November 13, 2009

The Sachin I know

Tendulkar has found the urge, and the solutions, to be able to play for 20 years. That is a landmark to be celebrated

Sachin Tendulkar may have inspired others to write poetry but he batted in robust prose. Not for him the tenderness and fragility of the poet, the excitement of a leaf fluttering in a gentle breeze. No. Tendulkar is about a plantation standing up to the typhoon, the skyscraper that stands tall, the cannon that booms. Solid. Robust. Focused. The last word is the key. He loves the game deeply but without the eccentricities of the romantic. There is a match to be won at all times.

But Tendulkar too was a sapling once. And his brother Ajit sheltered him from the gale, kept him focused. Sachin looked after his cricket, Ajit looked after Sachin. Twenty-two years ago, I was asked by Sportsworld to do an article on this extraordinary schoolboy. It wasn't Sachin I had to speak to, it was Ajit. When the time for the interview came, at Ramakant Achrekar's net in Shivaji Park, Ajit was there with a cyclostyled copy of Sachin's scores. And Achrekar admonished me for spoiling his child, for fear that Sachin would get distracted.

The interview was done. Sachin was neither overwhelmed nor garrulous; indeed he was so limited with his words that you had to hold on to every one of them. It was sent to Sportsworld in Calcutta by courier (or was it just put into a normal post box?) and then came a request for two photographs. Again it was Ajit who produced them. When I got the cheque, I noticed they had paid me an extra 100 rupees for the photographs. They weren't mine but Sportsworld had a policy of paying for them and so I wrote out a cheque to Ajit for Rs 100. It was acknowledged and accepted gratefully. We lived in different times then!

It was also my first realisation that young men in the public eye needed to be sheltered so they could focus on playing cricket; that they needed an elder brother, or an equivalent, to put a gentle hand on the shoulder and, occasionally, lay one the back side. A lot of other young men today see Tendulkar's runs, eye his wealth, but their brattishness comes in the way of noticing his work ethic. For Tendulkar's life is not the story of extraordinary ability but of an extraordinary work ethic.

Twelve years later, on a cold evening in Bristol, preparing for a World Cup game against Kenya the next day, I saw him in dark glasses, fiddling around with his kit. Aimlessly, like he was searching for something to do. At most times he would be bounding around with energy, bowling off 18 yards, taking catches, shouting thoughts to other batsmen.

I approached him hesitantly, I couldn't see his eyes because they were shrouded by these huge dark glasses, probably the only time they were used to cover rather than to adorn, for he had just lost his father. I asked him if he would talk to us about coming back to play. He nodded his head and only briefly took the glasses off. His eyes were red and swollen; you could see he had been crying copiously. For the interview he put them on, and once the camera had stopped rolling, admitted he didn't want to return, that his mind was all over the place, that he felt anchorless. It was the only time he didn't want to play for India but he had been forced back by his family, aware that only cricket could help him overcome his grief. When he got a hundred the next day and looked heavenwards, some other eyes were moist. Even in his grief there was resolve, for he wanted that century. It might only have been Kenya but he was battling himself, not the bowlers.

It has been fantastic having a ringside view of this journey, watching a cricketer, and a person, grow. But one thing hasn't changed. He still approaches every game like a child would a bar of chocolate, feeling happy and fortunate

Four years later he agreed to do an interview for a series of programmes I was then doing. Our producer thought we would make it special, and to our surprise and joy, Amitabh Bachchan agreed to introduce the programme. In the first break Sachin whispered, "That was a beautiful surprise." Little did he know there was more to come.

Sometime earlier he had told me he was a big fan of Mark Knopfler and we thought it would be great if we could get the great Dire Straits man to talk to us.

"I'm recording all night but immediately after that, before I fall asleep," Knopfler said, and somehow we persuaded Sachin to do the programme in the afternoon rather than in the morning. And when the moment came, we patched the line on and when I said, "Hello Mark," Sachin looked puzzled. A minute later his eyes lit up when he realised which Mark we had on the line. And then he was like a child, tongue-tied, fidgety, excited - much like most people are when they first meet Tendulkar. Even the stars can get starry-eyed!

And there have been moments of surprising candour. When asked, as batsmen tend to be, which bowlers had troubled him the most, he smiled an almost embarrassed smile and said, "You won't believe this." When probed, he said, "Pedro Collins and Hansie Cronje."

"In fact," he said, "I once told my partner 'Will you please take Hansie for me? I don't mind playing Allan Donald'"

Tendulkar's batting has been much chronicled over the years. Indeed, I believe he has been the most analysed cricketer in the history of the game. Yet he has found the urge, and indeed the solutions, to play on for 20 years. Now that is a landmark to be celebrated, not the many inconsequential others that we exploit for our own need. It has been fantastic having a ringside view of this journey, watching a cricketer, and a person, grow. But one thing hasn't changed. He still approaches every game like a child would a bar of chocolate, feeling happy and fortunate.

