His achievements on the cricket field, his records and statistics are a matter of public record. But what of the man behind the legend? Boria Majumdar gives a gilmpse of a Sachin Tendulkar few know about
The brief given to me by the editor was simple: “Can you please write about the Sachin we don’t know for there’s been much written about his statistics, his records and his cricketing achievements over the last week?”
For someone whose life is a public record, it seemed an onerous task. In reality, however, it was fun. To write about his non-cricketing interests and what I call the “other Tendulkar” was as fascinating as watching a quality Tendulkar knock.
First things first. Tendulkar, it is no secret, owes his humility and modesty to his family. He has not only dedicated his 100th 100 to his brother but is also the first to recognise Ajit’s contribution to the making of the Sachin Tendulkar phenomenon. Ajit, it is well known, has sacrificed his own career to ensure Sachin always had the support he needed. Anjali, a top student in her own right, comes from a similar background and the Tendulkars are imparting the same values to the two children, Sara and Arjun. There has never been any extravagant celebration in the Tendulkar household, something that can be traced back to the codes of behaviour Ramesh Tendulkar believed in and in turn imparted to his children. It is his family background that explains Sachin’s rootedness to a major extent.
To go back to how it all started. For a man who is used to seeing his name in the newspapers, it is interesting to know how it all began. How and where did Tendulkar’s name appear for the first ever time in a newspaper? This happened for the first time in 1987 courtesy the scorer in a local match in Mumbai. The rule was a player’s name would appear in the following day’s papers provided he scored 30 runs. Tendulkar was not out on 24 when the match ended. However, there were many extras in his teams’ innings including wides, leg byes and no balls. The scorer decided to credit six extras to Tendulkar’s personal tally, increasing his score to 30 without changing the overall score. His conscience was clear — he hadn’t tampered with the overall score. How does it matter if there were six extras less and six runs credited to Tendulkar’s score when his team had won the match comfortably? Next day, Tendulkar was thrilled to see his name in print for the first time.
With his name being discussed in the press in Mumbai, his training turned substantially more rigorous under the watchful eyes of Ramakant Achrekar. So much so that he was even slapped by his coach on one occasion. Yes, Tendulkar was once slapped by Ramakant Achrekar for breaching the code set out for him.
The story goes thus: Achrekar had instructed Tendulkar to practice at a certain time of the day. Tendulkar, however, decided to skip practice and went to watch another local match being played at the Azad Maidan. Unfortunately for him, he was spotted by his guru. Achrekar, after venting his ire on Tendulkar, had said to him, “You are not supposed to be here and clap for people. You are supposed to practice so that people clap for you in the future.” The lesson was well learnt and we continue to clap for the legend even after 23 long years in international cricket.
Many have asked what the secret is to Tendulkar surviving the grind in international cricket for nearly a quarter century? Besides his talent, which isn’t something I need to talk about, the three other stand-out qualities are his passion for the game, discipline and ability to self-regulate.
He eats extremely healthy and at the same time is a massive foodie. Tendulkar, believe it or not, can very well be the brand ambassador for Japanese food. He loves his Sushi and Sashimi, Wasabi and tempura. In fact, if he is given a choice to pick a restaurant he inevitably picks a Japanese food joint. It was interesting to see him take his time over the order when we were in Adelaide at Masuri, one of his favourite Japanese restaurants Down Under. In fact, it is Tendulkar who has been instrumental in encouraging many of his teammates to try out various cuisines when on tour, his regular compatriot in tasting world culinary delights being Zaheer Khan.
Having seen him play round the cricket world, I feel it is pertinent for his fans to note that Tendulkar is the only cricketer who, when he steps out to bat in Sydney, Barbados, Lahore, Cape Town or even Lord’s, gets the same standing ovation. In an otherwise hostile MCG, especially Bay 13, the racist cries of “Wanker” come to a standstill every time he steps out to the middle. Again, the Lord’s long room stands up to applaud the man whenever he plays at cricket’s mecca despite him not getting a hundred at the ground. In fact, they just love him at Lord’s and feel it is more their loss than his that his name is not on the honours board.
What explains this adulation? The answer is simple. His cricket goes far beyond the cricket field and often provides salve for a troubled nation. This was best evident during the first Test on Indian soil against England after the 26/11 attacks. In the first Test after the terror attack it was imperative that India played well to get the country back to a sense of normalcy. The English set a mammoth 387 to chase in the fourth innings, a score never before overhauled on Indian soil. Following up on a Sehwag blitzkrieg, Tendulkar was unbeaten on 103 when India chased down the highest ever fourth innings total on home soil. Facing the cameras on his way back to the dressing room, Tendulkar took only a second to dedicate the knock to the victims of 26/11.
A passionate Indian and an ardent nationalist it was sad to see scribes questioning his commitment to the game during his wait for the 100th international 100. Forgotten was the fact that the man had scored 99 international hundreds for India over a period of 22 years enduring incredible pain on occasions. This is Indian cricket’s biggest irony. We love to question our greats when they aren’t in their best frame and love to take them down.
With Tendulkar, however, you do so at your own peril. Ramiz Raja summed it up nicely in Dhaka, “The moment you say something negative about a man who has redefined batsmanship you run the risk of looking foolish the next time he walks out to bat. More often than not you will have to eat your words. The best thing is to enjoy the man for as long as he is around.” Ramiz is spot on.