November 15 - An unforgettable date for Sachin Tendulkar fans
27 years ago, a short right-handed middle order batsman, aged 16, made it to the Indian team for a Test in Karachi against their arch-rivals Pakistan. The youngster became a textbook for batting as his career transgressed into a demi-godly status in Indian cricket. Of course, we are talking about the maestro of batting, the master blaster Sachin Tendulkar.
The speciality of November 15
Incidentally 3 years ago, on his home ground in Mumbai, he bid goodbye to a career that was an inspiration for the youth of the country to pursue Cricket, on this very day. That his debut and retirement falls on the same day is more reason for Sachin fans to revive memories of their beloved batting star on this special day.
Rarely has there been a cricket career more celebrated. Bradman, regarded as the greatest batsman of all-time, had a stupendous career that transcended the very boundaries of ordinary. Tendulkar was different, as he carried the hopes and burdens of a billion people on his little shoulders for more than two decades.
His record breaking achievements and modest nature are testimonies to the greatness of this little man. The kind of intense pressure and media attention he had to face is difficult to fathom. Yet he barely put a foot wrong in a long career amassing a hundred centuries and becoming the top run-getter in the game.
He has played more International matches than any other player and played with or against, as many as, 989 players. He has compiled 15,847 runs in Tests averaging 53.71, with 51 hundreds, and 18,426 one-day runs at 44.83 including 49 hundreds. The first double century in ODIs was compiled by this little genius against South Africa in Gwalior.
The 2011 World Cup victory at home capped off a wonderful career. That he retained the same passion and hunger 24 years after his debut is proof of his undying devotion and respect towards the game.
The debut and the lead-up
On a hot day in Karachi, a young Tendulkar, who had already created quite a stir in Indian media for the way he played Kapil Dev in the Wankhede nets, walked out to the centre for the first time in International Cricket. He was up against another debutant, who would go on to become one of the greatest fast bowlers in the history of Pakistan cricket, Waqar Younis.
A stirring straight drive, a shot that Tendulkar fans have identified as his own, for four started off a prodigious career. A cut shot yielded another four runs before an inswinging full-length ball from Waqar accounted for him on 15 off 24 balls.
The 20-over exhibition game in Peshawar, held along with his debut series, showed Tendulkar in blistering touch as he made 53 off a mere 18 balls, smashing 28 off an Abdul Qadir over, including 4 sixes.
His debut was planned for the West Indies series in early 1989 itself. However, to prevent a young batsman from being exposed against the famed Windies quicks, it was delayed till the tour of Pakistan. The credit for the selection of the 16-year-old child goes to Raj Singh Dungarpur, the chairman of the selection committee at the time.
Sachin credits his half-brother, Ajit, 10 years elder to him, for shaping his career by introducing him to Ramakant Achrekar, a famous cricket coach at Dadar, Mumbai. Under Achrekar, Tendulkar would train for hours and his batting brilliance prompted the coach to place a one rupee coin on his off stump and reward it to any bowler who could clean him up. If none could, Sachin would win the coin. He still holds the 13 coins he earned close to his heart.
In 1987, he attended the MRF Pace foundation to become a pace bowler, where Dennis Lillee discouraged him from taking up the bowling and asked him to concentrate on his batting. It turned out to be an advice that didn't auger well for the Aussies in future.
1988 turned out to be even better for Sachin as he, along with his friend and teammate, Vinod Kambli, compiled an inseparable 664-run partnership in a Lord Harris Shield inter-school game against St. Xavier's High School, a record that stayed that way till 2006. Tendulkar remained unbeaten on 326 and amassed over 1000 runs in the tournament.
He scored debut hundreds in the Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy, becoming the first batsman to achieve the feat in domestic cricket. His promotion to International Cricket was just a matter of time and when it did arrive, he grabbed it with both hands.
The first Test hundred and the tour to Australia
After the tour of Pakistan, Tendulkar's next series was against England in England in 1990. On 14th August, he became the second youngest cricketer to smash a Test century, making a match-saving 119 not out in the second Test at Old Trafford.
Wisden describes his knock: "He looked the embodiment of India's famous opener, Gavaskar, and indeed was wearing a pair of his pads [Gavaskar had gifted him a pair of his light weight pads]. While he displayed a full repertoire of strokes in compiling his maiden Test hundred, most remarkable were his off-side shots from the back foot. Though only 5ft 5in tall, he was still able to control without difficulty short deliveries from the English pacemen."
