ONE of my favourite ghazal singers, the legendary Jagjit Singh once said that there were three stages of learning: The first stage, where one learns from the guru; the second, when one learns from one's mistakes and the third when one learns from himself and creates something new. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has seen all the three stages of learning in last 30 years, before hanging his boots.
As coach of the Mumbai team, I watched from close how Sachin's genius troubled the legendary leg spinner, Shane Warne during the 1997-98 India-Australia series. The world's most aggressive spinner was to come to India and was probably planning to devour the Indians on spinner-friendly tracks.
The little champion, though, had his plan ready for the legendary leggie. He would practice on worn out tracks against leg spinners and devised the slog-sweep to counter Warne's huge leg breaks. In the Mumbai-Australia warm-up game before the series commenced, Sachin literally smashed the spinner to all parts of the Brabourne Stadium, starting off with a slog-swept six over mid-wicket. Mumbai drubbed the Aussies by an innings in that match and the great batsman never allowed Warne to get a foothold on that tour. Warne confessed after the series that Sachin gave him sleepless nights. The little genius, though, never gloated over his dominance of the bowler, always giving him off the field respect that the legend deserved.
He is like the sculptor who keeps chipping till the time he feels that the work of art will satisfy the critics. Having done that, he then sits and introspects and starts working on the sculpture to iron out the faults that he, and only he, observes. Sachin is always open to suggestions to improve any aspect of his game.
I had noticed a chink in his armour after he got out bowled on a few occasions. Believing that he was falling over to the off side as the ball was released and in the process, losing his balance, I suggested that he should raise his bat back a bit earlier, flex his knees and keep his head steady - as Sunil Gavaskar did - so that he could get a clearer view of the ball and more time to decide on the appropriate shot. On another occasion, I observed that he was not happy with his off drive and had asked one of the bowlers to help him practice the shot with throw downs. Watching his front foot closely, I noticed that it was leading with the toes instead of with the heel-toe action. This was upsetting his balance, with his head moving too far forward. As soon as I passed on this information to him, he practiced the shot for over a hundred throw downs and stopped only when he was satisfied.
Sachin was nicknamed the 'Master Blaster' after an electrifying knock in one of his early Test matches. One journalist had asked me to comment on his great knock and I had replied, "he is a combination of Sunil Gavaskar, the 'Little Master' and Viv Richards, the 'Blaster'. ” Hence, he should be called the 'Master Blaster'. That nickname stuck with him for a long time. He is now the master of all he surveys. Having surpassed all records, he now has to set his own benchmarks and keep motivating himself to break his own barriers. It is indeed an unenviable task, but then Sachin is 'God', isn't he?
The little genius has changed his batting style from being a flamboyant stroke maker in his early days to accept the role of a senior statesman in the Indian top order. His reassuring presence at the wicket has given strokeplayers like Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the others the freedom to play their shots. He has had a great part to play in India becoming the numero uno Test team in the world in 2009.
If Sachin hadn't decided to take up cricket as a career, I am sure he would have excelled in whatever vocation he took up. I was amazed at his work ethic even when he was just 16, an age when most of us spent our time reading novels, throwing glances at the sweet girl next door and cooking up excuses to bunk classes. Making his international debut on the difficult tour of Pakistan in 1989-90, he came back unscathed and with added determination to be more successful on the tour of Old Blighty the coming summer when he got his first Test century at Manchester.
About a fortnight before the England tour of 1990, he rang me up to request for practice sessions at the RCF Sports Club ground. "The RCF wicket helps seam and swing bowlers and will provide me with useful practice for English pitches," he would assert. He would be at the nets at the dot of 3 pm and face 8-10 pace and swing bowlers for more than a couple of hours. He would inform the bowlers what line and length he wanted them to bowl and play the cover drive, the straight drive and the on-drive. He would also play the straight lofted drive, easily clearing the sightscreen. After an intense session of batting, we would walk down to a tea stall called 'Hariyali' in the RCF Colony to relax and discuss his batting. He was all ears to the suggestions given by me and other bowlers and would work on those points the next day. When he scored a hundred in Old Blighty, all of us who had bowled to him at the RCF nets were delighted to have contributed to his success.
Sachin may have missed out on formal education, having turned pro at 16, but he makes up for it through a mind that is hyperactive and gives a lot of thought to his actions. His planning is meticulous and his fantastic visualisation skills are advantageously used to demolish the opposition bowlers. He is a keen observer and despite breaking every record in the book, still tries to learn new things about the game. Many thanks, Sachin for giving us sheer joy while watching you perform. I salute you for remaining true to the game, with impeccable behaviour both on and off the field. God bless your tribe.
With love and affection, Ballu Sandhu.
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