Updated: February 12, 2022 10:23:21 pm
ONE DAY WITH SACHIN TENDULKAR: The first time I properly saw one-dayers was during the 1983 World Cup. I was just 10. Back then, I didn’t understand the intricacies of the game, it was all about enjoying cricket, being in love with it and spending as much time on the ground as possible.
And then came a big moment when I saw India winning the World Cup and a thought came to mind – one day I want to do this.
That’s where my journey started. While playing school cricket, it was all about playing for India for me. Having watched India win the World Cup, I wasn’t clear in my head if I wanted to play ODIs or Test cricket. Now when I look back, it was always Tests. Being an attacking batsman, I liked playing my shots but there was a realisation that if I did well in Test cricket, ODI selection would automatically follow.
It was that one match in Peshawar during the 1989 tour of Pakistan that helped me cement my place in ODIs. Thousands had turned up but it rained on the morning of the match and the game was called off. Not to disappoint the fans, the teams agreed to play an exhibition game. So we ended up playing a curtailed game, which was to be the first T20 match of my life. It was the game where I scored an 18-ball 53. (Tendular’s scoring sequence in that famous Abdul Qadir over was: 6, 0, 4, 6, 6, 6). On that tour, my first, till then it was all about Test cricket. I was playing along the ground, focusing on forward defence, leaving the ball outside the off-stump to fast bowlers, and all that. It was all about technique and the team’s game plan.
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In that Peshawar game. I was able to show my ability to hit the ball. It was the first time my own teammates saw that side of my play. They realised I could hit the ball.
Achrekar sir (Tendulkar’s childhood coach Late Ramakant Achrekar) always asked us to avoid aerial shots, and play along the ground. We all tried to follow what he told us but things started to change quite a bit as I was getting stronger with age. Practising at Wankhede Stadium also made a huge difference to my overall game. I was just 14 when I joined the Mumbai Ranji Trophy nets at Wankhede Stadium. The quality of bowlers that I faced there was really good. It changed the way I thought and the way I wanted to play my shots.
Among the young cricketers in Mumbai, Wankhede Stadium is the benchmark. It is about: Kya mai Wankhede pe chhakka maar sakta hun (Can I hit a six at Wankhede)? Before we got into the big stadium, we would play in the Mumbai maidans. At Shivaji Park and Azad Maidan, it was all imaginary boundaries. At Cross Maidan, there was a certain sense of a boundary rope since sending the ball on the road outside was what was aimed for.
Only after batting at Wankhede, I had the rope in mind and had the fascination of clearing it. Now the practice pitches are on the central square, but in the 1980s they were at third man and fine leg. So, we had the challenge of hitting the ball all the way to the other side. In the 1990s, that was the challenge for us and that’s how we developed the habit of hitting the ball.
The net sessions also help me develop another important aspect of one-day cricket. I enjoyed bowling from the day I started playing cricket. I did not want to just stand there and watch others ball or bat. I wanted to be part of the action all the time. This helped me grow as a cricketer and I thoroughly enjoyed that process. Bowling only added to my game and helped me contribute to the team’s cause.
If I had a new ball in hand, I would bowl seam up. If it was a semi-new ball, it would be off-spin and in case the ball was old, I would bowl leg-spin. And I thoroughly enjoyed having mini-competition matches with all the batsmen at the nets. Be it (Virender) Sehwag or Rahul Dravid or Sourav (Ganguly) or Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh), I would love bowling to them, I would love getting them out. We used to throw challenges at each other, it was fun. I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of practice sessions.
At the start of my ODI career, I batted at No.6. This happened till 1992. Later in 1994, I was batting No.4 or No.5. It was around that time that there was this one game during the 1994 New Zealand tour when Navjot Singh Sidhu told the management that he had a stiff neck. I was the vice-captain then and was part of the meeting with Wadekar sir (coach Ajit Wadekar) and Azhar (captain Mohammad Azharuddin) where it was to be decided: Kisko khilana hai abhi (Whom to play now)? It was there that I told them that I can go up front and attack the bowlers. (A couple of years later in the 1996 World Cup Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana would make it a popular and successful ODI trend).
That was the time when the team strategy was to play out the new ball. If you go back a couple of years, during 1991-92 when we played in Australia, the score after 15-20 overs would be like 50, or maximum 60. So, I knew that the team would play according to the same strategy and planning. But somehow, I felt that I could give a new dimension to what everyone is thinking. Maybe, I thought we needed to think slightly out of the box.
My idea was to go up front and hit the bowlers. I knew I was capable of doing it and was also feeling confident. I told Wadekar sir that if I fail I will not come back to you again with this plan. I told him – “I will not question you again, just give me one chance, I know I can do it today. Since the opening batsman is not fit, give me one chance. Agar nahi hua toh (if it doesn’t work out), in the next match, I will go back to No.4.”
After that happened, things changed. Not that I continued opening throughout my career after that also. There were a number of occasions in 1997, in the 1999 World Cup, in 2002 in England and even in the 2007 World Cup, I batted at No.4. So, I was going up and down because before that there wasn’t any strategy that one could go out and take on the bowlers.
Throughout my career, I had to deal with injuries and tweak my game. They played a huge part in me deciding what are the things that my body is allowing me to do and then to work around them.
In 2003, I had a left finger injury and got operated immediately after the World Cup. It took me four months to recover from it. In 2004, I had the tennis elbow injury and eventually had an operation in 2005. Around 2006-07, I had a shoulder injury. My shoulder and right bicep also needed to be operated upon and I had a couple of groin surgeries. Then, there was another wrist surgery later in my career.
The finger injury and tennis elbow are both related to gripping the bat and the shoulder injury impacted the power of my shots. The first time I realised that it was different was post the 2003 World Cup when we were playing a Test against New Zealand in Mohali. It was there that I realised that while playing the cut shot, my grip on the bat handle was not the same. There were other occasions also when I felt that subtle changes had taken place in my body. But I had to deal with all those things and bat accordingly.
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