A month after the 2003 Cricket World Cup final in Johannesburg was Sachin Tendulkar’s birthday. Clayton Murzello -- MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor and the editor of this special issue -- and I were told to interview the batsman. It was Tendulkar’s 30th birthday on April 24 and MiD DAY was celebrating it with a special supplement. The interview was fixed for 12 noon on April 20.
On March 23, India had lost disastrously to Australia in that final. Tendulkar, who had scored 669 runs until then (a record tally for a single World Cup), scored just four runs in five balls, falling to a deceptively quick bouncer by Glenn McGrath who had him caught and bowled.
Earlier that day, Australia's captain Ricky Ponting had played one of his great ODI innings, helping his team reach 359. Thanks partly to Tendulkar's failure, India were bowled out for 234, the worst-ever final loss in terms of runs in the history of the tournament and a dreadful record that still stands. The defeat rankled.
As we waited in the lobby of the MIG Cricket Club in Bandra, I was still forming questions in my mind in spite of preparation. Around 11:50 am, Tendulkar arrived in a Mercedes sports car. Clayton and I got up to meet him as he climbed the steps, but once in the lobby he turned left, walked a few steps and greeted a boy in a wheelchair. He then pushed the wheelchair into a room that was reserved for him. The secretary of the club told us that the wheelchair-bound boy was 12 or 13, and was suffering from a kind of muscular disorder. “Had the boy taken an appointment to meet Sachin,” I asked. “No,” the club secretary replied. “Tendulkar does not even know him.”
After he emerged from the room, he patiently autographed every single piece of paper that was thrust in his face by at least 50 schoolboys. Later, when we met him for the hour-long interview, Tendulkar was visibly annoyed at two of my questions: The first: Ricky Ponting played the innings of a lifetime in the final. Do you regret not matching up to or outperforming him in a match of that importance; and the second: Where will you drive your Ferrari? (Practically the entire country was talking then about the car he had recently acquired, and not without controversy)
To the first, he said he did not think Ponting’s was a great ODI innings. And to the second, he replied, "How does it matter to you? I will find some place." But an hour earlier, I had also observed his generosity, his overwhelming desire to keep his fans happy, to be with them even if he did not know them. The greatest cricketer with great demands on his time from just about everyone, finds time to push the wheelchair of a boy he does not even know and it is the same demigod who exposes himself just a bit when asked awkward questions. This magazine is about finding more about the very qualities of a man who has godlike status, but is ultimately only human. It is as much about someone who got out in the first over of a World Cup final as it is about a batsman who could score a Test double hundred without playing an offside shot against the same team.
A flawed one, yes, but still a hero.