October 28, 2013

'He didn't alter his behaviour, so you had to be quick'

Interview by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
Tendulkar didn't avoid cameras but he seemed to be aware of them, says Australian journalist and photographer Mark Ray

Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne: friendly foes © Mark Ray

What is your first memory of Sachin Tendulkar?
I first saw him in person at a practice session before the first Test in Brisbane in November 1991. It was his first tour of Australia. He was 19 and had already played 11 Tests and made one century. I'd read about this great young player and like all the media I was watching him closely.

As the net session was ending I noticed Tendulkar putting his pads back on for a second hit. Ravi Shastri was one of the bowlers who stayed behind to bowl to him. The net next to Sachin's was vacant so I quietly walked about halfway down, stopping four metres from him at a very short midwicket.

I didn't take any photos. I just stood still. He didn't pay me any attention. The main things I noticed were his simple footwork and his perfect balance. At one point he took a step down to a ball from Shastri and flicked it way over my head. The nets were at the edge of the oval and the ball sailed over a wall into a nearby street. Shastri watched the ball fly out of sight, glanced back to Tendulkar, raised his eyebrows and looked up into the sky with a faint smile as if to say: "Well, I better get used to it. This kid's going to be around for a long time."

How easy or difficult was it to photograph him?
I always tried to take candid shots rather than posed ones. To do that you have to be patient until you see what you want. He didn't avoid cameras but he seemed to be aware of them. He didn't alter his behaviour, so you had to be quick. He always seemed to be a private person. Shane Warne was a lot easier because he loved being photographed.

Talk us through the iconic photograph (above) you clicked in 2001 with Sachin and Warne at the Wankhede Stadium.
Ian Chappell was interviewing the two of them out on the ground during a practice session. I'd photographed Ian a few times at work in the Channel Nine commentary box and, like Shane, he knew I went about it quietly. I zoomed in a bit to take Ian and the microphone out of the frame then shot the two faces from a slightly lower level. I was trying to get a picture that would show their genuine friendship and admiration for each other.

Did you ever meet him and, if so, what were your impressions?
I only chatted to him once. It was at Visakhapatnam airport. I'd gone through the security check and was chatting to Shane Warne. We watched as three security officers stopped Sachin and asked him to open his luggage. He did so and didn't seem too annoyed. When he walked over towards us I said quietly, "You're a very patient man, Sachin." He then looked a little mystified and said, "Why do they do that to me? As if I'd have anything dangerous in my bags." A minute later he walked over to a woman officer and said something similar to her. Obviously the three officers just wanted to be in the great man's presence a little longer. He was quiet, self-controlled, polite and impressive.

Which Sachin innings is closest to your heart and why?
Probably his 148 not out in the third Test of that 1991 series. It might not have been his best but it had some great moments, and it was in my hometown, at the Sydney Cricket Ground. In a fierce late spell on the fourth afternoon, Merv Hughes threw everything at the 19-year-old: pace, bouncers and lots of advice. Tendulkar stayed very cool, weaving his way out of trouble and occasionally leaning back and cheekily clipping a short one over the slips for four.

At stumps he was 120 not out and the crowd gave him a wonderful standing ovation. The spectators knew they'd seen something special. As Tendulkar walked off, Hughes ran from the other side of the ground, put his big arm around Tendulkar's shoulder and bent down and said something that made Sachin throw his head back and roar laughing.

Mark Ray covered international cricket from 1988 to 2001, including tours to every cricket country except the West Indies. Between 1981 and 1986 he played 44 first-class matches for NSW and Tasmania.