India's second Test against West Indies at the Wankhede Stadium is not just another match for the groundsmen. It is a very special occasion for them. For, it will be the last time the groundsmen and the cricketing world will get to see the legendary Sachin Tendulkar in action.
It is evident that the groundsmen here are fond of Tendulkar, so much so, that they refer to the God of cricket as ‘Sachin’.
“He has never given us the impression of being a superstar or a world icon. He is very down to earth and humble. For us, he’s always been Sachin,” said Lalsuram Jaiswal, the second-in-command groundsman at the Wankhede.
“Despite achieving so much, he is never arrogant. He is very polite and approachable. Whenever he sees us, he will always enquire about our health and family. Tell me which cricketer does that nowadays? They just come and practice. But Sachin gives a lot of respect to groundsmen as well,” added Vijay Tambay, the seniormost groundsman.
Tambay has seen Tendulkar when the Little Master first played at Wankhede in his Ranji Trophy first-class debut against Gujarat in December 1988.
It is a thankless job being a groundsman. They rank last when it comes to recognising efforts for the successful completion of a match. However, Tendulkar has always been appreciative of the work they put in.
Jaiswal said, “You will never see Sachin blame the pitch after a bad performance. Never.” Vijay Tambay added, “But he will always give feedback and suggestions for the practice wickets. Sometimes he will say the pitch is mau (soft) or the grass needs to be more finely cut. He will be appreciative if the practice wickets are hard and have bounce.”
In fact, Tendulkar now shares a personal bond with most of the groundsmen.
“He has never said no for a photo with him. He has always obliged us,” said a beaming Jaiswal.
“Sachin was very gracious in providing financial help for the treatment of Jaiswal’s wife,” revealed Tambay.
Jaiswal’s wife, who was suffering from cancer, passed away in 2009. “He gave the money immediately. He also volunteered to arrange for a good doctor,” said Jaiswal. Vasant Mohite, who is known as Barkya, has been a dressing room attendant at the stadium for more than two decades.
“Sachin is as focused inside the dressing room as he is on the field. He is also very particular about his things, especially the bats. I know what he will require at what time,” said Mohite.
“As soon as he comes inside the dressing room, he will hand over everything… his mobiles, wallet, etc to me,” he added.
Although the fact that this will be Tendulkar’s last Test is yet to sink in, the groundsmen hope the legend bows out on a high. “We wanted to see Sachin win the World Cup in his career, which happened in 2011. We now want to see him score a century in his final match,” said Tambay.