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Is Sachin Tendulkar the greatest schoolboy cricketer ever?

Twenty years ago, a fresh-faced youngster was being hailed as the next big thing. Would he play for India, the cognoscenti asked themselves

Harsha Bhogle

November 12, 2009

Comments: 29 | Text size: A | A

Author's note: This piece was written 21 years ago for Sportsworld magazine (and was only retrieved thanks to Mudar Patherya, who was a young cricket writer then). Sachin Tendulkar was 15, a year and a half away from playing Test cricket and four months short of his first-class debut. I was not yet 27, in an advertising job out of business school, with one Test match and a handful of one-dayers on Doordarshan behind me. We were both looking ahead in our own spheres. What a time it was, it was, a time of innocence...


Sachin Tendulkar circa 1988
"Once I get set, I don't think of anything" © Unknown
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Players/Officials: Vinod Kambli | Sachin Tendulkar
Teams: India

All of Bombay's maidans are a stage. Where every cricketer has a role to play. And his seems to be the blockbuster. Ever since he unveiled Act One early last year, audiences have been waiting, a little too eagerly at times, to watch the next scene. Sachin Tendulkar is only, so far, acting in a high-school production. Yet critics have gone to town. And rave reviews have not stopped coming in.

I guess it can only happen in Bombay. That a schoolboy cricketer sometimes becomes the talk of the town. Why, at the end of every day's play in the final of Bombay's Harris Shield (for Under 17s) everybody wanted to know how many he had made. For he does bat three days sometimes! And for all the publicity he has received, Sachin Tendulkar is really still a kid. He only completed 15 on 24 April. And is very shy. Opening out only after you have coaxed him for some time. As his coach Mr Achrekar says, "Aata thoda bolaila laglai" [He's started talking a bit now]. And it's then that you realise that his voice has not yet cracked.

His record is awesome. He has scored far more runs than all of us scored looking dreamily out of the window in a boring Social Studies class when we were his age.

For a prodigy, he started late. When he was nine years old. And it was only in 1984-85 that he scored his first school-level fifty. But 1985-86 was a little better. He scored his first Harris Shield hundred and played for Bombay in the Vijay Merchant (Under-15) tournament. And 1986-87 was when he blossomed. Still only 13, he led his school, Shardashram Vidyamandir, to victory in the Giles Shield (for Under-15s). He scored three centuries - 158*, 156 and 197 - and then in the Harris Shield scored 276, 123 and 150. In all, he scored nine hundreds, including two double hundreds, a total of 2336 runs.

By now everyone had begun to sit up and take notice. The beginning of the 1987-88 season saw Sachin at the Ranji nets. Once again the top players were away playing Tests and perhaps the Bombay selectors felt it wouldn't be a bad idea to give Sachin first-hand experience of a higher category of cricket. He was named in the 14 for the first couple of games, and manager Sandeep Patil kept sending him out whenever possible - for a glass of water or a change of gloves. All along Sachin probably knew that he was still at best a curiosity, and that while Bombay was giving him every blooding opportunity, he had to prove himself on the maidans.

And that is exactly what he did. Season 1987-88 was a purple patch that never ended. Playing in the Vijay Merchant tournament he scored 130 and 107 and then at the Inter-Zonal stage he made 117 against the champions, East Zone. Then in the Vijay Hazare tournament (for Under-17s) he scored 175 for West Zone against champions East Zone.

Then came the avalanche. A 178* in the Giles Shield and a sequence in the Harris Shield of 21*, 125, 207*, 329* and 346*! A small matter of 1028 runs in five innings! And in the course of that innings of 329* he set the much talked-about record of 664 for the third wicket with Vinod Kambli, who, it is not always realised, scored 348*. Perhaps the most fascinating of them all was the innings of 346*. Coming immediately, as it did, in the shadow of the world record, a lot of people were curious to see him bat. Sachin ended the first day on 122, batted through the second to finish with 286, and when the innings closed around lunch on the third day, he was 346*. And then came back to bowl the first ball. In April's Bombay summer.

