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India

The Incomparable Sachin

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar

Sachin has made a bigger impact on the world stage than any other cricketer, feted throughout India, riches beyond the wildest dreams, his name immortalised in the record books. But when I first saw him on his Test debut in Karachi in 1988 when he was 16yrs and 183 days old the pads looked too big for him and he really did seem to be a boy among men. And what a baptism, playing against Pakistan, the arch rivals, on foreign soil with so much national pride at stake. I know Asian players start younger and finish earlier than in the rest of the world but I really did think ‘is this one youngster too young’, a thought that was reinforced when Waqar hit him in the face and drew blood. But I needn’t have worried as he quickly proved to have an excellent technique, good footwork, deep down inside he’s a tough cookie and he’s got a really sharp cricket brain into the bargain. He hasn’t shown any particular weakness against any type of bowling which probably prompted Sir Donald Bradman to comment that Tendulkar reminded him of himself after watching him in Australia where he played an innings still talked about Down Under, 114 on a lightening fast pitch at Perth as a 19 year old in February 1992.

His first Test hundred came in the second innings of the second match of the 1990 series against England at Manchester in August when he was still only 17yrs and 122 days and there have only been two younger centurions, Mohammed Ashraful of Bangladesh and Mushtaq Mohammed of Pakistan. It won him the Man of the Match award and secured a place as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year. The Almanack recorded: ‘What made his first so special were the circumstances in which he made it, as a seventeen-year-old coming to the rescue of his country. Yet those who had seen him stand up to a barrage of bouncers from the Pakistani fast bowlers at Sialkot the previous winter would have had no doubts about his genius, or his capacity to set an example to colleagues old enough to be father figures. He had already shown his character in the first innings at Manchester when, after waiting nearly an hour for his first run, he went on to regain his one-day touch. Tendulkar remained undefeated on 119, having batted for 224 minutes and hit seventeen fours. He looked the embodiment of India’s famous opener, Gavaskar, and indeed was wearing a pair of his pads. While he displayed a full repertoire of strokes in compiling his maiden Test hundred, most remarkable were his off-side shots from the back foot. Though only 5ft 5in tall, he was still able to control without difficulty short deliveries from the English pacemen.’

As his career blossomed it ran parallell with the advent of satellite television across the sub continent which made  him instantly recognisable to millions of people. The previously fuzzy pictures were now pin sharp and shown all over India whereas in earlier times there were only radio and newspapers which reached a tiny proportion of the population. It also coincided with a relaxation by the authorities on the size and types of logo players could wear on their kit and bats which opened the door to some huge sponsorship deals. When I got my hundredth hundred at Leeds in 1977 Slazenger paid £13,000 for me to endorse their product. With the change in the rules the Madras Rubber Factory bought a bat making company and Sachin carried their logo on his bats in a deal worth millions and he now endorses all manner of products. World wide television has been responsible for raising the profile to such giddy heights and advertisers and sponsors couldn’t have a better conduit than Sachin.

While he knows his own worth, and there’s nothing wrong with that, he remains a modest, polite, likeable lad with none of the airs and graces someone of his stature is prone to. There’s no side to him at all despite all the accolades, the hero worship and the money his feats on the cricket field have brought.

He was already an established Test player when he became Yorkshire’s first overseas player in 1992, a huge job in a county where it had become an unwritten rule that you had to be born there to wear the White Rose. A lot of people were opposed to the change but it had to come because other counties had been using two overseas players for years and wiping the floor with Yorkshire. Think of Rice and Hadlee at Nottinghamshire and Richards and Garner at Somerset and Yorkshire getting by on home grown products. Sachin was a terrific signing although some people say he didn’t do much but I don’t agree. It has to be remembered he was playing in a poor side in foreign conditions and he made an important contribution to the four games that were won that summer. In addition he was a great ambassador for the club and hugely popular with everybody, members, sponsors, office staff and team mates.

He became a superstar at home as one-day cricket became the number one recreation. The World Cup win in 1983 started it off and Sachin was a dab hand, opening the batting and scoring hundreds. In my day, growing up in a coal mining town before the days of TV the only place to go was the cinema. For the Indians it became one-day cricket, they can’t get enough and it has replaced Test matches as the prime attraction with Sachin top of the bill.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing and he’s had to work hard to pefect his skills against the best in the world. When preparing for Shane Warne’s arrival in India in early 1998 he went to Madras and got Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, the Indian leg spinner, to bowl at him from around the wicket into specially prepared rough outside leg stump. He knew that was what he was going to get from Warne and was ready. He made 155 not out in the second innings of the first Test in Madras and took the world’s number one to the cleaners.

