The year 1989 was crucial for me because I had just moved from the country into Sydney to play first-class cricket. That was the time I heard of a teenager called Sachin Tendulkar, who had burst on to the scene and was being annointed as successor to the great Sunil Gavaskar. Three years elapsed, and after a century at Perth, he was being earmarked as the next best thing to Sir Don Bradman.
Australia is a country where they love sportsmen of high quality, and I have no doubt that outside of India, you will find Tendulkar's greatest admirers among my countrymen. His centuries in Sydney and Perth in India's 1991-1992 series, at age 19, ensured that his career would be one that all cricket lovers in Australia would follow closely.
Interestingly, I did not witness either innings, but many of my team mates did swear that it was batsmanship of the highest quality -- high praise for a bloke who had not celebrated his 20th birthday.
By the time I made my international debut Tendulkar was already being counted among the best batsmen in the world. Most bowlers knew that his was the crucial wicket in an Indian batting line-up that boasted of many talented batsmen.
I enjoyed some beginner's luck against the little man when I first bowled against him. It was at Sharjah, in 1994, when I first claimed Tendulkar, who chased a short ball and pulled it straight to mid-wicket, where Mark Taylor took the catch. It was not a brilliant ball but the jubilation among my team mates made me realise it did not matter. When Tendulkar is out, you don't quibble about the means; you just celebrate the end result.
That was the first of many contests we have had. It is interesting to note that every India-Australia match is heralded as a Warne versus Tendulkar duel. This has worked to my advantage because I am away from the spotlight and this has helped me get the champion's wicket on quite a few occasions. However, I have by no means got Tendulkar's number and I think the scoreline of our encounters is 50-50. I might have a slight edge in Australia, but in India Tendulkar is truly unstoppable.
I have never made a secret of the fact that I rate Tendulkar the best batsman in the business. As far as I am concerned he is technically the most sound player I have ever bowled to. Add to that the manner in which he plays, always trying to dominate the bowler. Among his contemporaries, Steve Waugh, Brian Lara and Inzamam-ul Haq are often compared to the little maestro. Each has his trademark, but Tendulkar combines all of their qualities to make him the best of the lot. Steve is all about determination and making the bowler earn his wicket. Inzamam possesses a good eye and his lazy elegance makes him one of the best players to watch. Lara has flamboyance, and when he gets in, he always scores big centuries.
But Tendulkar possesses determination, a good eye and has a very high rate of consistency as far as centuries go. This puts him on top of my list along with Waugh. Mind you, Steve is at the top by virtue of his performances in the last nine years, that is between age 28 and 37. Tendulkar has just entered that phase of his career.
As I have mentioned earlier, Tendulkar and I have had many interesting encounters. Of these, I rate his dismissal at Adelaide as the most controversial one so far. It may be recalled that Tendulkar, anticipating a bouncer, had ducked into a ball that kept low, and was hit on the shoulder. Umpire Daryll Harper had no hesitation in giving the batsman out, lbw. I did feel for Tendulkar because I had meant to bowl a bouncer, but the ball had pitched on an odd spot and kept really low.
Since Tendulkar is not the tallest guy around and because he was not offering a stroke, he was out in my opinion. Had he been standing up, the ball would have crashed into his pads and there would have been no controversy. But the world's greatest batsman had been hit on the shoulder and commentators and journalists debated on the decision for the rest of the tour. The incident became infamous as the shoulder-before-wicket dismissal, but Tendulkar never made a fuss about it and went on to score a century in the next Test.
Another interesting episode was during the India-Australia one-dayer in Kenya during the last ICC Mini World Cup. Tendulkar was really pumped up and was going after me from the start of the innings. For a change I was not doing the talking! The little champion was hitting me all over the place and giving me a verbal dose as well. I remember being hit for two sixes over my head, but what surprised me more was that Tendulkar, who is normally unflappable, gave me quite a mouthful between the two shots. I could tell he was really pumped up and determined have to have a go at me. That was the first and last time I saw him take on a bowler verbally.
Even though we have played a fair bit of each other in the last three years, I have hardly ever spent any time with Tendulkar outside of a cricket field. Like me, he has a son and a daughter though my kids are a little younger. From all accounts, he is a family man like me, who spends every minute he can at home. It's not easy to be a cricket icon in India, where cricketers are idolized more than filmstars are. I can't even start to think how I'd have coped with the kind of attention Tendulkar draws. That is what makes his humility and patience with fans even more admirable.
Tendulkar now has 30 centuries in 99 Tests, which makes it a hundred in a little over every three Tests. Assuming he plays another 70 Tests - that is the bare minimum knowing what the itineraries are like these days - he will score 20 more centuries. It's not just a mathematical deduction that makes me certain he'll get 50 hundreds.
I've bowled to the man in almost all parts of the world and I am convinced that for him the impossible number is attainable.