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mid-day's 38th anniversary special: When Sachin Tendulkar could be contacted only via landline

Remembering a time when the only way to reach Sachin Tendulkar was via a landline or face-to-face at airport arrival and exit gates

mid-day 38th anniversary

Sachin Tendulkar talks to reporters at Mumbai’s domestic airport before boarding a flight to Kolkata on August 11, 1996. File Pic/Suresh KarkeraSachin Tendulkar talks to reporters at Mumbai’s domestic airport before boarding a flight to Kolkata on August 11, 1996. File Pic/Suresh Karkera

Sachin Tendulkar's international cricketing career that spanned nearly a quarter of a century could well be divided into the pre- and post-mobile phone age. The latter coincided with the time when the iconic batsman had people who handled his media affairs. It was tougher in the former, when there was just one landline to get through to him. On the plus side, there was a better chance of getting hold of him at matches or functions.

The first time I approached him for an interview was after a March 1990 Purshottam Shield game in which he represented Shivaji Park Youngsters against Sunder CC. He invited me home as he packed his bag to leave the National Cricket Club tent at Cross Maidan. His directions were precise - where to alight from Bus No. 87 and how to reach Sahitya Sahawas Society in Bandra East.

Sachin Tendulkar arrives close to midnight at his Bandra East residence after being appointed India captain on August 10, 1996. File Pic/Suresh KarkeraSachin Tendulkar arrives close to midnight at his Bandra East residence after being appointed India captain on August 10, 1996. File Pic/Suresh Karkera

Six years later, in 1996, I was at the same complex on a wet August evening when he was made captain of India. I was with a large bunch of fellow reporters. We waited from 7 pm to address us, but he wasn't home. Our patience was challenged, our deadlines threatened, our bosses impatient for the quotes. We made Sachin-not-yet-arrived calls to our offices from public phones.

By 11 pm, most reporters returned to their offices and homes with no quote-based stories. There were only three left - a friend from Indian Express, a television reporter and myself. Tendulkar was unwilling to react to his captaincy appointment. The TV reporter urged him to at least say, he is happy. Tendulkar obliged with that byte and asked us to come to the domestic airport at 5 am where he would board a Mumbai-Kolkata flight for a selection meeting.

Sachin Tendulkar talks to the media on his arrival from Sharjah where India won the Coca-Cola Cup by beating Australia in the final on April 24, 1998. Tendulkar scored two hundreds in the competition. Pic/Midday ArchivesSachin Tendulkar talks to the media on his arrival from Sharjah where India won the Coca-Cola Cup by beating Australia in the final on April 24, 1998. Tendulkar scored two hundreds in the competition. Pic/Midday Archives

Gradually, Tendulkar got used to facing the media as captain at press conferences. For exclusive quotes, you had to either wait outside the Wankhede Stadium dressing room after domestic games or follow him to airport entry and exit gates, which I did on many occasions. Before he took his flight to New Delhi, where he would lead India for the first time in Test cricket [against Australia in 1996], he told me that Shane Warne, despite his amazing form and skill, was not a great worry for his team.

Ultimately, Warne did not make the trip due to a finger injury. Tendulkar began on a winning note as captain against Australia and also won the home series against South Africa. Abroad, the results were distressing.

On his return from South Africa in 1997, where India lost the Test series 0-2, he said, "I can't do more, I've done my best." The stress of captaincy was showing. But at times, he would surprise you when you got hold of him after play. I was in Valsad reporting on the Mumbai vs Gujarat Ranji Trophy match. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was to conduct their Annual General Meeting that week. I wondered whether the India captain wanted the Board to take any decision that would benefit his struggling team. At the same time, I was convinced that Tendulkar would play this one with the straightest of bats. I walked to the clubhouse near the ground and requested the receptionist to allow me to see Tendulkar, who was now resting after a tiring day on field.

I was permitted and asked him what he wanted from his Board. He expressed his desire for a foreigner as team consultant, but wanted coach S Madan Lal to be retained. In the end, Madan was replaced by Anshuman Gaekwad and the foreign consultant came only two years later.

Tendulkar's frustrations as captain were plenty. In 1997, he was unhappy with the team picked for the Asia Cup. The Sahara Cup series against Pakistan in Canada was close at hand and an interview with the captain was required for our Sunday edition. Several calls to New Delhi, from where the team was to leave, were futile.

The Features pages were kept open only for the interview. I decided to give it one more try on Thursday night. Tendulkar answered the phone in his hotel room. His views made good copy.

In Canada, his team surprised their detractors by smashing Pakistan 4-1. As expected, I was given another airport assignment. This time, a victorious Tendulkar arrival for a change!

To his credit, he always spoke on arrival, no matter how badly his team had fared. I can remember only one occasion when there was no interaction on landing - after the West Indies tour of 1996-97 - but I wasn't on duty.

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