Dominance is not the right word. Yes, Sachin Tendulkar dominates. But there is no subtlety in dominating— no sense of the art in the craft. Because, Sachin, like no other batsman today, brings art into his craft, and craft into his art. So when he dom- inates— even when he swears revenge on a bowler who has got him out cheaply— Sachin’s madness always has a method. Viv Richards was more of the madness, Sunil Gavaskar more of the method. Sachin— well, Sachin is the best of both.
Just over 10 years ago, I sat in the office of Sportsweek magazine with that same Sunil Gavaskar. Ayaz Memon and I were listening to Gavaskar in one of his rare, priceless moods. The ‘Little Master’ was delving deep into his own experience, his own genius, and bringing forth pearls of wisdom as sudden, and as effective, as his straight- drives back past the bowler.
Then Gavaskar came up with the following statement (remember, this was in 1988, when Dilip Vengsarkar was about to become captain of India): "The two best batsmen in Bombay today are Vengsarkar and Sachin Tendulkar." Full stop. End of statement. The ball crosses the boundary-line underneath the sight- screen.
Sachin was 15 at the time. His immense partnership with Vinod Kambli was already part of cricketing lore, and his name was there to be read in the fine- print almost every day. But he had only played for his school. Yet Gavaskar was certain.
And a few months later, when we were planning a sports- video for Sportsweek , Gavaskar’s words still filled my mind. I wanted to interview Vengsarkar and Tendulkar, the two best batsmen in Bombay.
I had always been a fan of Vengsarkar’s, and I knew that he has suffered from being a Shashi Kapoor to Gavaskar’s Amitabh Bachchan. But Gavaskar had retired, so Vengsarkar was free to be his own man.
Vengsarkar was ready and willing for the interview, and we decided to shoot it on the Marine Drive side of Hindu Gymkhana. When we enquired from Vengsarkar about Sachin, he told us that Sachin had net- practice with the Bombay team at Wankhede Stadium that morning. (Sachin had, by the time of interview, played for Bombay, and scored a century in his first Ranji Trophy match.)
Vengsarkar joined us at the nets, and the first sight I had of Sachin was him playing an off- drive on the ‘up’. And as I watched the stroke, Vengsarkar said: "Sachin Tendulkar’s weakness is going for his shots on the off side, and loft- ing them."
It was ten years ago that Vengsarkar said that. Today, just watch the off- side fields set for Sachin when he first comes in to bat. The opponents are planning— almost desperately— for that same alleged weakness of Sachin’s to appear.
Very seldom do they succeed. For Sachin Tendulkar has taken the art of driving on the ‘up’, and crafted it into one of the most breathtaking shots of modern cricket. Art and craft. The secret of Sachin.
Eventually, 10 years ago, Sachin had batted enough, and we took him to the Hindu Gymkhana. I interviewed him with a match going on in the background.
Sachin was shy, but confident. He spoke only enough to get his point across. He was not at all nervous about the interview, and treated it as a necessary experience. At the age of 15.
Ten years later, he speaks easier, and more often. But the confidence is the same. Not bravado, not ego. Just a deep confidence in his art, his craft. The essential Sachin has not changed.
In our interview, four points stood out. Firstly, Sachin stated that Gavaskar and Richards were his heroes.
Secondly, Sachin, without hesitation, said that he could read Hirwani’s googly, and was ready to face the West Indian fast- bowlers. (In fact, he said he prefers fast bowling.)
Thirdly, when asked whether he grew tired of batting while with Kambli in that mammoth partnership, Sachin’s reply was almost an unbelieving shake of the head.
And fourthly, Sachin made it very clear that being compared with Gavaskar was a bit embarrassing for him, and that he simply wanted to play his own, "natural" game.
The inspiration of Gavaskar and Richards, the confidence to face any type of bowling, the love for fast bowling, the desire to play and play, and, finally, the knowledge that your skill is unique— these ingredients made Sachin a very special 15- year old, and they still make him a very, very special 25- year- old.
After the interview, we had Sachin walk across to where he had left his bat and kit- bag, pick up his bat thoughtfully, look into the distance, and then pick up his kit- bag too, and walk out towards Marine Drive and into the future. It was a shot which any veteran actor would have rehearsed several times, and probably muffed just as often. Sachin did it— first take ‘OK’. It was as natural as his batting. Ten years later, he faces the cameras for umpteen ad- films with the same uncluttered ease.
Will Sachin still be as uncluttered, as natural, 10 years from now?
I write this soon after Sachin’s century in the second innings of the first match of the New Zealand tour. It was a match of no apparent importance, beyond getting to know the conditions.
And yet, Sachin played a knock of amazing skill and determination.
Because he, and India, had failed in the first innings. And Sachin Tendulkar knew how important it was for him to not only succeed in the second innings, but dominate with his art and craft. Which he proceeded to do.
Remember the knock against Shane Warne for Mumbai in the first match of Australia’s tour of India this year? Another apparently insignificant match. But Sachin used it to set the tone for an entire series. A series which will be written about for decades. A series which made Sachin a mythical legend.
Ten years from now, Sachin Tendulkar will still be doing just that— playing the game he loves to play to the best of his immense ability. It is as simple as that.
And just think— 10 years from now, Sachin will be only 35. He could still play for another 10 years after that.
And they will still be setting those off-side fields for him, trying to get him to drive on the ‘up’. Once again, it’s as simple as that.
And I will be showing my grandchildren the tape of Sachin’s interview.
In the year 2018.