In 1991-92 he enhanced his reputation on a tour to Australia making a fighting 148 in Sydney and then 114 runs on a difficult Perth wicket against the likes of Merv Hughes and Craig McDermott. Hughes is said to have been extremely impressed with the talented Sachin and warned Allan Border about him.
The year 1998
Sachin tortured the great Australians in the year 1998. He had made 3 magnificent centuries against them before the Wills cup, including back to back ones in Sharjah, later labelled as the 'Desert Storm.' His runs against Australia in the year read - 8, 100, 15, 80, 143 and 134.
He had an average of 88.71 against the Aussies in ODIs that year. In Tests, it spiked to 111.50. He already had master leg spinner Shane Warne dancing to his tunes after the famous 155* in Chennai that year. Such was his domination over the Aussie spinner that after the desert storm, Shane Warne publicly admitted, “I’ll be going to bed having nightmares of Sachin just running down the wicket and belting me back over the head for six."
In the Wills International Cup, Sachin became the first to record a hundred and four wicket haul in the same match in ODIs. That the opposition was Australia was no surprise. He had been their nemesis right through the year. Not that he was poor against other nations. His overall form was outstanding.
In 28 ODIs, he averaged 64.48 with 7 hundreds and as many fifties. He had already compiled 1471 runs in the year before this quarter-final match against Australia.
Such levels of batting had to surely pave way for a tryst with leadership. In Sachin's case, it was no different. But he could never replicate his golden touch with the bat in captaincy.
His two attempts at the helm are possibly the only low points in his 24-year career. Initially, given the captaincy in 1996, it was taken back from him in 1997 after India's poor performances.
However, Tendulkar seemed to be upset at the decision and was later quoted as revealing, “My tenure was not long enough and it was a big disappointment for me to overcome.”
Since the 2000s, the wait for the 100th hundred and the retirement rumours
After the turn of the century, Sachin became a revered person in India, attaining a Godly image and came to be called as the 'Master Blaster'. His 2003 World Cup form, finishing as the Player of the Tournament, guided India to the finals after which they lost to Australia.
After notching up a double hundred against South Africa at home, Sachin capped off a fine career with a World Cup win. Rumours about his retirement had started doing rounds long before and the World Cup win only strengthened it. But Sachin hung on for a year more before hanging up his boots in ODIs in December 2012.
This wasn't before an eventful period of 34 innings from his 99th to 100th hundred. Sachin was in blistering form from 2008 till 2011, cracking 21 hundreds and averaging 65.21 and 52.41 in Tests and ODIs respectively over this period. His 100th hundred was expected to come shortly after his 99th given his prodigious form. But what followed was a painful, scrutinising period of 34 innings.
An average of 32.87 with eight fifties in these 33 innings became a career low point and calls for his retirement grew strong. Finally in March 2012, 370 days after his 99th hundred, he ended speculations with a hundred against Bangladesh in Mirpur.
The 200th Test - curtains on a fine career
BCCI arranged for a grand farewell to one of the game's greats by scheduling a home series against West Indies, shortening a series against South Africa. The idea was to cap off Sachin's 200th Test and retirement in his home ground in Mumbai.
"All my life, I have had a dream of playing cricket for India. I have been living this dream every day for the last 24 years," Tendulkar said in a statement. "It's hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it's all I have ever done since I was 11 years old. It's been a huge honour to have represented my country and played all over the world. I look forward to playing my 200th Test match on home soil, as I call it a day."
Sachin walked out to bat one final time on the very day he made his debut against Pakistan in 1989, November 15. He remained unbeaten during the day and on November 16, the next day, he was dismissed for 74, edging to Darren Sammy at slips, whose expression revealed what Tendulkar's career meant to the game of cricket.
He never got the chance to play a second innings as West Indies quickly fell apart in both innings. A disappointed set of fans could never witness a 101st hundred from the batting maestro.
He addressed cricket fans in a heartbreaking speech at the Wankhede in Mumbai after his 200th Test. The speech ended with the words that pierced the hearts of every fan who has watched the Master Blaster bat - "’Sachin, Sachin’ which will reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing."