Jan 6, 2013

My journey and moments with the little master

This is an email I got from my brother who, as he describes himself below, is Sachin's  unconditional supporter and fan. Read an enjoyable, slightly long yet a mesmerizing account of how many of us have grown  up with आपला सचिन ...

"Sachin Tendulkar is to cricket, what a vowel is to word.

On 23rd December 2012, Sachin Tendulkar showed he is human after all. Yes he retired from ODI’s.

Somewhere deep down in our hearts, the fans (including me) were anticipating the moment to be around the corner.

I was 8, when he debuted and honestly I don’t remember his first runs and innings. A 16 year kid was hitting unbelievable strokes against some very established names. Understandably, his popularity was meteoric. Before I could realize I was sucked into his silky stroke play and for me Sachin became a synonym for cricket.

When I started playing serious cricket (the gully cricket was of course serious cricket), I started holding the bat right at the bottom of the handle and chose the heaviest of the bats available. So what if that made the cut, pull and the sweep shots much more difficult for me. After all I had to follow the way Sachin played, right? I used to plead to open the innings, my leg or middle guard on the crease was very much dependent on what guard Sachin took recently. At every opportunity I would (try) a back foot cover drive on the up, so what if we had a concrete wall in covers in our society (The Wall ≠ Dravid) and that brilliant shot yielded exact ZERO to the team (an edge of course would get some runs, as the square was open).

Throughout 1990’s Sachin became the prime reason to watch Indian cricket. Be it the way he first opened against New Zealand in 1994, that 90 against Australia in 1996 world cup, the Sharjah sand storm century followed by another in finals or so many other memories.

I could never be relaxed when he was on the crease, like millions of my fellow fans I prayed, didn’t move from my place, etc, just to make sure he did well in the match. I had seven posters in our bedroom, some bought and some gifted (couple of them easily approved by the family, as they helped hide some cracks in the wall).

Being a Sachin fan hasn’t been a smooth sailing, especially given the critics of him around me. People have come up with least analyzed statements like “Jab jab Sachin khelta hai tab India harta hai”.

Some friends and relatives used to pull my leg in good spirit but some were very serious anti Sachin campaigners. I have been involved in many heated discussions to defend Sachin in college, society, office and even with some unknown people in Mumbai local trains too. Top it all, once I hit a guy in my computer classes who vehemently felt Sachin was reason for India’s failure to win consistently and the argument went beyond proportions.

I used to call at his place to speak with him and the guy who used to politely tell me “to ghari nahi ahe” (He is not at home) was (presumably) his late father Mr. Ramesh Tendulkar.

I tried meeting Sachin once in early 1990’s through through through my relatives. My distant uncle were friends with a guy, whose daughter was Sachin’s class mate till 2nd standard. That’s how closely related I am to Sachin. I went in with my uncle to Patrakar colony, Bandra. Sachin was on England tour then and I had to console myself by having seen his house’s balcony and the place where he played his gully cricket.

The 2000 decade was different I completed my MBA and started working, that meant I couldn’t see Sachin play live. Switching to Cricinfo and rushing for highlights was all I could do. While doing my post graduation, came my first opportunity to play real cricket (the one with leather ball, gloves and pad).

Apart from the opportunity to play with the red cherry, was the chance to practice on the MIG ground at Bandra (the ground where Sachin practiced when he was at home). Guess that reason explains why I could bowl decent enough to get selected (although it was the first time with a leather ball).

India was to tour Pakistant in 2003/04. On a Tuesday at around 6.30 AM, my friends and I reached MIG ground for warm ups before we started our nets. Post warming up, we went ahead with our routine to fix stumps on our designated practice pitch. We saw one of the grounds man rolling a very heavy roller on our pitch. I asked him “Aap hamare pitch ko itna dhyan kab se dene lage?” (Since when did you started paying so much attention to our pitch?)

He pointed at the pitch besides and replied “tum log aaj us pitch par practice karo”.

On asking why, he said “aaj Sachin aa raha hai, vo yaha practice karega”.

Spontaneously my friend asked “Kaun Sachin?” and the guy just smiled (was the only time I saw him rolling the pitch so happily).

Unsurprisingly our practice went for a toss, no one was bothered to open the kit, few seniors were scrambling to find a mobile with a camera (camera in a mobile was rare then), few called friends nearby friends to bring in a camera urgently. For a moment I sat and wondered if he was really going come. I gathered myself and made sure I had a pen and paper for his autograph.

Guess what, he did come. Parked his blue BMW SUV just inside the gate and walked towards a chair and table kept especially for him near the boundary. I ran to get his autograph and expectedly a security guy made sure I didn’t get anywhere near to him.

My friends had a laugh at me; I really didn’t care, as I was too much in awe to get bothered because Sachin Tendulkar was sitting right in front of me. He put on his shoes (was wearing floaters when he came from home) and headed straight to nets. We concluded that he might have done his warm up at home itself. In fact most of the Mumbai team was there from Bahutule, Sameer Dinghe to Paras Mamhbrey and even Zaheer for fitness training with a Physio (he was frequently injured then).

