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A brush with Sachin

Tendulkar-spotting at a mall

A football fan celebrates getting one of the first tickets for the Confederations Cup, Johannesburg, April 29, 2009
A football fan shows off a ticket for the Confederations Cup © AFP

Driving to the airport in PE, Shadi, who has driven me around town, champions the cause of Alviro Petersen. Despite having broken several domestic records over the past few seasons, Petersen still has to make an impact with the national side. Already 28, he has just five ODI caps to his name.

Why the support for a Gauteng player, I ask Shadi. "He's a PE boy," is the answer. "So are Ashwell Prince and Garnett Kruger. No one stays here because the other provinces can offer them much more money. I played football with Ashwell's Dad. He's from here."

Shadi's favourite cricket side was the Transvaal [now Gauteng] Mean Machine of the 1980s, and the names trip off his tongue as we drive along the Summerstrand. "Cook, Fotheringham, Rice, Jennings, Pollock [Graeme], Kourie..." These are less awesome times to be a Gauteng fan, but old loyalties mean that the Royal Challengers team that Jennings now coaches is Shadi's IPL team of choice.

When I get to Johannesburg airport, the first thing I notice is a digital sign that announces that there are 402 days to go. Lalit Modi and others may promote the IPL as the cat's whiskers, but the real greatest show on earth is coming to South Africa next summer. They even have a tasty appetiser this June, with the Confederations Cup. Wherever you look, there are posters of Kaka, Torres and others.

The young man who drives me into town has no idea about the IPL. The South African football season's coming to a close, and rugby's Super 14 competition is also nearing its business end. South African sports lovers have a lot more to think about than just cricket.

A couple of hours later I'm walking around Sandton City, just peeking through store windows and wondering which one I should go into before my haircut. Right behind a mannequin I spot a familiar face. Sachin Tendulkar is looking at t-shirts and shoes, and the store staff seem utterly oblivious to his presence. Harbhajan Singh's also there, and the two wander around the store with no autograph-hunters or stalkers in sight. "Must be great to be in such a situation," I tell Tendulkar, "just to be able to walk around and not be bothered."

He smiled. "It's been very hectic, though," he says. "We've been travelling constantly. There's hardly a break between games." We both agree that it's almost impossible to pick a winner, with seven teams separated only by two points. "We really messed it up against Kings XI," he says. "No excuse for not chasing 120."

I leave him to his shopping and head for the haircut. As the clippers are switched on, I notice out of the corner of my eye that two men have come in and are talking to the receptionist about an appointment. To say that they're rude and obnoxious would be an understatement. I hear "Rajasthan Royals" and "IPL" mentioned and I try to see who it is. Without my glasses, though, I can't make them out.

After I leave, one of the other stylists comes to me and asks if I knew them. When I told him I hadn't seen who they were, he tells me their names. "Bit of attitude, those boys," he says with a grin. "You'd think they were Tendulkar and not someone I haven't even heard of."

I asked if he was an avid cricket follower. "You could say that," he says with a grin. "I used to play myself. My name's Yusuf Abrahams. Was a fast bowler with Gauteng. When I was 18, they clocked me at 142kph. Then I gave it up to go and play football in Cape Town." Who did he play for? Ajax Cape Town, the same club where Everton's Steven Pienaar made his name before he moved to the Dutch giants.

"Tendulkar was walking around here earlier," he tells me. "Who's that?" asks the man clipping my hair. "Just the best player there's ever been."

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

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