If watching Sachin Tendulkar bat from an umpire’s position is considered the best seat in the house, former Test umpire Piloo Reporter will tell you it’s also a very dangerous position to be in.
Reporter first saw Tendulkar bat in the mid-1980s after coach Ramakant Achrekar asked him to have a look at his new find in the nets at Shivaji Park. “I was amazed at how a boy so young could hit bowlers out of the ground at will,” said Reporter.
Escape in Kalyan
A few years after he had umpired the India vs England Test of the 1992-93 series —Tendulkar’s first Test series at home — Reporter officiated in a double wicket competition held as a benefit series for cricket administrator ‘Kaka’ Vaidya in Kalyan. The Thane-based umpire watched Tendulkar step out for a ferocious hit which nearly took his head off en route to the ropes.
“I will never forget that shot. I was very lucky to escape and I thanked my quick reflexes,” Reporter told MiD DAY before going on to narrate another Tendulkar anecdote from that event: “Drinks were served and I was eager to quench my thirst. I reached out for a lemon drink. Sachin was next to me so I offered him a bottle. To my surprise, he refused the drink and I tried to convince him to have one before me. ‘No thanks,’ he said again. I wondered why he didn’t want to have the drink. A few moments later, he whispered in my ear that he was endorsing a particular brand of soft drink and could not be seen sipping the drink that I had offered. We had a laugh about it, but it showed how particular he was, just like he was when he bowled in the nets.
“I remember standing as an umpire for a Mumbai practice session before their Ranji Trophy game against Maharashtra in 1996. He was bowling in the nets with a new ball and as soon the batsman played or missed it, he would call for the ball to be thrown back to him. Then, he would examine the ball and check where it had pitched. He would then tell me, ‘barobar land zhala’ (it landed on the right spot).
Reporter’s Test match memories of Tendulkar are about the 1992-93 series against England which ended 3-0 in India’s favour. In the second innings of the first Test at Kolkata, England captain and opening batsman Graham Gooch was stitching together a partnership with Alec Stewart when he stepped out of his crease just a little to play forward to Anil Kumble. According to Reporter, Tendulkar yelled to wicketkeeper Kiran More from square leg, ‘utchal, utchal,’ (lift the bails). More heard Tendulkar in the nick of time, whipped the bails and Gooch was on his way.
The scoreboard read G A Gooch stumped More b Kumble 18, but if it hadn’t been for a vigilant Tendulkar, Gooch’s stay at the crease would have been longer than 52 minutes. Reporter did duty in the third Test of that series as well — the last of his 14 Tests.
He recalls: “Vinod Kambli was belting away to a double century at the Wankhede Stadium. He enjoyed a fair share of luck as well, but his friend Sachin struggled to pierce the field. Yet he scored 78. At one point in his innings, he expressed his frustration to me in Marathi. The spectators were getting impatient and started getting very vocal. I quietly told Sachin, ‘just play your natural game.’ Ultimately, he was trapped leg before by England’s left-arm spinner Phil Tufnell and I gave that decision. Kambli told me, ‘Sachin out nhavta,’ (Sachin was not out), but I told him I reacted to what I saw,” said Reporter, who only a year earlier had admonished Australia all-rounder Simon O’Donnell for getting in Tendulkar’s way while running between wickets in an Indians vs Victoria World Cup 1992 warm-up game at Benalla.
“I reminded O’Donnell, the captain of that side, that thousands of Indians had prayed for his recovery from cancer and this was not expected of him. Sachin was batting with Sanjay Manjrekar then and had he been caught outside his crease, I wouldn’t have ruled Sachin out. This blocking was just not on.”
On November 14, the 75-year-old Reporter will leave his Thane dwelling and head to the Wankhede Stadium to watch the same cricketer who he saw attacking the bowlers at Achrekar’s nets at Shivaji Park more than 25 years ago. He may not have the best seat in the house this time, but as the Parsis often say, ‘chalse.’ (will do).
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