Sachin Tendulkar, a true inspirational figure
Talk of reflections during the Coronavirus-hit times, when sporting activity everywhere has come to a standstill and what better than delving into the greatness of India's cricketing legend Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
There is also another reason for this. The great man had turned 47 just a few days ago and typical of him he decided this was not the time for celebrations, which is usually a national affair thanks to his legion of fans, but do that extra bit as the world fights the deadly disease.
Reams have been written on him, his performances, right from the time he stepped on to the cricketing world as a 16-year-old for what was a baptism by fire in Pakistan in his debut series in 1989. The kid turned a man overnight there and he never looked back thereafter. And still there seems to be so much more that can be said of him because he was not just a great cricketer, a world beater or a batting-charm but a polished human being too who could stand the test of excellence in whatever he did.
Memories go back to 1994 when I first met him in Vijayawada during the Wills trophy cricket event (now defunct). It was a quarterfinal match, Sachin was leading the Bombay side against Bengal. As a representative of a leading national English daily from South, I was there to cover the event and as part of my duty, had to meet him on the day prior to the match for what we call the curtain raiser. So there I was at the Indira Gandhi Municipal stadium quite early in the morning hoping for a glimpse of him and grab a few words from the already turned super star.
For, Sachin had by then not just put the nightmarish Pakistan series behind him but made ripples around the cricket world with his batting displays in New Zealand, England, Australia and the like. In five years he had established himself as one who was well on his way to become a phenomenal player. Just 21 and already a veteran of success! The effect was seen in that Andhra town as a few thousand cheering cricket-fans had thronged the stadium in anticipation of having a look at this wonder-batsman! There was a roar and an instant chant of 'Sachin' as the Bombay players trotted out for the nets.
Approaching Sachin, I made my first move but was instantly stuck by the player's cordiality and then moved by what he said thereafter. “Can we speak after the practice session? I have to be there with the others in this session. That is the correct thing,” he signed off leaving me wonder, if the wait would be fruitful. Still there was no mistaking that sense of commitment and that sparkle of assurance in his eyes. So wait I did for the next two to three hours.
The sun had risen and Vijayawada could be unpleasant at that hour and as the session ended, I looked up in expectation. However, the players slowly drifted off towards the pavilion and soon disappeared. The crowd too melted away perhaps towards the stadium gate in preparation for another round of cheers. Just as I started to trudge along, a touch disappointed, came the surprise. Sachin had made another appearance from the pavilion and this time, seeing his gestures, it seemed he was in search of somebody. As it happened it was me. From a distance he waved. Disbelief was my first reaction for he had kept his word. Such is the man. He could floor you with his demeanor, humility and his down-to-earth attitude.
“Sorry I kept you waiting. But I am sure you will appreciate it,” he began in an apologetic tone. “I have to be with the other players because nets is a strict routine,” he went on before settling to “now I am free. You can ask me anything. I have the time.”
This narration is necessary because not often does one get to see a man of his nature, particularly one who had seen success of such enormity so early in life, yet seemed so detached from it all. Fame had become his second name. Not many could hold success with such equanimity. Yet not a whit did he look changed by all this. Nothing had entered his head to give a different dimension of character.
Feet firmly on the ground and committed to the core, Sachin straightway presented himself as a rare breed. That he carried the same attitude throughout his career is one big reason for what he ultimately became in the sport. Not all achievers have generated the kind of interest as he does. When he bowed out of the game in 2013 there must have been a tear in the eyes of every genuine cricket fan and six and half years later, if he still remains in the news, then it is a tribute to what he was and continues to be - a gentleman sportsperson, out and out.
Sachin's interest in other sports is well known. He was keen on the development of all sports in India and more importantly wanted the country to be a sporting nation. Whenever he could he was there to be an inspirational figure for any sport. That is how he was at the Rio Olympics in 2016 to pep up the Indian squad. Who else can do that better than the man who had carried the burden of a billion dreams in his playing days.
Fans in Kerala will particularly remember him for his association with Kerala Blasters football team, which plays in the ISL. For long he was the face of this side. Though he has given up the links with the Blasters he continues to be an ardent supporter of the men in yellow. So goes the saga of a great sportsman, a true Bharat Ratna! Sachin remains a man with a mission.