Mumbai: It will be a nostalgic moment for me, as it will for many others, when Sachin Tendulkar walks away from the game for the very last time. I have had the fortune of following this legend for 25 years, right from his days of school cricket to the international arena. One feels honoured to have witnessed most of his glorious moments around the world, and frankly I’ve basked in his glory writing about his deeds through my reports.
To be present when he received his first ever award for the best junior cricketer from the Sports Journalists’ Association of Mumbai to when he won the player of the 2003 World Cup award in South Africa, and then when he held aloft the coveted World Cup in 2011 and was paraded by his teammates around the Wankhede Stadium, has been truly a special feeling.
After he scored his debut century for Mumbai and got his skipper Lalchand Rajput out, the nervousness in his eyes was evident. But years later, I saw bowlers getting nervous while bowling to him.
Tendulkar has always been a shy person when it comes to talking. But the twinkle in his eyes and the desire to reach the top was visible from an early age. Even at 14 he was being talked about as a future Mumbai player; this at a time when it was considered that playing for Mumbai meant a near-automatic entry into the Indian team. He galloped to fame at an unbelievable pace and soon became the most sought-after player by everyone.
And, as soon as he was back from Pakistan after his debut series, it was clear that another India legend had been born, someone potentially as great as Sunil Gavaskar. Yet, whenever I sought an interview with him, he never declined.
One interview I did was 20 years ago for an Indian daily newspaper, The Indian Express, where I was working then. This was the first sports interview to be used on page one of the newspaper.
The Indian team was practising at the Brabourne stadium in preparation for the Sharjah Australasia Cup. Tendulkar was just back from the New Zealand tour and looking at opening the innings in one-day cricket regularly. I had a brief chat with him, wanting to know how he hoped to shape up an Indian opener.
And now when I look back at his comments then, it’s easy to see how different Tendulkar has become over the years. I asked him how he felt facing the Pakistan pace-bowling battery led by Wasim Akram.
A cool Tendulkar replied: “I have played Wasim Aram and Craig McDermott with the new ball when I had to go in after the fall of early wickets.” He even added: “Their pace is not alien to me.”
Within a few years, his approach to journalists changed, especially his comments. He stopped making comments such as a particular bowler or attack was easy for him.
In those days, Tendulkar spoke freely and was rarely selective with his words. Like any enthusiastic youngster, he had remarked that he would always go for his shots and that he would try and score as much runs as possible in the first 15 overs. Ajay Jadeja was his opening partner then, and also senior to him. When asked about his partner, he even compared his batting style with him.
Today all batsmen around the world try to compare their shots with this batting maestro. In that interview, he had even stated that the grass on the wicket and swing did not worry him.
As he rose to stardom, statements like that could never be heard from him. In fact, however tough a bowler is, all that he says is: “He is a good bowler”. About a wicket, he would simply say that a particular one can be tough to bat on.
The greater heights he attained, the more humble he became. Today he is the embodiment of a true sportsman — a true legend.