'You cannot prepare for Tendulkar'
For two decades now Sachin Tendulkar has been a role model to younger cricketers. Two of those from Haryana, Harshal Patel and Jayant Yadav, who played against Tendulkar in his final domestic match in Lahli during the first round of Ranji Trophy earlier this week, talk about their experience of watching and playing against Tendulkar.
Harshal Patel, 22, fast bowler
Sachin Tendulkar addressed the Haryana dressing room after our first-round match. I pounced on the opportunity to ask the first question: what could we have done differently? Tendulkar said we could not have done anything more, because everything we had done was very good. He told us the bowlers and the plans had actually put pressure on Mumbai and him. That is why it took Mumbai 93 overs to chase a target of 240. He said luck didn't go our way and that if he had nicked one, the match might have had a different result.
I had bowled against Tendulkar in the IPL, but bowling in a Twenty20 match is so different from bowling in a first-class game. I prepared for this match like I would prepare for any other, but I was excited to bowl against him and I was hoping to get him out. His wicket was crucial in the second innings, because he was the only one who could take the match away from us in those conditions. Unfortunately we failed to get him out.
The pitch had a steep and uneven bounce. To counter that, Tendulkar stood in front of the crease. There are a lot of batsmen who do that in domestic cricket but nobody did it as well as Tendulkar. He wanted us to lower our trajectory when we bowl so that he could counter swing and seam pretty easily.
My best ball was the one that hit him on the pad on the final morning. I was pretty sure he was lbw, but when I saw the replay later I realised it had pitched marginally outside off stump. He was very composed. He had a lot of ideas, a lot of plans. The most important thing I learned was that he executed them so well in a high-pressure match.
To observe his batting from close quarters in the middle and to interact with him was an education for all us. He said we had played at a high intensity and that our standards were really good. His message was to never approach the match with a result-oriented mindset. That is exactly what he did against Haryana. His batting in the second innings was extraordinary and was another example of what I had seen over the years on TV. In a similar situation any other domestic batsman might have tried to score runs quickly by hitting boundaries. But Tendulkar's mindset was completely different: he did not try to hit any ball very hard. He just tried to tap and push it into the gaps and run hard for one, twos, threes.
Jayant Yadav, 23, allrounder
As soon as Tendulkar took guard and prepared to face his first ball in the second innings, a huge roar went around Lahli. It was so loud that I wondered if I should stop midway in my bowling stride. It was so distracting. I just got carried away, you could say. It was an experience, considering Tendulkar has got such overwhelming support all his career.
You cannot prepare for Sachin Tendulkar. Considering the match was in Lahli, my job as a spinner was to contain the runs as much as possible to assist the medium pacers. Jaddu paaji [Ajay Jadeja, Haryana captain] had told me to stick to the basics, do what I had been doing all along, and to not get carried away.
But it is actually impossible to bowl to Sachin Tendulkar and not think that you are bowling to him, especially if it's your first time against him.
There was this delivery that kicked off the pitch and hit him on the glove due to the extra bounce. It was a classic offspinner's delivery, where a batsman gets caught at short leg. Sachin did not glove it to short leg, but I felt happy to have bowled a good ball, possibly my best ball, to him, given I hadn't got the opportunity to bowl against him in the first innings since he got out early.
What I observed while watching Sachin was the difference between the way he worked towards getting the target compared to how domestic batsmen approach such innings. When a spinner is introduced, most of us invariably attack him, because we know that once the fast bowlers return, they will get good purchase from the pitch. But Tendulkar didn't do that even once. He did not step out against me. He did not even loft me. I really liked the manner in which he closed the match for us. He took it all the way to the last run. Even when they needed a handful of runs, he wanted to see the game through. It's impossible not to admire that kind of determination from someone who has been playing cricket for 25 years.
I was star-struck when I stood there in front of him later in our dressing room and could not dare ask him a question. Sachin made it clear that instead of him giving us a lecture, it would be better if we asked him whatever we wanted to know.
The question that I would have asked, and was eventually asked by my team-mate Rahul Dewan, was how Tendulkar prepares for the match day. He told us that he visualises, focuses on a certain bowler, who he studies, and accordingly works out his net training in the days leading up to the match. I do not know how long that session lasted but it was an amazing experience to be listening to the hero of millions.
Growing up, we all hear about Sachin. To have now played against him, seen the determination with which he plays, observed the way he thinks about the game, listened to him, I felt lucky and privileged. I was not going to miss the chance to request him for an autograph on a brand new bat. That bat will occupy a privileged space on my shelf.