By the time Sachin hit the nets, Ajit Tendulkar had arrived. Within minutes the MIG gates were closed (open otherwise) and there were people around the fence trying to catch a glimpse of Sachin and Zaheer. In the meanwhile somebody had managed to open the kit and arrange the stumps, I was in no hurry to start my bowling practice. I stood just besides the batting crease (outside the net of course) where Sachin was batting and realized the little master had very very strong forearms and a very strong upper body.

Although 5.5”, he looked fit enough to take down 2 to 3 decent size men. And I couldn’t stop noticing his MRF labeled broad bat, the light weight pads (the one I always saw and heard on TV) the way he took guard and the way he was unperturbed by the people and someone like me standing right besides his net.

He practiced against a bowling machine and the balls flew in very fast indeed (most of it were short of good length deliveries). Maybe to get used to Shoaib’s pace and bounce. Remember he was in his prime then. The balls weren’t leather ones, they were some bigger than normal rubber balls.

Then I heard Sachin speaking in Marathi “Are ikdoon davi kadoon ghe” (take it from the left side) instructing the guy handling the machine. For some reason I thought he must be very sophisticated and may be speaking only Engilsh, and so was completely floored by his normal Marathi speech. My respect grew multifold.

Post his practice he sat on the chair had tea and to everyone’s surprise obliged for autograph to everyone on the ground practicing. We formed a queue, first took Sachin’s signature and then rushed to Zaheer. I was speechless when I took his signature.

We enquired and found out that he was going to come the next day as well.

Hurrayyyyy !!! I got my black marker, my favorite white T-Shirt and a camera the other morning. He came and he practiced, this time though he was hitting them a long way (was defensive the previous day). He again obliged for the autograph and even for a photograph to everyone. My friend clicked for me and this time I even managed to shake hands with the master and wish him luck for the Pak series.

I even took snaps while he was practicing. Our captain approached him for a team snap and the Little Master again graciously obliged. The exponentially high respect for Sachin got multiplied further. I literally had a feeling of “I can die peacefully now”.

I was in the stands and have seen him in action at Wankhede against Sri Lanka in 1997/98 test match, against West Indies in 2011 test match and at an IPL match V/S Chennai. But the most memorable of them all was the Mumbai V/S Australia game at Brabourne stadium. A warm up match before the historic 2000-01 Austalia series.

He scored a double century, hitting 2 sixes to Shane Warne and one of them probably went out of the ground! That game also reminds me of Amit Pagnis (the then Mumbai opener) and Sanjay Manjrekar. Pagnis hit Shane 3 boundaries in an over and couple of them against the spin over covers (he bats left handed), the crowd went crazy. It was also the last first class match for Sanjay, he got a standing ovation. Kambli unfortunately lost his stumps sweeping at 10.

Sachin’s pull six against Caddick in 2003 world cup, the straight six against Kasprowicz at Sharjah and the famous cut shot six against Shoiab in 2003 world cup are some of my favorite moments. Fans like me can go on and on. Then came his double century in ODI, that was some record (thank god Anwar got out on 194).

As time went by, I started holding my bat in a conventional way rather than at the bottom of the handle. Sachin too, had to change his batting style to play more shots behind square than before. But his strike rate didn’t change much and neither did my attachment to the master.

Everyone talks about his batting but for me to understand how emotional and a child like cricketer he is, one has to see him bowl and field. Often we have seen Sachin crossing the century mark and calmly taking his helmet off and raising his bat and helmet towards the dressing room followed by a look towards the sky (almost like what’s to be so excited about).

Further, may be a common raise of the bat for the crowd. Many including me always felt we the fans deserved more prolonged and better acknowledgement. I loved him bowling, the slow medium pace, off spin, leg spin, googly, leg cutter, etc. The best part was when he took a wicket or a difficult catch; he used to get so excited like a child, almost as if he wasn’t expecting it to happen. This rather means he expected himself to score that century.

On 23rd Dec 2012 morning my friend messaged me about his retirement. I switched on the TV and saw the news channels reporting. Somewhere I felt I was expecting it and prepared. But as I saw and heard there was a lump in my throat and my eyes went moist. Prepared, was I?

Although off late playing selectively in ODI, I knew he will play in future (the big ones at least). The fact that we were about to play Pak, I felt he could have played this series. After all I deserved to know in advance that this is his last ODI series and innings. I would have bunked office for that one last time, known this is the last time he is wearing a blue, applauded his last innings, wicket, a throw and catch in ODI.

I will never know the atmosphere in the stadium where we knew this is his last. I will miss the last hoorah and we the fans deserved it. With the career being as celebrated as it was, it deserved a celebrated send off. It was almost like Richard Parker leaving Pi so unceremoniously on the beach (knowing this could be the last time he will ever see Pi).

He still plays the Tests. He will retire from tests too; I have to be prepared then. The question is will I ever be?

Sachin's  unconditional supporter and fan,
Ashutosh Garud "


1 comment:

Ashutosh said...

Thanks Bro for posting it.

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