By Qamar Ahmed
In a week’s time the curtain will fall on the illustrious career of cricket icon Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar who will bow out of the game after an incredible twenty five years at the top, the longest by any player who had ever donned a Test cap for his country.
His 200th Test, the highest number that anyone has ever played, will be his last when he steps in at the Wankhede Stadium in the second and last Test on Thursday against the West Indies.
Everyone of his well-wisher will hope for Tendulkar to bow out bathed in glory and there is no doubt in the fact that Sachin, too, when he walks in to bat will have similar thoughts in mind, to make sure that he does not disappoint his fans and followers.
His 199th Test which India won by an innings against the West Indies at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata and the send off in his penultimate match may not have been as successful as he may have planned, but it certainly was memorable for the love and affection that the crowd showered on him despite his failure with the bat.
A well-deserved standing ovation greeted him as he emerged to bat and also when he walked back to the pavilion after being given out to a debatable leg before decision.
Tendulkar’s journey to stardom had started from his school days in Mumbai when, just over 15 years of age, he made his first class debut in Ranji Trophy with a hundred for Bombay against Gujrat. As if this was not enough to announce his arrival, he repeated the feat while making a hundred each on debut in Duleep Trophy and in Irani Trophy. This, in fact, immediately after scoring a triple century in a school tournament during a partnership of 664 with Vinod Kambli.
The precocious talent Sachin was now ready to don his country’s cap as word got around about this unique talent and the selectors picked him for his first tour to another country which was Pakistan.
From a humble beginning then to the top of the world as the most successful batsman of history, for him there was no stopping.
I am privileged to have covered his Test debut at Karachi in 1989-90, his first Test century at Old Trafford and also his hundredth Test at The Oval, but that is a long journey to pontificate on. In this article, however, I will highlight his debut series and his first tour to New Zealand the same season where he missed his first Test century and thus failed to become the youngest ever to make a Test ton.
He was only 16 years 205 days when he played in his debut Test match at Karachi which was incidentally Kapil Dev’s 100th Test and in which he bagged his 350th wicket. In the same Test match, Mohammad Azharuddin claimed five catches, but Tendulkar’s match was not that memorable because he made only 15 and was bowled by debutant Waqar Younis’ thunderbolt.
He, however, scored two fifties — one at Faisalabad and another at Sialkot where one Waqar bouncer hit him on the face and yet on the next delivery he despatched him for an exotic cover drive for four as if nothing had happened.
In that four-match series, Sachin ended with an average of 35.83. Nothing sensational but a humble beginning which showed every sign that he was ready to take on the best, no matter where they came from.
Immediately afterwards, he was part of yet another tour, that of New Zealand, a series which was made memorable for the fact that Richard Hadlee bagged his 400th Test wicket, the first to do so when he bowled Sanjay Manjrekar in the second innings of the Christchurch Test which India lost.
I was touring with the Indian team to New Zealand then and was covering the series for the BBC, The Times of London and was one of the TVNZ guest commentators.
The focus then shifted to Napier where rain played a major role in the drawn game. The first day’s play was lost and in the four days left, Tendulkar played a delightful innings of 88 on the fourth afternoon before being caught at extra cover by John Wright off Danny Morrison, missing thus his first Test century and the opportunity to become the youngest ever to make a Test hundred.
Mushtaq Mohammad still remains the youngest to have scored a Test century when during Pakistan’s 1960-61 tour to India he made a fighting hundred.
“The 16-year-old Sachin batted with poise of a player twice his age” said a ‘Wisden’ report on his Napier Test innings.
He walked back to the dressing room with a glossy eye and in despair but in no doubt convinced that his could be a long stint for his country which has thrown him into the lion’s den at a tender age.
Not long after he scored first (119 not out) of his 51 Test centuries at Old Trafford against England after India were set to make over 400 runs in 88 overs to win and had lost six wickets in doing that before Tendulkar set in to repair the damage and then finish with an unbeaten innings, showing maturity beyond his age.
This was also the series in which England captain Graham Gooch scored a triple century (333) and a century in the Lord’s Test and Azharuddin’s brilliance with the bat brought him 121, one of the best innings ever played at Lord’s.
After the series in England where India lost the rubber, Tendulkar’s childhood dream and that of his parents Ramesh and Rajni’s had started to become a reality as he continued to wield his authority as a batsman of substance.
A star was born who then went on to rule the cricketing world. (Courtesy the Dawn)