 
 
"People don't realise that he is just 15. They keep calling him for some felicitation or the other. The other day he was asked to inaugurate a children's library. This is ridiculous. These things are bound to go to his head. He will start thinking he has achieved everything." Tendulkar's coach, Ramakant Achrekar
 

But when did this story begin? Like all children, Tendulkar took to playing "galli" cricket. His brother Ajit was a good player and persuaded Mr Achrekar, probably Bombay's most famous coach, to look at him. Achrekar recalls, "When he first came to my net four-five years ago, he looked just like any other boy and I didn't take him seriously. Then one day I saw him bat in an adjacent net. He was trying to hit every ball but I noted that he was middling all of them. Some time later he got a fifty and a friend of mine, who was umpiring that game, came and told me that this boy would play for India. I laughed at him and said that there were so many boys like him in my net. But he insisted. 'Mark my words, he will play for India.' My friend is dead now but I'm waiting to see if his prophecy comes true.'

Tendulkar is taking first steps towards getting there. He discovered that his house, being in Bandra, would not allow him to be at Shivaji Park whenever he wanted. He now spends most of his time at his uncle's house, just off this nursery of Bombay cricket. When he is not actually playing, that is.

Quite often, he is playing all day; important because it has helped him build the stamina to play long innings. "I don't get tired," he says, referring to them. "If you practise every day, you get used to it."

And what about that world-record innings? "I could bat very freely then because my partner Vinod Kambli was batting so well that I knew that even if I failed, he would get enough runs for the side."

Isn't there a lot of pressure on him now? Everyone assumes he will get a big score? "Only in the beginning. Till I get set. Once I get set, I don't think of anything."

Wasn't he thrilled at being invited to the Ranji nets? "Definitely. After playing there I got a lot of confidence."

Everything in Tendulkar's life has so far revolved around cricket. Including his choice of school. A few years back he shifted to Shardashram Vidyamandir, only so that he could come under the eye of Achrekar. "It helped me tremendously because 'sir's' guidance is so good," he says.

Strangely his parents were never very keen about cricket. His brother Ajit says, "They were not very interested in the game, though they gave him all the encouragement. You see, in our colony all parents were training their children to be engineers and doctors. And they would say, "Gallit khelun cricketer hoto kai?" [You don't become a cricketer by playing in the alleys]. I am so happy he is doing well because now people think he is doing something."

The question that arises then, given all the publicity is: Just how good is Sachin Tendulkar?

"For his age, unbelievable," says Sharad Kotnis, Bombay's veteran cricket watcher. "He is definitely comparable to Ashok Mankad, who had a similar run many years ago. But remember Ashok had cricket running in his family and his father often came to see him play. I think Tendulkar's strongest point is that he is willing to work very hard."

Luckily for Sachin, there is a calming influence over him, just so he doesn't get carried away by this acclaim. His coach Achrekar knows exactly what he is talking about. "He is not perfect yet. Far from it. In fact, I would say he is not even halfway there. He still has a lot of faults, particularly while driving through the on, which is an indicator of a class batsman. He still has a long way to go, but what I like about him is his ability to work hard. I don't think we should get carried away by his scores. After all, one has to take into account the nature of the wicket and the quality of the bowlers. By his standards the quality of the bowling he faced was not good enough.

"His real test will come this year when he plays in the 'A' Division of the Kanga League. [Sachin will play for the Cricket Club of India, which for him has waived the stipulation that children under 18 are not allowed inside the Club House!] He should get 70s and 80s there and not just 20s and 30s; particularly towards the end of the season, when the wickets get better."


