It was an evening to celebrate Mumbai cricket, more specifically the team's 500th Ranji Trophy game that will begin on Thursday against Baroda. At a function organised by the Mumbai Cricket Association at the Bandra-Kurla Complex ground, Sachin Tendulkar dipped into the mellow glow of nostalgia as he recalled some of his finest moments with the Mumbai team.
First outing with the team
We knew exactly what we wanted to be because when we were playing Under-15, Under-17, we used to watch national players practicing and Ranji Trophy cricketers practicing alongside them. I was selected at the age of 14 to go to Baroda. We travelled by train. My room partner was Suru Nayak, so he was appropriately selected for me to make sure I sleep on time and all that sort of things. As time went by, I grew up. All in all, the experience was overwhelming and as the time went by with all these greats of Indian cricket, I started feeling at home. I didn't play a single game that year, but I spent time in the dressing room. That made me feel I belonged in Mumbai cricket.
Maiden first-class season
The north stand was vocal as usual [with] my friends [sitting there]. I would like to thank Kiran Mokashi and Suru Nayak. Whenever the nets were over, they would take me out and ask me to pad up and set fields - silly point, slip, and all possible attacking fields. There were occasions that they would request that Raju Kulkarni and other fast bowlers to come and bowl at me. Without fail, Mokashi and Suru would come and work on my technique. That would give me so much confidence. They would tell me 'you would need to survive ten minutes', but the ten minutes would never get over. I would look up and see that the time was past 5, but they would continue bowling to me. That's why I was well prepared when I played my first game - I was only 15 then. There were guys at the non-striker's end. Alan [Sippy] was there, Lalu [Lalchand Rajput] was also there. All these guys gave me confidence.
Leading the side to a title in 1994-95 after a dry spell
Our practice methods, I thought, were good, but they could be bettered. I am of this belief that results invariably follow your preparation, so I focused more on preparations. I remember Arjun was there, the groundsman. There were a lot of groundsmen with whom I would regularly be in touch with me and I would tell them not to cover the wicket. The bowlers should make our life uncomfortable. Salil [Ankola] was there, Abey [Kuruvilla], Paras [Mhambrey], Manish Patel, so the fast-bowling attack was formidable, possibly the best in India. I would tell them 'make our lives as miserable as you want and fire away bouncers at will.' I was mentally strong, I felt, and growing up I was told by [Ramakant] Achrekar sir that catches would win you matches. We would take catches every day. We also had that unwritten rule that batsmen should bowl and vice-versa. I enjoyed bowling. Throughout the practice, there was great intensity and we were also great friends. The friendship reflected on the field. When there were difficult times, we had understanding. That was our strength.
Favourite Ranji game
It has to be the semi-finals against Tamil Nadu [in 1999-2000]. I think we were chasing 485 [chasing 486 for the first-innings lead] and Ashok Mankad was our coach. He kept everyone involved. He had a peculiar way of motivating everyone. He would call Vinod [Kambli]'sir'. That was his way of motivating them. A lot of things happened during that game. At one moment, the ball stopped swinging and Robin Singh kept giving it to the umpires and asked for it to be changed. Finally it got changed and the ball started reversing. I stood two feet outside the crease and I knew some message would go across. Hemang Badani told the bowler 'munnadi' [front, in Tamil] and next ball I stood two feet inside the crease. Whatever he kept telling the bowler something, I would change [my position]. Whenever he said munnadi, I would go back and vice-versa. Post-match, I told him, 'by the way, I understand Tamil'. The match was quite evenly poised at one stage, but not just saving wickets but also scoring runs was critical. I think I was batting with Ramesh Powar. Having practiced with him - this is the beauty of practising together - I knew he always liked hitting the ball. The last man was there, Santosh Saxena, and the first ball was a full toss that struck his pads. I said from the non-striker's end 'not out' and the umpire gave not out. It was a coincidence and nothing more lest the papers say something tomorrow (laughs). There were still about 165 overs to go in the game. As we know Wankhede's wicket, on the fourth and fifth day the games start moving fast. Ajit [Agarkar] and other bowlers bowled brilliantly and won us the game.