The atmosphere at the Wankhede Stadium on Sachin Tendulkar’s last day as a cricketer was truly emotional. His heartwarming speech was a wonderful way of capping off a glorious career, and I was fortunate enough to witness the proceedings firsthand.
My relationship with Tendulkar goes back a long way. Our friendship has always been strong, and he will always be the ‘Special One’ for me.
We met for the first time when we toured England as teenagers with Kailash Gattani’s Star Cricket Club. However, it was during the Under-15 zonal camp in Indore that I got a proper look at him. By then, he was already a known name in cricketing circles and, when I saw him play in one of the matches there, I told myself that if he did not play for India for at least 15 years, he would be wasting his talent.
While Tendulkar did not take too long to bat his way into the Indian team, I became a regular only in 1996. We shared a 64-run stand in my debut Test, at Lord’s, and followed it up with a partnership of 255 in the next Test at Trent Bridge.
It was always a joy to bat with him. Across the two formats, we would go on to set a partnership record of 12,400 runs, including 38 stands of 100 or more. The on-field success was possible because we understood each other well. We could read each other’s mind, knew each other’s game, and make out who was setting up which bowler for some ‘special’ treatment. This bonding helped us gauge situations collectively and take decisions accordingly.
Interestingly, while we used to be in the middle, we did not speak much about each other’s batting except for a quiet word here and there. We would mostly chat about something that would take our mind away from the game between overs, help us relax and re-focus once again. Yes, at times we did plan who among us would be setting up and targeting which bowler. It was a lot of fun.
It was even more enjoyable to stand at the non-striker’s end when he scored his 34th and 35th Test hundreds, first to equal the great Sunil Gavaskar and then to go past him. From the century he got in Perth in 1992 to that knock of 169 in the 1997 Cape Town Test, to the double hundred in Sydney in 2004 , the twin centuries in Sharjah in 1998 — there are countless innings of his I have cherished and been privileged to witness as a colleague.
That he managed to score all around the globe consistently was because of his ability to judge the situation quickly and adapt. During the Newlands Test in 1997, I remember watching him make a special foot movement which I hadn’t seen him do before, not even at the nets. He later told me that he did it in that game for the first time as he believed it was the best way to tackle the situation. Remember, South Africa’s attack consisted of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, Paul Adams, Brian McMillan and Hansie Cronje, a bowler Sachin did not really fancy facing. It is from these small details that one gets the measure of his greatness.
Apart from his batting, Sachin was also a big asset to the team think tank. He is among the best thinkers on the game, and during my tenure as the Indian captain, his presence in the side benefitted me a lot. The usual public perception is that once someone gains a certain status, it becomes difficult to manage him. But with Sachin, that was never the case.
In fact, it was an honour to captain him because I could actually tell him what I wanted him to do at any point of a game. He was a team man to the core who realised the larger needs and always placed the team’s benefit ahead of his personal interests. Just like we looked up to him to do special things with the bat, he played an equally crucial role with the ball.
He loved bowling. One just had to throw him the ball at a crucial time, and he would roll over his arm and get us wickets. Nothing stands out in my mind more than his important spells in Kolkata (2001), Adelaide (2003) and Multan (2004), when he helped India win games by taking vital wickets.
From the time we first met to the day he retired from the game has been a really long journey. He has overseen the progress of three generations of Indian cricketers and that is an achievement by itself. He will take some time to find an engagement that will fill the gap in his life, but for the moment he should stay away from the game and take some time off. More importantly, the public should allow him his space and leave him on his own, so that he can relax as much as he wants with his family. I believe that will do him a world of good.