I don’t understand cricket and, to be honest, I don’t really like it either. Consequently, I don’t know very much about Sachin Tendulkar.
However, I’ve always sensed there’s something special about him. The problem is I wasn’t sure what till my sister, Premila, put her finger on it. “He’s a good man” she said. For many that would be putting it too simply. But it has the ring of truth.
When I call Sachin good I’m not talking about his cricketing competence nor any saintly streak in his character. I’m referring to a certain niceness, a likeability, that quickly communicates himself.
For instance, I don’t think Sachin has ever bragged. At his press conference, the afternoon after his retirement, there was a candour and sincerity that was winning. It was like the farewell speech the day before. There was no artifice or rhetoric. Just a simple statement from the heart revealing how he felt.
My one meeting with Sachin should have made me aware of this many years ago. It did not because I didn’t know how to interpret what was so visibly present.
It happened in 1999. I had flown to Bombay to interview Sachin for our BBC programme ‘Face to Face’. After weeks of reluctance, Sachin agreed when Mark Mascarenhas, his agent, recommended he should.
Having decided to do it, Sachin was keen we should meet before the recording to gauge what I was looking for. So, the day before, my producer, Vishal Pant, and I went to Sachin’s flat in Bandra East. The only other person present was his wife Anjali.
“What sort of answers do you want?” Sachin asked. This was not an interview about cricket but about Sachin himself, a subject he wasn’t used to speaking about.
“We’ve done a lot of research.” I began. “We’ve read the cuttings, spoken to your brother, even to Anjali. They’ve told us about little incidents and anecdotes which, together, reveal what you’re like. So I’m going to ask questions which are actually prompts for you to tell those stories!”
Sachin was silent for a while. I could sense he was thinking about what he’d heard. “Give me an example of the sort of story you think works.” I did.
This time his response was faster. “Can you tell me what are the incidents or anecdotes you’ve chosen so I’m ready and prepared?” And then he smiled in that cherubic way the country has come to love. It’s child-like, innocent and beguiling. But he knows how powerful its impact can be.
“You see” he added, “I’m not used to this so I need to be prepared.”
The next day we met at the Oberoi for the recording. Vishal and I were apprehensive but Sachin was full of delightful stories. We intended a 20-minute interview. We ended up with one double that length.
I now realise this was another aspect of Sachin’s goodness. He wanted to give his best even in a field where he was, at the time, relatively inexperienced. He didn’t want to disappoint and was prepared to put in extra effort.
These days to say someone is a good person is to damn with faint praise. That’s a reflection of our cynical time and its twisted values. But to be called good is to be specially valued. I wouldn’t use that adjective of too many people. Nor, I suspect, would you!
Incidentally, if you’re interested in seeing how skilfully Sachin acquitted himself, go to this link: FACE TO FACE
Views expressed by the author are personal