Sachin Tendulkar with his coach Ramakant Achrekar in the mid-1980s
Tendulkar as a wee thing with coach Ramakant Achrekar © Unknown
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Achrekar, in fact, is quite upset about the publicity Sachin is getting. "People don't realise that he is just 15. They keep calling him for some felicitation or the other. The other day he was asked to inaugurate a children's library. This is ridiculous. These things are bound to go to his head. He will start thinking he has achieved everything. I hope all this stops so he can concentrate and work hard."

Yet both Achrekar and Kotnis agree on when they think Sachin will become a Ranji regular. "I think he should be playing the Ranji Trophy next year. I think it is unfair to compare him to the [Lalchand] Rajputs and [Alan] Sippys yet, but I think he should play next year," feels Kotnis. And Achrekar adds, "Inspite of what I said about him, if he maintains this kind of progress, he should play the Ranji next year."

Clearly the curtain call is still a long way off for Sachin Tendulkar. He has a lot of things going for him. Most importantly he is in Bombay, where the sheer atmosphere can propel him ahead. In how many cities would a 15-year-old be presented a Gunn and Moore by the Indian captain? And in which other city would the world's highest run-getter write to a 15-year-old asking him not to get disheartened at not getting the Best Junior Cricketer award?

Sunil Gavaskar wrote to Tendulkar to tell him that several years earlier another youngster too had not got the award and that he didn't do too badly in Test cricket. For him the letter from his hero is a prized possession. Another great moment was a meeting with him where "… he told me that I should forget the past every time I go to bat. I should always remember that I have to score runs each time."

He is in the right company. And the right environment. The next few years will show whether he has it in him the mental toughness to overcome the over-exposure. If it does not go to his head, surely there is a great future beckoning. This is really just the beginning and I will be watching this little star with avid interest for the next three years.

If he is still charting blockbusters, I'd love to do another review then.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. This article was first published in Sportsworld magazine in 1988

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Posted by RomanNoseJob on (November 15, 2009, 19:38 GMT)

"He still has a lot of faults, particularly while driving through the on, which is an indicator of a class batsman." lol, so yeah, he probably has the best on drive in the world now.

Posted by Bang_La on (November 15, 2009, 4:55 GMT)

And again Harsha. Its time you do your promised review encore, he is still charting BLOCKBASTER!

Posted by HJoshi on (November 15, 2009, 4:20 GMT)

I have a newborn son, and I will try to teach him the values I have learnt from Sachin's life: Dedication, Perseverance, Focus, Ambition and Humility.

Posted by antique123 on (November 14, 2009, 14:48 GMT)

Thanks a lot Mr Harsha Bhogle. This is one of those rare articles which needs to be treasured. The article just swept me twenty years behind and as an ardent fan of the Legend i could relish each and every word. As far as i am concerned, Sachin Tendulkar is beyond comparison. I think this is the first article that i am reading about Sachin before he actually forayed into the international arena. This is pure destiny and i tell you this is no easy task to carry the expectations of billions of fans on your back and still score centuries. I think we all are blessed to have watched almost all of his blistering knocks throwing the opposition into darkness. This man is truly amazing and i am eager to read many more such articles on this "Legend Beyond Comparison". Cheers!!!

Posted by SatyajitM on (November 14, 2009, 13:45 GMT)

@Redfern that was a nice information about Arthur Edward Jenune Collins! However, your comment "Without a shadow of doubt, the greatest schoolboy cricketer that ever lived" about A.E.J. Collins is probably misplaced and not objective (just like some of fans get crazy and want to make Sachin's statue). To begin with, Harsha asks if Sachin is greatest schoolboy cricketer and not if 326 was greatest school history innings. For your record Sachin averaged over thousand in the Harris shield and they were not playing against a very weak side in that famous match (St. Xaviers had Sairaj Bahutule who played for India later) and in a proper ground. A.E.J. Collins played his match in a ground where nearest boundaries were 17 yards from the stumps! He was dropped on 50, 100, 140, 400, 605, 619 and "The bowling probably deserved all the lordly contempt". And Collins never played first class cricket. Infact he also didn't have any huge innings apart from the 628 even at school level.

