I was just over a year old when Sachin Tendulkar made his Test debut. As a child growing up in the 1990s, my first memory of him is watching him play in the 1996 World Cup. The way he dominated the bowlers was simply brilliant, and that’s when I decided to make him my idol.
When playing cricket as kids, we all pretend to be a particular player. I always wanted to be Sachin. I wanted to bat like him, so I tried to copy the shots he played and hit sixes the way he used to hit them. He was the one player that always made me think: “I want to bat like him.”
I still remember the first time I met him. I was part of the Under-19 team that was to tour New Zealand in early 2007. The team was in Mumbai in January when Lalchand Rajput, our coach, asked Sachin if he’d like to have a word with us and tell us about the conditions we could expect in New Zealand since he had obviously played a lot of cricket there.
As soon as we saw Sachin enter the stadium, we got goosebumps since none of us had met him before that. He walked towards the area where we were practicing, and he spoke to us about the conditions. I just stood there looking at him. I didn’t even blink my eyes because I couldn’t quite believe it. It was something truly special.
After that, it was another two years before I had a one-on-one interaction with him, because I didn’t have the guts to go up to him and talk to him. We finally spoke during the Champions Trophy in South Africa in 2009. That was the first chat I had with him about technique and my batting. He advised me to make some adjustments. He pointed out areas in which I could improve, and he actually wanted to help me out. I remember thinking that was a really good gesture on his part.
When I was making to the national team, there were so many shots that Sachin hit which made me think, “Wow, I wish I could play that shot.” He used to hit a lot of off drives and straight drives, and I don’t think anyone at that point in time was able to hit fast bowlers the way he did. He would hit those shots that went straight over the bowlers’ heads. That was something amazing, I was totally blown away watching those strokes. The straight drive is something special.
Sharing a dressing room with Sachin has been a huge learning experience for me. One of the things I’ve learned is to have total dedication and passion for the sport. Sachin has always been a great professional. He understands what it means to be on the field, he never compromises on professionalism. His work ethic and hard work are amazing, and a lesson for everyone. It’s certainly something I picked up while playing alongside him.
I had the honour of having a few partnerships with him over the last few years. The one that has stayed in my mind is the one that we had against Pakistan in the 2012 Asia Cup. That was something really special because the match was a big one for us. That innings is special for me because I got 183, but to have a century partnership with Sachin (133 in 19.1 overs) in the last one-dayer he ever played made it even more memorable. To watch him bat the way he did was amazing. It was an honour. The way he motivated me during that innings completed that experience for me.
After the World Cup final in 2011, I was part of a group that carried him around the ground. He had been carrying the country on his shoulders for 21 years, and I felt it was time that some of us carried him. Sachin has done so much for cricket, and we all knew it was a special win for him. He’s always carried such a burden, all the time, so it was the most fitting thing that we could have done for him. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do something like that.
When I walked out to bat after Sachin lost his wicket in the final, the crowd at the Wankhede Stadium was completely silent. It was definitely one of the most nervous moments in my career. The memory of it will always stay with me because it was a such an important match for all of us. I could sense that everyone had lost a bit of hope when Sachin got out. I couldn’t believe that I was going to bat after him, and knowing that it was probably his last chance to win the World Cup, I was pretty nervous.
Later that year, I was selected in the Test side to play West Indies, and I scored fifties in both innings in the third and final match of the series. This was a very important game for me because I was then selected in the squad for the subsequent tour of Australia. I was pretty nervous, so I decided to speak to Sachin about it.
When I told him what I felt, he told me not to think too much about it, that it was important to just back myself and play my game. he told me I should stick to my strengths and not try to do something completely different. That was one chat I will always remember. Later on, in Perth, I remember I was batting on 69 going into lunch. He walked past me and told me to get a big one. I was the last wicket to fall after having scored 75, but that is something that has stayed with me and has motivated me always.
Virat Kohli was born a year before Tendulkar’s debut in 1989.