"Thank God, I won't be around when he is 25" said Allan Border who was as tough as they came. A lot of great achievers in cricket have lavished praise on this young man who has already written himself into the all-time great list. Despite all the statements made by many, this young man's ability and genius was best described by the late Raman Lamba at a time when this young man was barely becoming aware of a few hairs bursting through the upper lip. It was in the 1988-89 season that a young prodigy took the domestic circuit by storm with his batting. Towards the end of the season the Tamil Nadu and Delhi sides landed at the airport in Bangalore to play each other in the Wills Trophy. Delhi had just then played against Bombay in the Ranji Trophy and the youngster made a big impact in a high profile game.
As one who had read about this young man, I casually asked Lamba for his impression on the youngster. He said, "Even if he loses half his ability on the way up, he will still end up as a world beater." That was some assessment from a man like Raman Lamba who was always forthright. By now I am certain that the readers would be aware of who I am referring to as 'the young man'. Of course, he is none other than Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. He is without doubt the most popular cricketer in India and not that his popularity is any less in other countries.
I first came across Sachin during the Irani Trophy match in 1989 before the tour of Pakistan. He was in his mid-teens then but what struck me first up was the confidence and hunger in his eyes. He struck me as a shy youngster but boy could he bat even then! We had a couple of partnerships in that game and the way he batted both against the medium pacers as well as the spinners was something special. He was picked for the tour of Pakistan and by a strange coincidence the champion was fated to make his debut in the arch rival's country. He made a modest debut but the swift way he adapted himself to the demands of international cricket was peerless. Imran Khan took great delight in going after this little boy during that tour and towards the end Tendulkar ended up in winning the admiration of "Khan Sahib" as Imran was referred to by his team-mates.
Tendulkar's obsession with cricket is illustrated best by one particular incident. A few of us went to a bat manufacturing company and the manufacturer agreed to make a few bats for Tendulkar. The delivery of the bats were delayed by a day or two due to unavoidable reasons but the delay was too much for the little boy to bear. The result was that he started walking in his sleep and went from room to room to find out if the bats were delivered to the wrong room by mistake! Eventually the bats arrived and with that Tendulkar's sleep walking ceased. Sachin did show his impish side as well by taking the Mickey out of Salil Ankola as often as he could. For some reason Sachin always preferred the medium pacers to play his pranks, especially in his early days.
It would be a futile exercise to reiterate Tendulkar's achievements, but the impact he has made on the younger generation and the way he has conducted himself is much more appreciable. Every youngster wishes to emulate this little champion and in fact the parents try and nudge their wards into becoming a cricketer like Tendulkar. In this context it would be worthwhile to mention that Tendulkar has made a lot of sacrifices to reach where he is today. The flip side of being Tendulkar is that he finds it difficult to take a stroll on the roads even in his home city. In a couple of years time, he will have to venture out on the roads to buy his children some ice-cream and that will not be an easy task.
Today he is celebrating his 28th birthday and I take this opportunity to wish him a very happy birthday. It won't be long before he has to get back to duty and he is happy playing cricket and happier winning matches for the country. He is at his prime having notched up 25 centuries in both forms of the game and everyone can rest assured that he will continue tormenting the bowlers world over and provide loads of entertainment to the public. Not only is Tendulkar a great cricketer but he is also a gem of a person. It is only fitting that this gem enjoys all the adulation and the respect of the entire nation. May God bless him with all the appropriate things for his extraordinary personality on his birthday.