Moments after being awarded the Order of Australia, Sachin Tendulkar made it official: Outside India, Australia is his favourite place to play cricket and Sydney Cricket Ground is his favourite venue.
Tendulkar regaled an audience at a suburban hotel yesterday evening with stories centering around his trips Down Under which began in 1991.
His fascination for the country began before his maiden tour. Tendulkar revealed that he enjoyed television action since 1985, the year Sunil Gavaskar’s team won the World Championship of Cricket. As a 12-year-old he enjoyed the “fantastic day-night matches on television” and dreamt that he would play there. “It (dream) turned into reality in 1991-92,” said the 39-year-old batting great.
“How many young cricketers — I was 18 then — get to spend three and a half months in Australia, playing against the top side in the world? That tour changed me as a cricketer. It was a critical moment of my career. We all know Australians are fierce competitors. But, when you do well against them, they shower you with compliments. I did reasonably well with a couple of hundreds.”
India lost the Test series to Allan Border’s Australians, but Tendulkar made an impression on them and the cricket-loving public with hundreds in Sydney and Perth. His batting caused maverick Aussie fast bowler Merv Hughes to tell his captain: “This little p***k is going to end up scoring more runs than you.”
When India toured Down Under in 2007-08, most experts believed that it was his last tour to Australia. Tendulkar said yesterday that he appreciated the standing ovation he got at all grounds and when a friend asked him what he felt about it, he said, “It feels great. At the same time, I laugh in my mind and you know why? Because they all believe this is my last trip.”
Tendulkar returned to Australia last summer and although he did not set the Yarra river ablaze, there is no official endorsement that it was his last tour. “I’m glad I was there again. After 2007, how could I not be there in 2011? It is such a wonderful spot to play cricket,” he said.
Meeting Sir Don
Among his many visits to Australia, the most memorable was when he accompanied Shane Warne to wish Sir Don Bradman on his 90th birthday.
Tendulkar revealed yesterday that they were a bunch of nerves, sitting in the car which got them to Bradman’s home (Holden Street in Adelaide).
He requested Warne to kick off questions to the legend. Here’s what happened in Tendulkar’s words: “The moment we went there, we were struck by his personality. We allowed him to talk as much as possible because we wanted to hear him. He felt that the standard of play was better now. The natural question was, ‘Sir Don, what would you have averaged in today’s cricket?’ He said, “maybe 70.” The natural reaction was, “why only 70? Why not 99.94?” And he said: “C’mon son, it is not bad for a 90-year-old man.”
Tendulkar was truly honoured by the Order of Australia and as he ended the acceptance speech, his hand reached for his heart.