Having already clobbered Abdul Qadir in Peshawar and handled the fiery pace of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Sachin Tendulkar was already an India star when he turned up for Shivaji Park Youngsters' (SPY) Talim Shield (50 overs) match against National Cricket Club at the Cross Maidan.
The SPY team also included Sandeep Patil and Chandrakant Pandit. SPY skipper Naresh Churi, also coach Ramakant Achrekar's trainee, recalls the match: "The wicket was a bit soft, but since Tendulkar was playing, we wanted to ensure he got a full outing. So I elected to bat on winning the toss.
"I checked with Patil what number we should send Tendulkar and he said, 'better ask him where he is comfortable'. Sachin chose to open."
To the dismay of the Mumbai stalwarts, it turned out to be a forgettable outing for the youngster. "He scored some 40-odd runs but he just couldn't get his timing right. He played quite a few uppish shots and was scratchy," recalls Churi, who represented India at the under-19 level.
"It was a difficult wicket early on, but the innings was not of the level one would have expected from Tendulkar. After the game, we remember how Patil took Sachin to task for batting like that. He reminded him how everyone had come to watch him play and this is what he had to offer. Since then, I haven't seen Tendulkar play loosely even in a festival match," says Churi, who now coaches Tendulkar's alma mater, Shardahsram High School.
Tendulkar's approach reflects the great tradition of batting in Mumbai, and nothing exemplifies it better than this incident two decades ago. Apart from the important roles played by his coach Achrekar and brother Ajit, the famed Mumbai cricketing fraternity played a significant role in shaping the legend's career.
Mumbai's maidan men, who have seen the life and times of their great cricketers, see the unmistakable touch of Sunil Gavaskar, (Dilip) Vengsarkar, (Naren) Tamhane, Patil, (Lalchand) Rajput and Pandit in Tendulkar's game.
One of Mumbai cricket's great strengths has been the way the seniors took the responsibility of passing on the baton to the next generation, taking every care so that their legacy was intact. And, Tendulkar looks to be the last great player to emerge in that tradition.
Gavaskar was the biggest name in Indian cricket when Tendulkar started, but when he heard about the exploits of the prodigy, he was equally excited as his coach. Gavaskar found time to go and watch Tendulkar bat in a local match. When the most prolific batsman in that season missed the Mumbai Cricket Association's best junior cricketer's award, Gavaskar took time out to write a letter to inspire and lift the young gun's spirits. It's a letter still close to Tendulkar's heart.
When the national selectors were not sure whether the teenaged, baby-faced Tendulkar had it in him yet to play at the highest level, then India captain Vengsarkar went out of the way to have him bat at the India nets against the likes of Kapil Dev. That net session went a long way in proving to the world that Tendulkar was ready.
Still, it was not easy for the national selectors to be convinced about a 16-year-old. Former Mumbai and India wicketkeeper-batsman, the late Tamhane, batted for the young talent. The question everyone asked in that historic selection meeting for the 1989 Pakistan tour was: "What if he fails?" to which Tamhane, the selector from West Zone, retorted, "Tendulkar never fails." The confidence in Tamhane's voice was good enough to remove the doubts of all his co-selectors. Rest as they say is history.