'The best batsman I've bowled to'
I had been watching Sachin Tendulkar on and off before we (South Africa) were readmitted in 1991. People were always talking about him so I was aware of what we were going to come up against, and I remember Craig McDermott telling us that he was going to be the best in the world.
Our first engagement was in 1991, in Calcutta, in front of 90,000 people. He made 62. And it was blatantly clear then that he was going to be a player to remember.
Before I played against him I was always looking forward to having a crack. Then I realised just what I was up against. When someone like Tendulkar walks to the crease, you have to know what you are going to do. You can't just run up and bowl. You have to have planned your attack, your line, a week in advance.
Everything about him is just so exceptional. He is wonderful technically and he has everything - class, speed, all the shots, and he is cool under pressure. Cricketers always talk about his amazing balance, even the Aussies. I've seen tapes of Sunil Gavaskar and if you split the screen between him and Tendulkar, they look virtually identical. I have never seen a man with such immaculate balance - it is freakish.
People go to a Test match just to watch Tendulkar. I, for one, would rather watch him than bowl against him. Actually, I'm glad I'll never have to bowl to him in a Test match again, though I've been quite successful against him. He is No. 1 in my book - the best player I have ever had the privilege of bowling to. There's Steve Waugh and there's Brian Lara, who was wonderful in 1995, but Tendulkar is a class above, consistently special.
Your margin for error against him really is marginal. If you get him on a flat track, when he is, say, 50 not out off 24 balls, then you know that you have a very long day ahead and the situation can be very, very demoralising. The best knock I can remember him playing was at Newlands in 1997, when he was just unstoppable. We only got him thanks to a blinding catch by Adam Bacher off a hook shot, otherwise he would have gone on and on.
Under Hansie Cronje we studied hard for a Tendulkar weakness. We thought he might be vulnerable, especially early in his innings, to the ball that is bowled from wide of the crease, coming back in off a good length. He might then be bowled through the gate, or be lbw, especially on English wickets. We also tried peppering him with short balls - not many top-class batters like that - but it didn't really seem to bother him. The one thing that might rattle him is being restricted. He loves scoring, and scoring quickly, and if he is frustrated, sometimes he goes out and looks for the big shot.
I don't think he really gets rattled by sledging. Glenn McGrath tried it and Tendulkar just kept running at him and hitting him back over his head for four. I think that, like Steve Waugh, sledging just makes him more focused: I don't think it is a good idea to have a word.
The ball I bowled to him in Durban in 1996 was the best ball I have bowled to any cricketer. I think he hit the first two balls after lunch for four, then I came from wide of the crease and the ball really went a long way to bowl him. I don't think I've ever celebrated like that - you save those for the big ones. We had discussed how to bowl to him, and I knew what I was trying to do, but I never expected it to go so far off the seam to knock out the off stump. It was a great sight. That series was billed as the Donald-Tendulkar battle, but he got his own back at Cape Town with one of the best knocks I've ever seen.
Tendulkar is already a legend so I'm not sure how he'll be remembered - what comes after legend? He is still young and if he plays till he is 35 who knows what he'll achieve. He's the best in the world, one of the most magnificent players there's ever been. He's also a nice guy, a soft-hearted bloke who gives 110% and just loves playing cricket.
As told to Tanya Aldred
This article was first published in the September 2002 issue of Wisden Asia Cricket