The first time I heard about Sachin Tendulkar was from a dentist friend of mine called Dr Pratap Raut. As I was sitting in the chair and he had me captive, he mentioned that a local umpire, Marketkar, had not given this 11-year-old out lbw in a game because he wanted everybody to come back and watch him the next day. He was telling people, “Spread the word, watch this boy”.
Marketkar was a leg-spinner who was a contemporary of the legendary Subhash Gupte. I rang him up and went off to the Shivaji Park Gymkhana the next day. I was glad I did, because what I saw was something completely different from what I’d ever seen in all my career. He was a genius even then.
I was then chairman of the junior selection committee and picked him to play for the u-15s when he was 12. He was run out in Pune off the first or second ball he faced and cried like a baby, not because he didn’t score but because he was deprived of batting — and all he ever wanted to do, was bat.
But then, he was a baby, something people often forgot over the years as he accomplished things far beyond his age. That day in Pune, when we went back to the hotel, Sachin put his tears away and batted for over two and a half hours in the corridor. He was that passionate.
The thing that made him so different was not just the number of runs but the furious pace at which he scored. It made him completely different from everybody else except perhaps his schoolmate and friend, a certain Vinod Kambli. I watched that entire stand of 664 they shared for Shardashram. It was fascinating stuff, two youngsters with the world ahead of them.
When I look back, another standout one is from when he was 15 and I was secretary of the Cricket Club of India. I took him to CCI and we made him an honorary member, to be part of the team. Now CCI did not allow kids under 18 through the main pavilion area, so we sneaked him in through the swimming pool doors. We broke all the rules for him but he was worth it!
And then came my big moment, one I will always be grateful for. It was my first senior selection committee meeting for Mumbai and I proposed Sachin’s name. My senior colleagues, Ajit Wadekar, Naren Tamhane and Ramakant Desai, immediately said no. Not because they didn’t want him but because they were afraid for him after the Sunil Gavaskar experience.
Sunil was only 17 when he was picked to play for Mumbai against the Rest of India. He failed in both innings, was dropped and was off the radar for three-four years. Those days, in Mumbai cricket, if you failed twice you were out. They didn’t want that pressure on Sachin.
I was very stubborn though and the debate went on for over two hours. What helped then was that the times had changed since Sunil and my three senior colleagues were men of rare vision and commonsense. They finally said, “We will give him the opportunity if we all agree he can be allowed to fail six times”. The rest is history.
It’s odd my writing this. I was the first to write an article in English on Sachin, in the Sportsweek in 1989. Miandad was on that cover. Now, nearly 30,000 international runs, countless records, and almost 20 years on, I’m writing again on Sachin. But then, he’s that special.
(Milind Rege, Former Mumbai captain & selector)