The beginning of the Sachin legend

Did I ever imagine that Sachin would be one of the best cricketers ever? That he will score 100 international centuries and be a part of the World Cup winning team? Not really. All I had thought of was he would be a good batter. Though we wished, we did not start on a journey thinking he would play Test cricket. For us, it was one step at a time. The first step was to qualify for the Mumbai Under-15 team and various junior-level cricket tournaments, then the Ranji Trophy, before finally playing for India.

In our society, we have played a lot of cricket. I also used to watch from my balcony; many juniors played cricket. Sachin would be one of them, and he stood out in how he was playing. For me, it wasn’t about technique at such a young age. His relaxed hands, the swing of his bat and the ball connection were excellent. I thought this talent should be nurtured. I had played some cricket and was confident that Sachin could become a good cricketer with proper coaching and guidance.

That’s when I decided to take him to Ramakant Achrekar sir. Many have asked me, why Achrekar sir? Achrekar sir was the coach of Sharadashram, a school winning several cricket tournaments. Some of his players were doing exceptionally well in school cricket.

My school, Balmohan, practised 70–80 metres away from Sharadashram’s nets at Shivaji Park. As I transitioned from school to college, sir’s students Chandrakant Pandit, Lalchand Rajput and Subhash Kshirsagar all happened to be my teammates. Chandrakant Pandit and Lalchand Rajput went on to play Test cricket for India. Subhash Kshirsagar played for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. As I spent time with them, I got to know more and more about Achrekar sir.

One incident remains etched in my memory. Despite our team’s batters doing well in the middle, Chandrakant Pandit was still restless for his turn to bat. While few of us wanted to take time to settle in, Achrekar sir’s students were raring to score from the very first ball. Their confidence level was different.

I realised that though the distance between my school nets and Sharadashram nets was hardly 70–80 metres, the gap in mindset was huge. In my school nets, we would still discuss academics, whereas Achrekar sir’s students would only discuss cricket. Some of my other friends were also playing for Achrekar sir’s clubs in different divisions. All of this had made a perfect set-up which increased my conviction that Sachin should be under the tutelage of Achrekar sir, playing for Sharadashram.

As Sachin started playing for Sharadashram school and various club teams, very soon, he was able to impress everyone with his batting abilities and performances. Sir also wanted to push the bar higher by exposing him to bowlers who were much senior in age, experience and quality. Some of them were even first-class level bowlers who were reasonably quick. Soon, at the age of 16, Sachin was in the Indian team, which toured Pakistan in 1989. After the first two Tests, I went to Pakistan to watch him play. My elder brother Nitin first suggested I go there to be with Sachin since he was too young and in a foreign land.

In the last Test match of the series at Sialkot, Sachin got hit on his nose. I had heard the sound of the ball hitting his helmet flap and nose and could see he was bleeding. But somehow, I felt he would continue. Even before his debut, Sachin had already got a taste of the challenges he would face if he was to play Test cricket.

He loved taking responsibility; going off at that point would mean putting the team in trouble. I was sure he wouldn’t do that. And it so happened that he decided to continue. What went unnoticed was that he was still not wearing a visor when he decided to continue. It meant he could again get hit on the same spot. But that’s how he was.

Sachin was never scared of getting hit by the ball. The pain did not seem to divert him from his responsibilities towards his team. During the tea break in that Test match, I remember going up to him to check on him. I could see a tape around his nose, and all I said was, ‘It’s okay, carry on.’ He didn’t really seem fussed.

Now that he is done with his career, I feel good mainly about two things.

Firstly, very rarely do you see a cricketer admired by both—purists, who look at the technical aspects of batting and fans, who look at how exciting batting is. Sachin, fortunately, was admired by purists and fans alike. Most found his style of cricket attractive. And they loved watching him play.

The second thing was his ability to look for playing a variety of shots, experimenting with bowling and keep on improving. The type of deliveries which had hit his body during the tour of Pakistan was later dispatched for sixes. Regardless of his success, he stopped learning at no point in his career.

When he was playing, we would discuss the game almost daily. He would always try and get better. Even if he had scored a hundred or a double hundred, the urge to get better had not diminished. Sachin has remained a student of the game forever, and that continues to stand out for me.

As I said at the start of this piece, I have to confess I never imagined he would score 100 international centuries. Numbers and statistics were not something we were after. He hadn’t set out to score 35,000 international runs. It was all about trying to be the best version of himself, be a good batsman, and score as many runs as possible for the team. Being able to stay focussed has yielded him good results.

I wish him a very happy 50th birthday!

(Book extract published with permission from Simon & Schuster India)

About the book

Title: Sachin@50: Celebrating a Maestro 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 300

Price: ₹499

Check out the book on Amazon here