Journos recount their special moments with Sachin Tendulkar

My best Sachin Tendulkar memory predates his international career. After his world-record partnership with Vinod Kambli in schools cricket as a 15-year-old, he made a magnificent start to his first-class career, scoring centuries in Ranji, Duleep and Irani Trophy matches — all before he turned 16.

Ayaz Memon and Sachin Tendulkar at the launch of Cricket Talk magazine in 2000
Ayaz Memon and Sachin Tendulkar at the launch of Cricket Talk magazine in 2000

In the 1988-89 season India were to tour the West Indies under Dilip Vengsarkar. After such rousing performances, it seemed a cinch that Tendulkar should be in the touring party. But he wasn’t. The selectors, afraid of the teenager being hit by the fearsome fast bowlers the West Indies possessed then, kept him out of the side.

The actor Tom Alter and I were collaborating on a sports video called Grandstand for Sportsweek magazine, for which Tendulkar was interviewed. He came to the venue, Hindu Gymkhana in Bombay, straight from a match or practice, kit bag in tow. After waiting patiently for his turn to face the camera, when asked if he was disappointed at not being selected, he said yes. When told that the selectors did not want to expose him to the fast bowlers for fear of injury, Sachin replied, “If I get hurt, I will learn quicker.” In those few words, he showed me the mettle and character that would make him one of the greatest in
the game.

It was a cold December night of 2000 in Kanpur, where India had beaten Zimbabwe in a one-day match. I was in Sachin Tendulkar’s room on a prior appointment for an interview with him. As I entered the room around 10.30 in the night, the scene that confronted me left me dumfounded.

Pradeep Magazine & Sachin at Adidas’ factory in Germany. Pic/Sai Prasad Mohapatra

It was not the usual luxurious five-star suite that I had walked into. The room was as spartanly furnished as one can imagine. The mattress on the wooden bed had been removed and was placed on the floor of the room. There was a picture of Sai Baba on the table, next to the chair, just about the only furniture in the room. As I looked around, I could not figure out why would one of the iconic figures of world cricket be living in room fit for an ascetic.

Tendulkar sensed my discomfiture and before we could get to recording the interview, he said: “Don’t be surprised! I have been sleeping on the floor on doctor’s advice for quite some time, in fact ever since I have had this back-pain.” It was a sacrifice he had to make to recover from his back injury which was threatening his career at that time. It was also a lesson for me, that a cricketer’s life is not all about living glamorous life of luxury but leading a life of great discipline to remain in peak

After I met Sir Don Bradman for the first time in Adelaide during the 1992 World Cup in Australia, I rushed to the Adelaide Hilton where the Indian team was staying. 

Debasish Datta with Sachin Tendulkar  in Sharjah 1999
Debasish Datta with Sachin Tendulkar in Sharjah 1999

I went to Sachin Tendulkar’s room and informed him that I had met the legendary cricketer, who was enquiring about his progress. Vinod Kambli, his room partner, was as usual playing the fool. But as I spoke about my interaction with Sir Don, Sachin asked Vinod to get serious because I was talking about a legend. Sachin then expressed his wish to meet Bradman some day.

I tried to set up a meeting through my late friend Tony Greig, but he expressed his helplessness. “Debu, I can give you a ticket to the moon, but I can’t organise this,” said Tony. However, in April 1998, I was in Sharjah and Tony had some news for me when I met him. Big news. He told me that Bradman had invited Sachin for his 90th birthday celebrations. I headed towards the nets to deliver the news to Sachin.

He was doing some stretching exercises, but I barged in and told him I had some news for him. He appeared concerned, but was delighted when he heard about the invitation. He couldn’t believe it. Later, Sachin promised to give me all the details of his meeting with the Don. He kept his promise. On the evening of August 27, 1998, he gave me all the ‘ball by ball’ details of his memorable encounter.

It is only fair that not one but two good Sachin stories belong to MiD DAY. In 1991, he was Bombay’s — it was still Bombay — newest sporting prodigy, the city following his steady progress through international cricket. He was turning 18 that April, marked down as the lead story of the SUNDAY MiD-DAY magazine section. Tendulkar had just bought his first car, a Maruti 800 and posed for a photograph, dressed, like all 18-year-olds, in a brightly patterned shirt for the occasion.

Sharda Ugra interviewing Tendulkar in 2009
Sharda Ugra interviewing Tendulkar in 2009

Talking to reporters wasn’t his favourite pastime, but he handled the job gamely. Chatting cricket was fine, himself he chose to keep hidden. Then came a routine question — what did he think turning 18 was about? Routine answers would have been about getting a driving licence and being able to vote. With much gravitas, Tendulkar offered this: “When you are 18, you’re not young any more.”

Much teenage solemnity at the time, but that our awareness that this was a cricketer far ahead of his years, came later. When he was made Bombay captain, two years later, we met in Wankhede Stadium and talked about the team, the job, what it stood for.

As a 20-year-old, he would be leading tough, hardcore Bombaymen. Wasn’t the idea itself intimidating? How was he going to tick them off when he needed to? Through a single reply, emerged another glimpse. “I’m the captain, it is my team, I am in charge.” Sachin Tendulkar did not recognise intimidation. He could not be messed with.  

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