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Cricket news - When the world first laid eyes on Sachin Tendulkar
The year is 1988. It's a chilly December morning in Baroda, and Chandrakant Pandit, Mumbai's wicketkeeper, has arrived in the city to attend a training camp. He is invited home for lunch by his Baroda counterpart, Kiran More.
"I had called Chandu to come for lunch at my place. He said that he'll bring this young fellow in the team along with him. This very quiet, polite boy, 15 years old, turned up with Chandu after the practice session. That's the first time I laid my eyes on Sachin Tendulkar," More says now, recalling a polite, if slightly awkward, lunch.
"He hadn't made his Ranji debut yet, which he did against Gujarat when he went back, and got a hundred." The precocious little kid had already shown he belonged in the league of men.
And as the Indian team set to tour the West Indies towards the end of the Ranji season, Tendulkar was the talk of the town: "There were talks of trying out Sachin. He came to the CCI nets before we left and batted superbly against the top fast bowlers, including Kapil Dev," recalls More.
Though he didn't make the eventual cut for the Caribbean, it was getting well-nigh impossible to keep Tendulkar quiet. Despite a crushing loss for the Rest of India side in the Irani Trophy, Tendulkar's season culminated in a 103* -- a one-man show in a 555-run chase against Delhi, one week before the tour of Pakistan. "After that, it was too difficult to ignore him," says Gundappa Viswanath, a member of the selection panel that picked Tendulkar. "He had shown again and again that he belonged at the highest level of cricket."
And before long, India Test Cap Number 187 landed his way. He'd set upon the journey that would end up obliterating every batting record in history.
It all started on 15th November 1989 in Karachi.
"We lost the series in the West Indies. Srikkanth became the captain for the tour of Pakistan," says More, emphasizing the pressure involved in India-Pakistan encounters. "I never thought that the selectors will take chances with a 16-year-old and send him to Pakistan. You can go anywhere in the world, but especially India touring Pakistan is always tough. Pakistan was an extremely strong side at home. There's the psychological factor as well; so much pressure."
"Everybody was a bit nervous about him batting. He looked quite confident, but when you play your first Test, there's always butterflies in your stomach" - Kiran More, India's then-wicketkeeper
The rivalry between India and Pakistan was at its peak in the late '80s, particularly after Javed Miandad's last-ball six against Chetan Sharma to win the Australasia Cup in 1986.
Tendulkar walked in on debut with India reeling at 41/4. The imperious Pakistan bowling line-up consisted of an 18-year old Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram at his peak, and an ageing but skilful Imran Khan leading the attack.
"The Grays ball was used at the time in Pakistan. It was like a Duke ball. It moved a lot. Against Pakistan, whether you played the new ball or the old ball, it was always difficult. Wasim and Imran knew how to make the old ball move. In fact, with the older ball, it was more difficult to know which way it was moving and when it will start reversing," More recalls.
Needless to say, Tendulkar's task, even at number 6, was not easy. This was his moment.
The first ball was a bouncer, angling across Tendulkar, who swayed out of line and dropped his wrists.
More recalls the morning of the first Test match, and the atmosphere of apprehension in the dressing room: "Everybody was a bit nervous about him batting. He looked quite confident, but when you play your first Test, there's always butterflies in your stomach."
An uncomfortable stay, riddled with ungainly plays and misses, came to an end when Tendulkar was opened up by a Waqar Younis in-swinger, leaving his stumps and his morale shattered. "He had played domestic cricket at this age, but this was Test cricket - it's a different ball-game altogether," More adds.
The team had not anticipated Tendulkar's response to failure. Ajith Tendulkar, his brother, had rushed to Karachi to be by his side; he was clearly not in his best state of mind.
"When you've made a radical decision, you have to back your player. There is no point in just picking him for one Test. We saw the spark in him and we decided to back him throughout the series," Viswanath explains. This was a long-term investment, and jettisoning Tendulkar was out of the question. They had to go all the way.
So when he got his second chance in Faisalabad, Tendulkar had walked into another far-from-ideal situation: 101-4, and fellow Mumbaikar Sanjay Manjrekar at the other end. Tendulkar settled in with Manjrekar to build a partnership befitting a seasoned veteran, that yielded 143 runs. He was finally caught in front by a signature reverse-swinging ball from Imran Khan, for 59. Tendulkar had vindicated the selectors' decision to persist with an innings of steely resolve, far beyond his years.
It was, however, the collapse that followed which provided the world with the first glimpse of what the '90s held in store. After the rescue act, with India 244-4, they crashed to a dismal 288; six wickets fell for just 44 runs. In the years to follow, Tendulkar's calibre would often trigger the adverse effect of raising the opposition to the top of their game -- one that may have been inadvertently debilitating for every name that appeared after Tendulkar on the batting card.
Then came the Sialkot bloodbath. "The Sialkot (4th and final Test) wicket was the fastest wicket, very green (seaming) wicket, tailor-made for the Pakistan pacers," says More. Salil Ankola terms it the "greenest, fastest wicket I have ever seen." 0-0 after 3 Test matches. This was a point of pride for Pakistan. They had to go for the kill.
India had gained a 74-run first-innings lead over Pakistan in the Test that would decide the series. The Pakistan fast bowlers ravaged through the Indian top-order, reducing them to 38-4, with a lead of just 112. Navjot Singh Sidhu was joined by Tendulkar at the wicket.
It was then that Tendulkar was hit on the face by Younis, this bouncer deflected off his glove as he looked to ward off the danger. It left him with a bloodied nose.
The atmosphere in the dressing room was, understandably, one of panic. "When he got hit, everybody was worried in the dressing room. A couple of guys rushed to the ground," recalls More. Among them was Ankola, who would later reveal in interviews how Tendulkar didn't want much attention from the team physio Ali Irani.
Tendulkar was lucky to have gotten away with a 'deep cut': "He was phased, but he snapped out of it immediately," Ankola reminisces.
"It was too difficult to ignore him. He had shown again and again that he belonged at the highest level of cricket" - Gundappa Viswanath, a member of the selection panel that picked 16-year-old Tendulkar
Tendulkar ended up with 57, and helped India save the Test and the series, even as Pakistan went full-throttle for the kill. Tendulkar had lasted 487 balls and been dismissed six times over the course of the series - that's over eighty balls an innings against Imran and co in their backyard.
Two days after the final Test match, the ODI series was set to begin in Peshawar. However, torrential rains ensured that a 50-over match could not be completed. Instead, a 20-over exhibition would be played, as a token of gratitude for the crowds who had turned up in large numbers.
Given that this was a friendly match, India saw no harm in experimenting. Tendulkar had been given a free rein with bat in hand.
"We actually went shopping," recalls More, who had opted out of the match. "When we came back to the ground, Sachin was hitting Abdul Qadir. There was a lot of noise. We could hear it even before we could see the stadium."
The exact equation is unknown, but for the other 21 players, the match had essentially become an extended net session when an excitable Tendulkar walked in and clubbed a young Mushtaq Ahmed for two sixes in an over. It was when in the next over he took up Qadir's challenge, conveyed via an alleged taunt where he's believed to have said, "Why're you hitting kids, try and hit me if you can," and hit him for four sixes, including three in a row, that those watching were fully convinced that they were witnessing the arrival of something special.
"Aaya aaya aaya aaya! It broke the glass and landed behind us!" says Ankola, who was a part of the frenzied dressing room at the time. "Abdul Qadir was at his peak. He was the best leg-spinner in the world. Hitting him for four sixes in an over at that age was..." Ankola shakes his head, evidently out of words.
He wouldn't be the only one left speechless by Tendulkar over the 24 years that followed.
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