Wisden said: ‘On the first day, Tendulkar had been as much a victim of Warne’s guile as of his own daring. He drove his first ball with scorching power past the bowler. But the fifth dipped as he rushed forward, and turned to take the edge of his flailing bat; Taylor completed a marvellous slip catch. In the second innings, however, when Tendulkar scored his third and highest century in seven Tests against Australia, he was as severe on Warne as on the rest. Warne followed up his first-innings four for 85 with a deflating one for 122. Tendulkar’s belligerence was awesome and his shot-placement enthralling’.

On the 2002 tour of England two days before the Headingley Test I invited all the Indian party to my house in Yorkshire for lunch which my wife, Rachael, had specially catered to ensure they had the sort of food they like. Some wanted to watch old films of cricket, others went on the putting green but Sachin and Raul Dravid and the bowlers spent time with me in the conservatory where I told them that it was no use taking wickets at 45 apiece. I said if they did that the batsmen have got to score 901 runs to win the game and nobody can do that. It may seem self evident now but I don’t think they’d considered such a simple fact. I also told them that they had to think positively from the word go, it was no use going to Leeds and thinking about a draw, that wouldn’t happen, as it’s usually a result pitch. They had to bowl a better, consistent off stump line and be very positive. They won by an innings, the first time they had enjoyed such a margin of victory overseas since beating a weakened Australia in 1977-78. Sachin made 193 and Tanya Aldred wrote in Wisden:

‘Tendulkar, Yorkshire’s prodigal son, despite his year here as a 19-year-old had never made a first-class century at Headingley. Now, in his 99th Test, as visitors quaffed champagne in the hospitality box Yorkshire had named after him, he did it, overtaking Don Bradman’s total of 29 Test hundreds as he stroked the ball round the ground. But the highlight of the match was not the moment of his longed-for century; it was the silly session late on Friday afternoon when, as the skies darkened, he and Ganguly saw four lights on the scoreboard, disdained them, and ran amok, scoring 96 off the first 11 overs of the third new ball. Together they added 249, an Indian fourth-wicket record against England’.

It was sensational stuff and I’m happy to have played a small part in it because the Indians are really nice guys, love their cricket, are always keen to spend hours talking about the game and constantly striving to improve.

Things were not always easy for the little genius and in Australia in 2004 he had a bad run and when I met him in my hotel in Adelaide where the Indians were staying he was very down. In the first three Tests of the series he was averaging only 16.4. As a good friend for some years I had a little chat with him and suggested, based on my own experiences, that all that was necessary was to spend time at the crease and to cut out the risky shots. I later slipped a note under his door reminding him ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, a cliché, I know, but nonetheless true. I hope it helped him out of the lean spell and, according, to Wisden, he heeded my advice. The Almanack recorded: ‘From the moment Tendulkar was given out lbw to his third ball at Brisbane, he had had an awful series, with both his driving and self-belief gone astray.

Tendulkar had thought through his problems to the point of cutting out one of his most distinguished strokes, abandoning the cover-drive and instead just waiting for the chance to hit to leg. He maintained this policy for ten hours 13 minutes and 436 deliveries, scoring an unbeaten 241, his highest first-class score and perhaps the highest ever made by a man still nowhere near his own top form. Twenty-eight of his 33 fours and 188 of his runs came on the leg side.

Afterwards the records kept coming: He passed Sunny Gavaskar’s Indian record of 10,122 runs in the third Test against Pakistan at Bangalore in March 2005 when making 41 in the first innings and overtook Allan Border’s 11,174 in the second innings against Pakistan at Delhi in the first Test in November 2007 when making 56 not out. He was fastest to 8000 runs in 3 fewer innings than Gary Sobers and reached 11,000 runs in 36 fewer innings than Border.

Through it all he remains the same unaffected lad I first met and is a credit to his country and the game. He deserves his fame and fortune and along with Brian Lara he’s the best batsman I’ve seen since Gary Sobers and Viv Richards.

Extract taken from The Best X1 by Geoffrey Boycott, by kind permission of Penguin Books www.penguinbooks.com <http://www.penguinbooks.com/>   The book is also on sale at The Shop