first time, so much so the only thing I wanted at that time was to get clicked with him. While that didn’t materialise, it made my day that he came up to me and congratulated me for my efforts and said that I should remain hungry.

A few months later, I was in the Indian squad preparing for our departure to Bangladesh at a camp in Kolkata and that’s where I got to meet paaji again, and this time my wish of getting clicked with him was fulfilled, accidentally at that.

The Bangladesh tour ended even before it began for me, a shoulder injury on the eve of what could have been my India debut ruled me out of competitive cricket for quite some time. Dejected and heartbroken, I flew back home.

Those were still early days in professional cricket for me, and how I handled the injured shoulder would determine how my career shaped going forward. To be honest, I felt a little unsure and scared. A surgery needed to happen at the earliest to kick-start rehabilitation and I didn’t know what was best for me at that point.

It was then that I contacted paaji and was humbled to see his response. The greatest batsman of the modern era being sought out by a young upcoming cricketer – neither my shoulder nor my career was any of his concern, but his interest in helping me out left me stunned. He intervened on my behalf and advised the Indian cricket board to send me to England, to Dr. Wallace – a shoulder surgeon who had treated him earlier.

Sachin paaji felt that I needed to show myself to a specialist and the doctor associated with the board at that time was a knee specialist. Tendulkar’s intervention ensured that not only did I secure access to a highly successful physician but also made it possible for the board to cover my steep medical expenditures – and all this in only my first year as an India international.

“Tell me what was on your mind”

My next encounter with him happened almost a year later when I was flown into Australia during the historic Commonwealth Bank Series, as a cover for the injured Yuvraj Singh.

It had rained in Brisbane and India were batting against a top quality seam attack consisting of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Bracken. I walked out to bat at 91/3 – Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar, and Gautam Gambhir were already back in the pavilion; soon, Rohit Sharma was to depart as well. The ball was moving considerably off the mighty Gabba turf.

I hit a few – including one that was a sure shot four, saved brilliantly at point – but missed quite a few as well. After facing fifteen deliveries, a scorching yorker from Brett Lee ended my debut innings with just 2 runs against my name.

The walk back to the dressing room was the longest ever, to say I was dejected was an understatement. I had waited one whole year to get my debut game and that too as a last minute replacement – all sorts of thoughts came to my mind, including how it could be my last innings for India.

When I entered the dressing room, on the verge of tears, I saw paaji sitting in one corner, working on his bat – something he loved doing during his free time – I was looking at the TV screen, still thinking about my dismissal when he walked up to me and suggested we sit outside.

It is in such moments that youngsters look to a comforting hand around the shoulder and I got one from Sachin Tendulkar. He asked me what was on my mind during the innings and I told him how I wanted to attack but was having second thoughts thinking about the scoreboard. And that’s when he told me that it was all a part of the game and that it happens to the best.

But what he said later was something I never let go off – “Whenever you get your next opportunity, grab it with both hands.”

Always in his space

Let alone super fast bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar, there is possibly nothing in this world that can hurry Sachin Tendulkar. In the times I have spent in the dressing room observing him, I have never ever seen him do anything in a rush.

He loved his time, and that became an important part of being in the zone. He took his own time to organise his kit, get ready to bat, travel, train, or even make his cup of tea, and it’s seldom that he got late because of this pace. He was just extremely methodical and relaxed – habits that helped him deal with people’s heightened expectations from him day in and day out.

I noticed that he loved his music, and always had headphones on. Possibly that helped him cut out all the noise and focus; it was almost as though he was meditating most of the time. When inside the dressing room, he kept himself occupied, mostly doing minor repair work on his bat. He loved making a great cup of tea for himself.

It was remarkable how he very rarely did full-fledged preparations before a game. Of the little I saw, he wasn’t the kind who would spend facing bowlers in the nets. He liked facing throw-downs, figuring out whether he was middling the ball or not. That was a large part of his pre-match preparation, in fact, Sourav Ganguly famously told everyone how not for once during the entire 2003 World Cup did Tendulkar practice in the nets – and yet, he ended as the tournament’s leading run-getter. What brilliance.

My Sachin moments

To be honest, I’ve been a bit of a Sachin fanboy like many so the most prized picture in my possession is of me getting fed cake by him after his 100th hundred in Dhaka in 2012. I was lucky to be right beside him when the celebratory cake was being cut, and to my joy, the first slice came to me.

I have met him multiple times after he retired and he still hasn’t changed. Last year, when my wife and I went to watch the India-Pakistan World T20 game at the Eden Gardens, we got a chance to get photographed with paaji. I remember him enquiring about me in a typical Mumbaikar Hindi and being extremely warm to my wife who was experiencing her very own fangirl moment for the first time.

Sachin paaji still replies to every text he receives from people who’ve shared brief moments of time with him. I do not know of any cricketer, past or present, who has reached out to him and hasn’t got a reply. And I know for a fact that this is how it is going to be for many years to come.

There can always be one Sachin Tendulkar and no-one can beat him at that – be it in batting, training, driving, or even tasting wine, his attention to detail and expertise astounds me. It’s been a privilege to have played at a time when India’s greatest cricketer took guard.

Courtesy : sportskeeda

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