Like most English summers, 1990 promised much weather-wise and ultimately disappointed. However, in spite of this, two cricketers will stick in my mind forever.
The New Zealand team were on tour in England. Richard Hadlee, having played in the first Test as mere Richard, arrived glamorously for the second Test at Lord’s as the newly knighted Sir Richard Hadlee and appeared as such on the scoreboard. He was even made Man of the Match at Lord’s, quite a month for him.
In all this excitement, the Indian touring team arrived quietly in London. They were not scheduled to play against England for another month. The touring party included one 17-year-old SR Tendulkar.
He had already re-written the history books by being, at 15, the youngest ever player to make a century on first-class debut. Before that as a schoolboy he had shared in a 664-run partnership with Vinod Kambli against the unfortunate St Xavier’s High School, his contribution being 326 not out. He had already played Test cricket against Pakistan the previous winter, and now he was here in London.
I had to see him and take his photograph. The first opportunity was the day after the New Zealand Lord’s Test finished. It was at an early warm-up game at the Indian Gymkhana cricket ground in South West London, which is not far from my home in Kew. I arrived early and asked the club’s permission to take photos and then settled down to await the team’s arrival.
Local members and their families had arrived to see and meet the Indian players. This team included some famous players such as Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, and Kapil Dev. I knew most of the Indian squad quite well in those days and when they arrived at the ground I asked Kapil to introduce me to the youngster.
My memory was of a slightly shy but friendly and confident young man. He posed for a few portraits. I also managed to takea couple more informal studies surrounded by some of the members. I never saw him bat that day. He did well that summer, scoring a brilliant century in tricky conditions in the Old Trafford Test. In spite of his early success, none of us had any idea of the incredible scale of his achievements that would follow overthe next 23 years.
Since then, I have photographed him many times. My observation over the years is that he has borne his adulation at the hands of the Indian nation with remarkable calmness and sanity. Never in the history of the game of cricket has any one player been subjected to such pressure. Yet, I have never seen him behave in any way without absolute grace and charm. Once, at The Oval, surrounded by fans, I watched him sign and sign and sign autographs until I got bored from watching.
He is actually quite difficult to photograph in action. He does not have an exaggerated or flamboyant style. Of course, he is technically very sound. He always wears the trademark pads based on Sunil Gavaskar’s (I can’t believe they are the original pair) and they have become a feature in every photograph. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to photograph one of the greatest players to have played the game. And one of the most endearing.