One master hails another December 21, 2006

'You had to be awake to play Warne' - Tendulkar

' Shane Warne being such a fierce competitor, you knew that at no stage could you bat him out of the game. He was always coming back at you.' - Sachin Tendulkar © Getty Images

"You had to be awake to play Shane Warne", Sachin Tendulkar said today, a smile on his face, as he looked back on the rivalry between two of the longest-serving players in Test cricket. Tendulkar and Warne enjoyed some memorable contests, with Warne once admitting that Tendulkar's batting - especially in the series in India in 1998 - gave him nightmares, and at his press conference today singled out Tendulkar and Brian Lara as the two toughest batsmen of his era.

Asked what made Warne so special, Tendulkar pointed to his legendary accuracy and a spirit that remained unbowed no matter how tough the situation. "You had to be awake. There was no breathing space at all", he told the media as the Indian team limbered up for the second Test at Kingsmead. "Warne being such a fierce competitor, you knew that at no stage could you bat him out of the game. He was always coming back at you. That kept me on my toes."

"He's been a great ambassador for cricket, and Australia. He's a good friend of mine and it's unfortunate that he's retiring. We'll all miss his quality bowling. It's been a treat to watch."

According to Tendulkar, Warne would always command a special place in the game's annals. "He's surely one of the greatest players to have played this game," he said. "Above all, I think he's a wonderful person. He's a good friend and what he's been able to achieve for Australia is something special. There are not many guys who can stand next to him and say that they have done similar things. You don't get to see such cricketers every day."

While most rate Warne as the greatest slow bowler of his or any other era, Tendulkar preferred to think of him as one part of a triumvirate that rejuvenated spin bowling after some lean years in the 1980s. "He's certainly been one of the top spinners," said Tendulkar. "Another great spinner is playing in my team, Anil Kumble, and then there's Muralitharan. These three spinners are the best, and anyone would want to have them in the side."

For years, his tussles with Warne were among the game's marquee contests, and Tendulkar said that there would be several great memories. "We've always had good competition, and shared some nice humour. I remember the first time I scored a hundred against him in one-day cricket, in Sri Lanka. I hit him for a six, and he said something. I didn't really follow what he said because I started walking towards the square-leg umpire. I caught up with him after the game and told him: 'Now you can tell me what you wanted to say on the field'. We shared a joke, and since then we've been good friends."

India are scheduled to tour Australia in a year's time, and Tendulkar was asked if the game would be poorer for the personal rivalry having come to an end. "I've always said that it's not about Shane Warne and Sachin," he said. "It's Australia and India. People like to build up these things. In time to come, there will be someone else.

"I've already sent a message to him," he said. "I want to wish him all the very best. And above all, good health."

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo