Perfectly sensible characters start talking about divine intervention. It's the kind of sway Sachin Tendulkar holds in India, more so over his city, Mumbai.
Laxman Chavan is no star-struck fan. He is a hardcore cricket guy, a former club player, local coach and a Mumbai Cricket Association administrator, who understands the art of the game and the science behind it. But bring up the name Tendulkar and he is swept away in a whirlpool of emotions.
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At 1.45am on Tuesday night Chavan called up. We had been discussing Tendulkar's 40th birthday in the evening and he said he wanted to share something more. "Now I know why India was gifted with Sachin," he said excitedly. "Cricket and God decided his time of birth." It's called the Tendulkar-impact -- the emotions he is bringing out among his worshipers as he nears the end of a great career.
Chavan was legendary coach Ramakant Acherkar's Man Friday, the one who would act as Sir's legs to carry out his ideas and reach out to teams playing in various corners of the metropolis. As Achrekar's assistant, he is among the ones who chiselled the batting genius by their own hands. Naturally, there is great pride on his 40th birthday.
Every aspect of Tendulkar's career is well documented except for a few from his early life. Some things only men from Mumbai's Maidans know and are now part of cricket's folklore. Tendulkar scored his first club hundred under Chavan's captaincy and the world record partnership with Vinod Kambli in the Harris Shield school cricket playing for Shardashram, was at Chavan's Sassanian Club ground at Azad Maidan.
Chavan shared some splendid insight based on sound cricketing logic. "For me, his biggest quality is to study the game. What happened the day before and why it happened? Once, he was in Mumbai's Under-15 team and the camp was at Wankhede. We had a school game at my ground, Sassanian, where Achrekar and I were sitting when Sachin came up and asked Sir. 'I got bowled at the nets (Wankhede) yesterday. Why did I get bowled?
"We looked at each other and Sir smiled. The question from such a young player startled us. It showed how he was thinking about the game. 'Laukar khela la paheje Wankhede sarkha wicket var (You have to get into position early on the Wankhede wicket," Sir explained to him.
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"They are better wickets than our Maidan wickets; a lot less used, hence fresh. They use a heavier roller and so it's fresh and faster. The science of the game used to get etched in his memory. He is the best because he's the best student of the game. His homework is amazing," recalls Chavan, now retired from service. Many have wondered about his ability to adjust to various conditions. Chavan's example has the answer. Another aspect people wonder about is his ability to stay away from controversies. "He's been smart enough to understand it doesn't pay off in Indian cricket," says Chavan.
"Once he was not picked in a junior team and I rushed to the Wankhede in anger, ready to take on the selector who had dropped him. Sensing my mood, the little-boy immediately pleaded, "Sir, please don't say anything because the selector will hold a grudge against me'. I was amazed by how far he was thinking and stopped."
For all the calm he exudes now, Tendulkar's is a restless soul. He has admitted how he couldn't sleep ahead of the Pakistan game in a World Cup. Sulakshan Kulkarni, his teammate in his debut first-class season, and now his Mumbai team coach, says it's an old habit.
"It was his first season with Mumbai Ranji team and Sachin was my roommate during the away game against Maharashtra at Aurangabad. I woke up for something at 12.30am and noticed light on the wall. The young boy was watching TV. He had kept the volume very low. When I asked: 'Don't you want to sleep?' He replied: 'Not able to, will do so in some time'.
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"I hit the bed. Again I got up at around 2.30 to find the TV still on. Only this time it was on mute and Sachin was still awake. Even then he played a fluent knock of 80 odd. That's how he was," recollects Kulkarni.
Boy next door
According to his friends, he was like any normal child. "He was very mischievous, full time-pass (fun-loving in Mumbai lingo)," says Ricky Couto, his classmate from 7th to 10th.
"We used to sit together, permanent backbenchers. Hardly a day went by when we wouldn't get punished, hit with dusters or the teacher would make Sachin sit next to him. Our chemistry professor had a special liking for us and must have punished us the most," recalls Couto, who now works for a shipping company. "But, whatever happened, he would never miss a match even if he had to bunk exams. He would say, 'Exam I can give next year also, but the match won't come next year."
Like all schoolboys a holiday was special. The Shardashram boys led by Tendulkar and Kambli, would sometimes manufacture one too. "If a three-day game would be getting over by the second evening, they would stretch it till the third morning and then enjoy the day at the Marine Drive or go for a movie," says Couto.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.