Posted by raghavh on (November 14, 2009, 13:33 GMT)

@Redfern: Without a doubt, *YOU* are the most ignorant cricket fan out there. Please check up on the innings that AEJ Collins played - on a 60 yard boundary on one side, 17 yards behind each set of stumps and a sloping field. He also survived several dropped catches and played in a match that was not time bound. He played *ONE* such innings that we know of. How on earth does this qualify him to be "Without a shadow of doubt, the greatest schoolboy cricketer that ever lived was Arthur Edward Jeune Collins..."?

Also, I don't see a single comment answering the question asked in the title of this post either way. How does that warrant a comment from you that "Indians are ignorant"? We are proud to be Indians and yes, we do love our nation and our heroes. Sachin is definitely the greatest schoolboy cricketer simply because of the way he has stayed away from the adulation poured on him by the media and has continued to play his game with integrity and humility right from his teenage years.

Posted by R.Vijayan on (November 14, 2009, 12:38 GMT)

Beautifully written! A treasure for all the fans of the Little Master Sachin Tendulkar. Thank you very much for sharing this article on Tendulakar- A world class sportsman worth emulating. A gentleman and an inspirational role model on and off the field, the real superstar of the cricket arena! Congratulations Tendulkar,on your 20 years of master strokes; on your 87 centuries and 144 half centuries and thousands of boundaries that flowed from your willow.We are proud to be your contemporaries..

Posted by Redfern on (November 13, 2009, 20:26 GMT)

@Jim1207 If you're upset, apologies. Case of lost in translation I think. You missed the irony of the comment. Still have a look at the adulation, closer to idolatry really, of all the comments posted in this article on Sachin. Tell me is this an Indian thing?Excessive praise. Sachin worship really is Sachin worship. I would say it's a bit disturbing but man's worship of man is worldwide

Also, I didn't write that Indians only admire Indians; you've misunderstood the comment or haven't read it properly. Neither did I write bad things about Sachin admirers; I accused them of excessive nationalism or general ignorance which was a bit harsh.

Posted by sanjayrajthilak on (November 13, 2009, 19:45 GMT)

What a magnificent master-piece is this!! Beyond shadow of a doubt, the best article i've ever read on Sachin! A gem to be treasured for all times. I was just 3yrs old then & its such a pleasure to knw these info now..

Any prodigy's story is always gonna be worth reading & interestg but this is a step ahead. I alwys felt that what 'adds' to Sachin's greatns is the way he has handled "The Himalayan" pressure & xpectations from billion Indians (cricket fanatics), which in no way can be compared to any of the cricketers of any era.

Posted by Jim1207 on (November 13, 2009, 17:00 GMT)

@Redfern: Thanks for the info about Arthur Collins, and he should be really a great person. But you need not abuse or talk bad about the people who are mad about Sachin. And, what makes you think that Indians are worhsippers of Indian cricketers only!! You need to learn too in that aspect. We worship cricket and our cricketers too. Because cricketers like Sachin have been role models for us and have inspired every one of our life, right from his schooldays!! Arthur could have played a mammoth innings as a school boy, but in the same time we need to agree to the fact that Sachin has lived a humble life of cricketing life of over 30 years now, when keeping his foot in ground all the time.. That's what this article is about!

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Harsha Bhogle Harsha Bhogle is one of the world's leading cricket commentators. Starting off as a chemical engineer and going on to work in advertising before moving into television, he is also a writer, quiz host, television presenter and talk-show host, and a corporate motivational speaker. He was voted Cricinfo readers' "favourite cricket commentator" in a poll in 2008, and one of his proudest possessions is a photograph of a group of spectators in Pakistan holding a banner that said "Harsha Bhogle Fan Club". He has commentated on nearly 100 Tests and more than 400 ODIs.

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