Read the Sportsworld article from 1988 here

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Satyajit on November 15, 2009, 14:38 GMT

    Listening to Harsha has always been a pleasure. I guess I heard him first time in All India Radio (may be mid 80s). He was talking in Hindi (I believe). What striked me most was the way he was so detailed and yet very refreshing. In those days we had quite a few commentators who were banal and had limited understanding of the game. On the other hand Harsha was someone with a sense of purpose. He remains my favorite commetator till today due to his knowledge of the game. His non aggressive style and ability to see the perspective even in a tense situation is what separtes Harsha from many other commentators (However, I would agree that the general standard of commentry has improved a lot after the financial revolution in cricket which resulted in many retired top cricketers joining commentary panels).

  • Satyajit on November 15, 2009, 14:12 GMT

    @V.Gomes, I think you have used the wrong word 'envy'. Sachin fans and Indians in general would admire the fact that Jayasuriya or Ponting's teams have won world cup. They would also admire the 1983 Indian team for winning the world cup and not 'envy' them. Sachin himself has clearly said that winnng WC is one of his cherished dream, so there is not much confusion (or lack of clarity) on that one. But people who also understand the game knows tournaments are won by teams and not merely by individuduals (however great may he may be). You cann't overlook the fact that Sachin won Man of the series for WC03 even though India lost the final. That talks volumes about his contribution to the team cause. The fact that India won 1983 WC doesn't make Roger Binny a better cricketer than Sachin. I hope you got my point.

  • Shantanu on November 15, 2009, 13:04 GMT

    Harsha - champagne - article from a favourite scribe on my favourite famous person. Sachin's devotion and passion for Game and Country brought out shows in the part you wrote about the time of his father's death - something I relate to because I've been through that (I was very close to my father and was in the US when he died and I had to rush to Mumbai)

  • umesh on November 15, 2009, 10:40 GMT


    I understand your comment. But if u see Sachin's record in World Cups, he is still performing like a 20 year old child. We cant blame him all the time. Whenever Sachin plays a outstanding knock no one else plays with him till the end. We have experienced it too lately. Still everyone criticizing him not to be a Match Winner. Cant you remember the innings he played against pakistan in world cup 2008?...I guess youngsters like Yuvraj singh, MS Dhoni have to learn from him. I also obsered during the innings of 175 Sachin had nice help from Sehwag, Raina and Jadeja. But Yuvraj and Dhoni were not talking to him on the field about the situation.After all its my observation it may be wrong.But i guess youngster have to KEEP THERE FEET ON THE GROUND...!!!

  • Dattatreya on November 15, 2009, 6:49 GMT

    A great tribute from a great commentator/gentleman to a great cricketer/gentleman. Many present Indian cricketers have lot to learn from Sachin. Many players have talent but do not have the temperament and they do not carry themselves well on and off the field. Most of them have got distracted by the hype that they are getting from the media. Any player who plays just 1-2 good innings becomes hero and then the players gets endorsements and money. Which have spoiled them. They don't play for the country's pride any more, they just play for the money. I wish many present players in Indian team had elder brother like Ajit to look after them so that they would have concentrated on the game more than on the other things off the field.

    A salute to the Great Cricketer. The only and only Sachin Tendulkar.

    Thank you Harsha for such wonderful article.

  • raj on November 15, 2009, 5:37 GMT

    Hey V.Gomes, Without a doubt, I'd throw a world cup in garbage if it means not having the sachin tendulkar experience. I, like many Indians, are more invested on how Sachin does than the team results. We get joy when Sachin scores big, regardless of the result. Kipling said "if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same". It's true. Results in themselves don't have any impact but the effort through dedication and relentless ambition is what moves people, what inspires them. Sachin inspires us through his actions and world cup has no place in any of it unless of course it's through Sachin.

  • Bang on November 15, 2009, 4:41 GMT

    A preamble: Harsha, my favourite commentator, (who mixes true humour and life in cricket commentary which was kill-me-grumpy before), thank YOU for writing another emotional piece showing no emotions!

    I am older but luckier to watch Sachin, this unbelieving cricket-God, now my son has joined the fan club. What more can we do?

    Hope I live till 2015 to see the God off from the green!

    Our heartiest regards from Bangladesh.

  • Hitesh on November 15, 2009, 4:22 GMT

    Sachin, because it is because of your values in life and not simply your achievements that the world bows to you.

  • Pravinchandar on November 15, 2009, 2:34 GMT

    I am so privileged to be born in the country, for which Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar plays cricket. I've taken him as a role model, not because of my love for the game. But the reason being, his commitment, his dedication, his passion and most of all his Indianess. I may not be excited when the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) sends a manned mission to Moon, but for, when this man scores a century. I may not feel dejected when some of my nearest or closest depart, but for, when this man hangs his boots and I will bid adieu to the game of cricket once he does.

  • mayank on November 14, 2009, 21:39 GMT

    I agree with Harsha Bhogle that he is by far the most analyzed batsman in the history of the game. Yet he has survived with bowlers and other players able to study him and his game more with assistance of technology. That speaks volumes about his commitment, focus and passion to contribute, improve and innovate with every game. Congrats to the master for these glorious twenty years and thanks for the wonderful memories.

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