To me, Sachin Tendulkar has been the gold standard of batsmanship. He has been confident but there has never been a trace of overconfidence all his cricketing life.
If anything, he wanted to learn and learn, and keep getting better all the time.
Sachin hasn’t just played for 24 years at the highest level, he has been a champion all through and that simply takes one’s breath away. His approach, focus and desire to learn all the time ensured he remained grounded, much like Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble.
My favourite Sachin memories in one-day cricket are packed into a three-day stretch in Sharjah, in April 1998. We faced elimination going into the last league match against Australia. We could afford to lose, but had to minimise the margin of defeat to reach the final.
Sachin and I used sit together on the team bus, and on the way back to the hotel after practice the night before, I told him I wanted someone to play a big knock. After the briefest of pauses, he said, “I will do it”.
I looked quizzically at him and he again said, “I will do it”.
At the team meeting, I said: ‘Let Sachin take the lead and you guys stay with him and create partnerships.’ On our way to the ground the next day, Sachin caught my hand, and he was sweating. I told him not to put pressure on himself. But he said, “No, this is a good sign. It only shows I am geared up for battle.”
The way he batted that day was one of the finest one-day innings I have seen. There was this sandstorm during his partnership with Laxman and Sachin was a little worried during the break. But once he went back out, he blazed away.
That night, as we returned to the hotel close to midnight, Sachin wanted to discuss his batting with me. I told him to get some sleep but he was insistent and said he wasn’t getting the elevation he needed on his sixes.
I told him that was because he was getting too close to the ball to get under it, something I had jotted down in my diary. The hundred in the final, on his 25th birthday, was just the way Sachin wanted it. He converted a lot of good balls into bad ones, which is what separates the great from the very good.
Sachin’s mental preparation for the big occasion, and the way he handled the pressure of expectations is something that has always amazed me. And those two hundreds at Sharjah formalised his place in the cricketing pantheon.
The writer was India coach in 1998