Sachin Tendulkar would have welcomed greater support from fellow batters at the other end as he worked his way to yet another headline-grabbing century at the Wankhede Stadium yesterday. His dominating innings threatened to be a first innings lead-clinching one, but Mumbai ended the day with only wafer-thin hopes of regaining the Irani Cup.
One wonders whether Tendulkar thought about his first of four Irani Cup games which was played at the same venue in 1989. He represented Rest of India then and was pitted against Delhi a few days before the Indian team travelled to Pakistan for Tendulkar’s first Test tour.
Towards the end of the final day, Tendulkar was 11 short of his century when tailender Venkatapathy Raju was dismissed and the scoreboard read 209 for nine. To many, the match was over since Gursharan Singh had returned to the pavilion earlier in the innings when a Sanjeev Sharma delivery fractured a finger on his right hand. But Gursharan walked out to bat, on instructions from chairman of selectors Raj Singh Dungarpur.
Twenty four years later, Gursharan still remembers the conversation between the young Tendulkar and him in the middle. “Sachin asked me to just block and he’ll tackle Maninder Singh. He batted like a champion and got his hundred,” Gursharan told MiD DAY from New Delhi yesterday.
“Raj Singh asked me, ‘why don’t you pad up?’ I was surprised and told him. ‘Sir, I cannot bat.’ He then asked me to put my left hand to use and support Sachin so that he gets his century.”
In the book Sachin – the story of the world’s greatest batsman, Gulu Ezekiel wrote: “He (Gursharan) batted with only his left-hand glove on as he could not slip the other glove on. Batting courageously with one hand, Gursharan faced 16 deliveries, finally retiring hurt on five when Sachin cover drove Maninder for his fourteenth boundary to go from 99 to 103.” The Sardar also remembered Tendulkar’s 39 in the first innings before he was bowled by Maninder Singh: “That 39 was a class innings as well. You could tell even then that here was someone who would become one of India’s greatest players. His passion stood out and I was in New Zealand (in 1990) when he was dismissed for 88 in Napier where he cried after missing his hundred.”
The former middle order batsman, who got just one Test opportunity for his toil and runs on the domestic scene, is not surprised at Tendulkar’s longevity. “I don’t think there is a fitter player in world cricket today and obviously, he is very disciplined,” he said.
Tendulkar figured in Gursharan’s benefit match in 2005. “He had told Yuvraj Singh that he’ll go anywhere to play in my benefit match and I was delighted to see him make an appearance,” said Gursharan, who is a senior manager with Steel Authority of India. Citing an example of cricketing brilliance and bravado will never be a problem for Gursharan (49) while he coaches his wards at Gyan Bharati School in Saket. He only has to recall that Irani Cup game in November 1989!