'Sachin’s strength is his focus'
You could walk into any corner of India and pick hundreds of people who have seen dozens of Sachin Tendulkar knocks and remember them all.
And then there is Ajit Tendulkar – elder brother of the batting maestro – who has seen just three.
“When Sachin was in school, he asked our father not to allow me to watch him bat during matches. Despite that, once I went to watch him play, hiding behind a huge tree at the Shivaji Park. Suddenly the team tent caught fire and there was utter chaos. I ran towards the tent, along with everyone else, and Sachin saw me there. Since that day I decided that I would never go for his matches.
“I have only seen him bat in his debut Test series in Sialkot (Pakistan), at Lord’s in 1990 and at the Wankhede (Mumbai) 1993. I watch most of his innings later on tape or catch the highlights on television.
“I had travelled with him to Pakistan on his first tour. I woke up early in the morning to the musical sound of the azaan, which I love a lot. It was a cold December morning and very foggy. The game started late and you could not tell between the wicket and the ground. I met Sachin outside his dressing room before he went to bat and asked him to play well. He went into bat with the score reading 33-4 and played a match-saving knock of 55.
“It was a tough time when he was hit on the nose. I was unable to see what had happened, since the players had surrounded him. Afterwards, when the medical attendant returned from the middle he explained that the ball had hit the top of the helmet and smashed into his nose. There was a cut on his nose and a lot of swelling the next morning. It was a tough moment.”
“Sachin’s strength is his focus. He decides what is good for his game. Once you are focused, half the battle is won. The gift that he has is rare – not everyone has it. But he has not frittered it away. His only weakness is that he is a bit impatient but other than that, there are no faults in his game.”
Ajit Tendulkar picks Sachin’s five best innings
First hundred at Old Trafford against England - 1990
Your first Test century is always important. It came at a time when India had to save the Test. He was only 17 and had, a few months ago (in New Zealand) missed becoming the youngest Test batsman to score a hundred. (Current Indian coach John Wright had taken his catch when he was on 88).
To get that off his mind and score a masterly hundred on the fifth day on that wicket was truly creditable. The slow wicket was deteriorating and was not to his liking, as Sachin likes the ball to come onto the bat.
Here, he was patient against two of England’s finest bowlers that summer – Angus Fraser, who is one of my favourite bowlers, and off-spinner Eddie Hemmings. During that entire Test, Fraser bowled just one half-volley to Sachin. Other than that he was accurate and highly disciplined. Hemmings took important wickets throughout the series and was very accurate and wily. Devon Malcolm and Chris Lewis were also bowling well. That century in dire straits was the most important innings ever.
136 at Chennai against Pakistan 1998
Sachin was dismissed for a duck in the first innings due to an impatient shot against Saqlain Mushtaq.
We needed 272 runs to win in the second innings and he walked out to bat at 6 for 2 against a great bowling attack of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq.
The innings was tottering at 82-5 when he and Nayan Mongia got a huge partnership, before Sachin was dismissed with the score at 257.
Facing an attack of that quality, Sachin had stayed at the wicket for all the 251 runs that were scored. Everyone seems to miss that angle. He did his job fantastically well. That would easily be his all time best innings.
116 at Melbourne against Australia in 1999
The Australian attack comprised of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Damien Fleming and Shane Warne. McGrath is the best fast bowler in the world today. Only Dennis Lillee matches his rate of picking wickets. Lee was the fastest in the world, Damien Fleming was very accurate and Warne was at his peak.
Before the game, there was a lot of talk about McGrath having found a chink in his armor during the 1999 World Cup, when he dismissed Sachin with an unplayable delivery.
As captain of the Indian team, Sachin was under a lot of pressure – and he produced a classy knock. It was also the first time he was playing in Australia since 1996, when Sir Don Bradman had made a statement about the resemblance in his batting style with Sachin’s.
111 at Johannesburg against South Africa 1992-93
Azharuddin was captain of the Indian side against a South African attack that comprised Allan Donald, Brian McMillan and Craig Matthews. Sachin’s 111 came at a time when no other Indian batsman crossed 25 in the first innings. The fielding was top-notch. I had an intuition that Sachin would be unbeaten that day. India ended the day at 125-8 with Sachin batting on 75. The next morning, Anil Kumble gave him company as he slowly reached his fourth Test century.
Ranji Trophy finals 1990-91 at Wankhede against Haryana
There is one innings not played in a Test but which deserves special mention.
Mumbai was playing Haryana at the Wankhede stadium in the Ranji finals in 1990 and needed 300 plus to win the game on the last day. Mumbai was 34-3 as Sachin faced Kapil Dev, Chetan Sharma and off-spinner Yogendra Bhandari.
Sachin was bisecting the field without much trouble as he stroked his way to a fluent 96 before he was dismissed. Dilip Vengsarkar batted well towards the end of the game but Sachin provided the early thrust.
I wish Sachin’s 100 Test turns out to be a victorious one for India and gives us the first series win in 16 years. I pray that he bats well.
As told to Faisal Shariff