Normal team meeting routine: John Wright outlines a broad plan, Sourav responds, others say their bit and then everyone, waiting silently, looks towards Sachin, sitting inconspicuously in a corner.
The Master speaks, makes his point in a few clear, crisp sentences. It could be advice to a batsman, a word of caution about an opposing bowler, or a sharp observation about a rival batsman's strengths.
Obviously, Sachin has a state-of-the-art cricket computer in his brain, loaded with all possible software and programmes. He uses this database to help his mates — Sachin is available to them as a phone-a-friend lifeline at all times. The players respect Sachin's achievements, his stature, his focus and excellence.
What makes Sachin remarkable is that he remains unaffected by fame and glitter. Despite what he has achieved, he is still a student not a sage, a player not a pundit. The master never throws his weight around, never pulls rank — he does not have to because the others willingly show deference.
Sachin occupies a favourite corner in the dressing room and has first choice to pick a seat in the team bus. In hotels, Sachin gets upgraded to a suite — a minor courtesy readily extended by the management to a celebrity.
Opposing teams ask Sachin for his autograph, put in requests for a picture and he invariably obliges. Watching him work, it is difficult to imagine that he is the ultimate star whose powerful presence drives home the economics of cricket — all the millions (and the resultant contracts and controversies) of the ICC hinge on him.
Sachin is quite comfortable being one of the boys and happy to play tennis-ball cricket with Bangar’s son near the lift in the corridor of the Sandton Sun Hotel. He does not think twice before throwing balls for Dravid and Sehwag to get slip catching practice.
What is so special about Sachin? We know of Sehwag’s gushy admiration and Dravid’s more clinical appreciation of the nuances of his batting; Dinesh Mongia, when asked this question, only stuttered and stammered, not knowing what to say. After a huge effort, he mumbled: ‘He… he.. he is a king, a champion!’
Sourav expresses his opinion on the subject with far more clarity: ‘In my opinion, Sachin is the best-ever Indian cricketer and the greatest batsman in the world. Simple.’
This effusive praise reveals as much about Sachin as Sourav, who genuinely appreciates others, respects the contribution of seniors and has unshakeable faith in young players.
Amrit Mathur takes us back to India’s journey through the 2003 World Cup.