IT was the 'greatest day' of Sachin Tendulkar's life. The day he met Sir Donald Bradman, for one full hour. In the ritual of hierarchy that sports builds over decades it was, in all probability, three players who would make the all-time final eleven in a cricketing line-up, chatting about the game. The press was excited, even the Indians in Adelaide got wind of the flight Tendulkar was coming on.
There were hordes of them at the airport. One approached Sachin to take him to the Ganesh temple at Adelaide because it was Ganesh Chaturthi. Another, who owned a restaurant, wanted Sachin to come and have Indian food. But it was a tired Tendulkar. And Greg Chappell had come to pick him up. And Tendulkar had to sleep.
Next morning, the day of the great encounter, Tendulkar had to be outfitted with a black dinner jacket for the banquet at night. The Chappell brothers took Tendulkar to Trims. Interestingly, the Chappells outfitted themselves too in black jackets, the first time since they left high school. Around three in the afternoon, Tendulkar, avoiding the media in the lobby, went straight to the basement from his hotel suite. With him in the car were his agent Mark Mascarenhas and Shane Warne. Remarks Mascarenhas: "Both Sachin and Warne were nervous like hell."
There were around 20 journalists waiting outside Sir Donald's house in Kensington, a 15-minute drive from the hotel. A modest, middle-class home, the three walked in to be introduced to the great man himself.
While Warne and Tendulkar were dressed in almost identical suits, the Don was in casual attire. The first thing Bradman did was to enquire about Warne's shoulder. To Tendulkar, he said: "I'm so glad you came." Says Warne: "He was very friendly, relaxed, mentally as sharp as ever and even threw in a few good one-liners, although I can't really remember them now, probably because I was trying too hard to take it all in."
He asked Tendulkar whether he moved before the ball left the bowler's hand. To which the younger batsman rather modestly replied, "I don't know." With a glint in his eyes, Sir Donald tapped Tendulkar's shoulder: "I think you do. You begin your movement before the bowler balls, otherwise you wouldn't have the time to play the kind of shots you do."
BEFORE Sachin could recover from the compliment the Don went on to the next. He commented that it didn't look like Sachin had been coached. Sachin said: "No, I've had three coaches. One in school, one at the state level and one at Test level." "I didn't think you were coached," explained Sir Donald, "because anybody who's been through coaches is told to play with the left elbow pointed towards mid-off. You don't do that. I didn't do that. That gives you the flexibility to play in any direction anywhere." And he went on to demonstrate a few strokes.
With the discussion turning to cricket in general, Sir Donald remarked that he watched cricket on television as often as he could and that he still enjoyed watching it. Said he: "The game's grown by leaps and bounds. But one-day cricket is where the game is today. The public comes to see runs scored and wickets fall. They want 400 runs in a day and 15-20 wickets to fall. That's entertainment."
Discussing the good batsmen of today, Sir Donald said he thought Sachin the best batsman around at the moment and the closest in style to the way he played. Says Warne: "Understandably, Sachin was very honoured by that." But he also commented about the high quality of cricket played by the Waugh brothers and Brian Lara though he thought Tendulkar's technique was perfect. Lara, he thought, took more risks. Warne agreed to that, saying: "Yes, he takes more risks. I think I can get him out anytime I want. He has so many openings. But with Tendulkar the problem is that there are no openings. He can spot the length of a delivery better than any other human being."
It was Warne's turn to ask the Don a few questions. Who's the best bowler the Don ever faced? "His reply," says Warne, "was the same as it has always been. Bill O'Reilly. He thought I bowled slower than O'Reilly and spun the ball more. He said O'Reilly's strengths were his pace and bounce. He always started with two short legs and got a lot of close catches with his extra bounce. Sir Donald described O'Reilly as a middle-finger leg-spinner while he said I was a third finger bowler." At which point Mascarenhas asked Sir Donald whether O'Reilly had any shoulder problems. "He pointed a finger to his head and said 'No, only one problem'," says Mascarenhas.
There were two queries Tendulkar had for the world's greatest batsman. What his movements were just before the bowler delivered the ball and how he prepared for a game. To the first, Sir Donald said he moved back and across to the off-side before delivery because he felt he could move quickly in any direction from there. "His answer to the second was amazing and showed the changes that have come over the game since he was playing," says Warne. Adds Tendulkar: "He said he went to office every day of a Test at seven to work (he was a stockbroker) and by 10 he was at the ground. After the day's play he went home for dinner and returned again at seven to his office to work till 10. He never had time to think of anything. He had to work to make ends meet. That he played as an amateur."
On hearing how much money Tendulkar was making, Sir Donald addressed Mascarenhas and said: "I hear you made him a lot of money. He has done very well. When I was a player I'd get one pound when I turned up for my state and 25 pounds when I played for my country. Now, players get money for playing cricket."
Sir Donald also had a comment on the weight of Tendulkar's bat. Said he: "That's very heavy. With a heavy bat it will make it hard to cut and pull." Of course, needless here to comment on the monstrosity of those very Tendulkar shots.
While Tendulkar admitted to being nervous before matches but getting even-keeled once he hit the stadium, Sir Donald said he still enjoyed watching cricket on television. He watched Tendulkar's recent Sharjah knocks on television. And he told him: "Next year when you come here get some runs."
As they turned to take their leave of the awesome cricketer, Sir Donald said: "I better come out with you or the photographers will be waiting the whole day." He even turned to Tendulkar and said: "I hope they don't give you a hard time. You will be hounded by autograph hunters."
Incidentally, the only sporting memorabilia around Sir Donald's house was a photograph of him and his wife with Pele.
For Tendulkar, however, the day wasn't over. At the dinner in honour of Sir Donald's 90th birthday cricket commentator David Hookes interviewed him on stage. Hookes started off by saying "Sachin you are only 26 and have achieved so much..." Tendulkar corrected him, to the amusement of the audience and said:
"No, David, I am only 25." Modest once more, he remarked the adulation and admiration he got from his countrymen was more a motivation than a hindrance. And though it was difficult to go out in Bombay he had to cope with it. On being thanked for having made it to Adelaide, the Indian genius remarked, amidst a thundering ovation, that it was his privilege and honour.
Of course, the ultimate compliment arrived in the papers a day later when John Bradsen, Sir Donald's son, revealed what his father said to him after Tendulkar took his leave. "What a bonzer little fellow!" he said. "He's a lovely chap." Bonzer, incidentally, is an Australian term for an excellent and pleasant person.