The Little Big Man – SRT. (Move over SRK).

As I read the Times of India on December 12th 1988, (I never went beyond the sports page), one black & white snap stood out. That of a gawky 15 year old posing for the Photographers in a classical Cricket cover drive pose. The day before, this young lad had caught the imagination of the Mumbai (then Bombay) cricket die hards, by scoring a 100 of 119 balls with 19 sweet hits to the fence, in his maiden appearance in the most prestigious domestic event. If that wasn’t all, the dressing room rules at Wankhede had to be altered overnight to accommodate this under 18 whiz kid (as they had a rule that only adults were allowed in there). I have been a great admirer of the Colonel, Dilip Vengsarkar, for his technically supreme cricket, but his biggest contribution to Cricket was to pick this 15 year old from the parks of Sardashram Vidyamandir and escalate him to the visible fabric of Indian Domestic Cricket. Of course, a lot of comments were made – “The new Gavaskar has arrived” “Teenage sensation” etc etc, along with them came many under the breath mutters of caution. One that distinctly stood out was the one from Kapil Dev, then a fading hero, – He reminded the nation of another teenage sensation Rajdeep Kalsi, who had gallons of promise but who ended up in a whimper unable to manage everyone’s expectation around him.That was then. Noone knew what this unassuming, shy, reserved son of a Professor from the suburbs of Mumbai had in mind. He was destined for greatness, and he did erase all those questions from everyone’s mind soon enough. What followed that Ranji debut century can be termed as an apt entry for a true super star in making. He followed that with hundreds in his debut Duleep & Irani trophy games (in the same season) – all 3 being the topmost domestic competitions, leaving no doubts where he belonged. It was in summer of 1989, India toured West Indies, and the team that went there could at best be termed pedestrian. Led by colonel, the team lacked a good solid top order batsman. We did have Sidhu, Shastri, Azhar, Manjrekar & Vengsarkar, but a tour to the Carribeans without Gavaskar was like going to the war without your Lieutenant. There were talks of blooding Sachin, into the squad then, but certain circles felt it would be too much for a 15 year old to handle. So they spared him out of sheer Concern for him. In the hindsight, it sounds so juvenile.

Nevertheless, India got drubbed by Richards’s men, that is an understatement. And the juggernaut moved on. India prepared to make a visit to Pakistan, and across the borders knives were sharpened. Their bowling boasted of Imran, Akram, Waqar, Aaqib and Quadir. This time, there were no kid gloves, as Sachin got his entry into the big bad sweaty world of International Cricket.

It was TODAY 20 years back that he walked out with the Indian Test Cap on his head. A 16 year old, who was oft reminded by the partisan crowd in Pakistan of the bottle of milk he had forgotten back home. Well, I am not here to recite his complete Cricket life as that I will save for Sachin himself to narrate when he finally decides to say “its enough”. But what I wanted to express was my growing up with Sachin.

When he made his Debut it was grade XI for me, and some where my tryst with Competitive world overlapped with his entry into the International world of Cricket. From then on there have been numerous moments where he was the reason for my excitement, determination, dedication, discipline and achievement. He was that alter ego I would have loved to have. He was that shadow, I longed for but was only happy to see and emulate on the Telly. Sachin was me – I laughed for his Success, I cried for his failures, I jumped in the small confines of whichever room I am watching the match whenever he did so, I chose to utter those rosy words of Acrimony whenever he was attacked in a non cricketing way, seethed in anger when critics had to write him off, and sniggered away to glory when he shut them off again and again and again.

I don’t know but its just coincidental that Indian economy, competitive spirit, global presence, moolaah in cricket, professionalism in sports etc. coincided with Sachin’s ascent on the Cricketing Barometer. Only time will tell how much has been his contribution to India overall in a non cricketing sense. Maybe someday, when he had made a dignified exit, the world will realize what his presence on the cricket field meant to this nation. But one aspect cannot be overruled and that is whenever Sachin succeeds, India is happy. Debts are pardoned off, Inmates are treated to good food in jails, Political parties for once don’t go for the collars of oppositions etc. India becomes productive. India progresses.

If I have to look back a few memorable moments in that career that were defining for me, they would be:

1. Hitting 6 sixes to score 53 of 15 balls, in his first ODI @ Gujranwala, which was converted into an exhibition game. Though we lost, the world noticed the big hitting prowess of this little big man.
2. The final over in the finals of Hero Cup against South Africa in 1992, when it was 6 balls to go 6 runs to get scenario, and Azhar was clueless whom to bowl. Sachin (Still a teenager) plucked the from his skipper’s hands and bowled a dream over to win the game for India (Sachin the Competititor had arrived)
3. 1991 Perth hundred, where on a wicket which would send goose pimples amongst an established batting line up, he chose to keep his chin up and score a hundred
4. The Sandstorm Innings in Sharjah, which was one Defeat India will always cherish. He scored another hundred the next day to win us the tournament single handedly, it was his birthday. (Ripe old age of 23)

