Certain moments stay fresh in memory.
Like my first meeting with Sunil Gavaskar.
I was a ball boy at the Wankhede during the 1987 World Cup. My interest in cricket really took root after we won the 1983 World Cup, and for an aspiring youngster, to be at the ground during the next edition of the Cup and watch his heroes from close quarters was an unforgettable experience.
What made it even more special was when he called me to the Indian dressing room and introduced me to the team’s superstars. I had just entered my teens and couldn’t believe my eyes. These were the men I adored, and here I was, shaking hands with them. See pictures
What’s more, he spoke highly of me and my cricketing ability to his teammates. It was a big moment, a huge inspiration.
|All in good times: With the then PM Rajiv Gandhi after winning the Benson & Hedges World Series.|
I was then a school cricketer, but from the way he treated me, it felt like I had already played for India. I could feel his affection. Twenty-two years down the line, nothing has changed. I receive that same love and affection from him even today.
In many ways, 1987 was a watershed year. I remember batting particularly well, making more than 1500 runs, so it was disappointing not to get the best junior cricketer award from the Mumbai Cricket Association.
That’s when I got a letter from him. He wrote that I should not be disappointed because bigger awards were in store. At the end, he mentioned that if I looked at the list of players who had received the award, there would be one name missing that hadn’t done too badly in international cricket!
He was referring to himself. That letter is as valuable as any other award I have ever received. That was the beginning of a long and cherished association.
Just before my Ranji Trophy debut, he gave me a pair of his pads, which I was thrilled to use. It was light and not many of my age could afford them. Though I was young, I could see that there was a special place in his heart for me, something I am as proud of now as I was then. Over the years, we have spent countless hours in Mumbai and almost every cricket ground around the world, discussing cricket.
|Family matters: With Sachin Tendulkar during the |
wedding ceremony of his son Rohan.
Whichever way you look at it, he is an institution. When he retired, for our generation, 34 Test hundreds was the ultimate ambition.
I have been fortunate to have done a few special things myself. One of my abiding memories is my 34th Test century in Dhaka. For one, I had equalled him statistically, and he was present at the ground.
It was wonderful to be hugged by him after crossing the boundary rope during a break. Seeing him standing there to receive me signified the coming together of my childhood days, my adolescence and youth. After congratulating me, he said: “Please enjoy the rare moments of becoming a member of a rare, elite club.” But for me, it was a great feeling to climb the same peak as Sunil Gavaskar.
Later, he gave me 34 bottles of champagne and I have been fortunate to receive gifts from him time and again. When I got my 35th ton at the Kotla, he wasn’t in India. But just before dinner that night, he called from Nepal to congratulate me. I had really been waiting for that call. People say he does not miss a special occasion and I can vouch for that. I’m really fortunate that I have had the wisdom of a legend to fall back on. When I got the opportunity to write this piece on his 60th birthday, I told myself: “time flies”.
He still is and will continue to remain my hero, the same person I first met in 1987. The only change is that my respect for him has increased over the years. Many happy returns, and here’s wishing you a 35th hundred! (PMG)
Wish Gavaskar on his birthday... | Surfers' Response