Thirty years before Sachin Tendulkar played alongside Ricky Ponting in the Mumbai Indians team, there was another Ricky in his ‘team’ — Ricky Couto, his classmate at Shardashram Vidyamandir, who went on to become an umpire just like his elder brother Marcus.
Ricky’s memories of his school days and the daily walk from the Bhavanishankar Road school in Dadar to Ramakant Achrekar’s nets at Shivaji Park after school are vivid. “Those walks were memorable, stopping at a bookstall to view cricket books and then carrying on to Shivaji Park with a lot of leg-pulling along the way,” Ricky recalls.
Tendulkar loved sharing his lunch box with his mates as much as his vada pav at the school canteen. “After his practice sessions at Shivaji Park, he used to look forward to having chatpatta-chana dal with lime and onions. And he loved his bhel puri consumed from one particular stall on LJ Road.
He bought one bhel puri for me, one for him and two packed for his uncle and aunt with whom he stayed for a few years,” says Ricky. In the classroom, Tendulkar and Ricky were just like most kids — mischievous and full of mirth. “We were forever disturbing our teachers. Sachin used to enjoy throwing paper balls at friends in the front rows. He was fearless overall, but was very afraid of our Physical Education teacher, Mr Shetty,” says Ricky.
Tendulkar was still at school when he went to England with Star Cricket Club under Kailash Gattani for the first time in 1988. “When Sachin returned, he brought his Star CC kit bag to school. He boasted about it being so big that he could fit me in it. Our friends challenged him and so he removed all his gear from the bag and put me in to prove his point,” says Ricky.
Tendulkar and Kambli’s 664-run partnership for Shardashram (against St Xavier’s in the 1988 Harris Shield) attracted media attention, but the fact that it was a world record for any wicket in any class of cricket surfaced later when Ricky’s brother Marcus stretched every sinew to prove that it was indeed a world record. Marcus remembers: “I would say there was a selfish motive behind me trying to prove that the 664-run stand was a world record.
The Association of Cricket Statisticians and Scorers (ACSSI), which I was a part of, was formed the previous year. I wanted the association to do something to get into the limelight and thus increase the number of members. So, I tapped every source I could to prove this world record. Statisticians Mohandas Menon and Shirish Konkar were most helpful and finally it was proved.
Our association became famous as well.” Tendulkar and Kambli were regulars at the Couto household in Wadala. “Sachin loved tucking into seafood at our place; vindaloo too. He liked spicy food. Apart from that, he was most keen on watching videos from my collection. I remember putting on the Tied Test of 1960-61 for him several times. I had a small, less-than-a-minute film on Don Bradman and he never tired from watching that Bradman clip.
“Parat lav (play it again) he used to say. While we were happy chatting about other things, Sachin was transfixed at the television set,” says 53-year-old Marcus.
Ricky (40) remembers Tendulkar keeping a clipping of a newspaper report with him at all times. “He always seemed to have it at hand when Vinod used to talk about his own scores. He used to pull it out and say to Vinod, ‘forget your fifties, see this… even when I scored a duck, I got a headline.’ Sachin also had this habit of signing Tendulkar on any scrap of paper he could get his hands on.” Friendship with the Coutos did not end with stardom. Tendulkar raised the toast at Ricky’s wedding in 2005 and Marcus continues to be a friend.