5. That “So near yet so far” 123 at Chennai against Pakistan. We almost won the game. I sometimes wonder how much disservice some of the other Indian players have done to Sachin, not able to finish such close games
6. 155 n.o. in Chennai in 1998 against Warne and Co., which set the tone for what was in store for the Aussies. He thumped Warne in a manner that caused nightmares to the great leg spinner.
7. That 250+ knock at Sydney in 2003-04, where he ignored the off side as if it never existed, and in the process displaying the art of concentration and discipline to the T.
I can go on, till as recent as 5th Nov 2009, when I saw the God play in front of me at Hyderabad. I have been to many matches in my career, but never witnessed a Tendulkar in the “zone”. What luck? As if the lord Almighty had planned a bitter sweet day for me. While we lost the match, what I witnessed in that 175 from Sachin, will be one of the highest points of my life. If I say I was exhausted I won’t be lying, but I was exhausted of crying out “Wow” so many times during that epic. I had heard Sourav Ganguly (his partner in crime – from the other end, of more than 200 innings), say to a channel a few days before that innings at Hyderabad, that he was batting well and a big one was due. Couple of things surprised me (1). Sourav’s immaculate understanding of his partner (2). The sheer magnum of the big one. All I would say, it was great to see a Big one from the Little Big Man.But then that was Cricket and Sachin. There is more to him. Beyond Cricket. Which adds couple of more shades of greatness to him which people like Warne, Lara would never attain. (They are true greats, mind you. I am not trying to undermine them), but Sachin in India, is a different challenge which is unique and no other sportsman around the world can comprehend the magnitude of that burden. And there lies his true genius. These couple of decades, without a single blemish that would remotely be termed embarrassing or controversial. Not a single interview with any vitriolic remark or any self effacing comments. Not a single instance of false pride (while he had all the rights to exercise some)……………all we got was the same Reserved, Shy and Unassuming Sachin (of 1988). The values were strong and for ever. A “Paaji” for the team (Still can’t comprehend how can a Maharashtrian man be termed Paaji, which means highly respectable big brother in Punjabi but a Scoundrel in Marathi), and Simply Sachin to his mates of his era. The respect he garners from the legends of the past and present is unparallel. Just the other day in the Border – Gavaskar trophy (2007-08), second test at Sydney – he played that great innings and while doing so was not out overnight on 9 at the end of day 2. The great Neil Harvey made it to the ground next morning (at 82, that’s quite a challenge), and he was a bit late reaching his seat in the member’s box. But the first thing he asked around was “Is he still there?”. That’s just an example of what has been the pull Sachin had on greats, of course the Don himself got reminded of his own way of playing whenever Sachin batted. Now there couldn’t be any bigger testimony of this man’s greatness.

Yet, Sachin was human. When he resigned from his first stint as Captain, and the role went to Azhar, Sachin like that sweet school boy, blocked one entire page of Times of India to justify various decisions as captain as if to make a point to the establishment. And the next time the captaincy came to him (1999-2000), Sachin’s sheer distaste for dishonesty and murk was clearly evident. He went on a tour of Australia with a team which could not possibly win a domestic competition just to keep out the unscrupulous elements from the team who had started compromising the cleanliness of the game (That was the first real indication of all wasn’t well between him and Azhar). His clear dictat to the board of either him or Azhar was probably one of those very minute moments of Sachin’s political mindset that accidentally peeked out of his well guarded self. I am sure, his voice did play a very critical role in later physically cleansing some of this elements out of the game.

As he embarks into his 20th year of greatness at the world level, I am sure the Achilles heel will only be more painful, the hamstrings will feel like rock of Gibraltar a little more, the shoulder’s would seek the ligaments be replaced with artificial ball bearings….but the spirit of that gawky 15 year old from Shardashram Vidyamandir and hunger for runs will go on. I remember when Sunil Gavaskar retired in 1987, I almost gave up watching and playing Cricket feeling, whats left in the game. Till Sachin came. But the day Sachin hangs up his boots …………… it will be as if I retired. Didn’t I tell you he is that alter ego I never had.


One thought on “The Little Big Man – SRT. (Move over SRK).

  1. Sir – excellent article and thanks for sharing .. You are right its like we all retiring … childhood gone from my life

    Just few things i noticed –

    Few Errors : In the Desert storm match he became 25 years old. the final was his 25th Birthday..
    Against Pakistan he hit 136 in 1999 .. i saw the whole match – He kept telling joshi to hit through the covers
    He hit 241* in Sydney
    One match I feel you missed is the 98 at centurion. From that day Pakistan has never been able to compete with India. They may have won a few but India always won the big games. That 98 just stung the pakistanis big time. Finally Javed Miandad was out of our memories.

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