The other Tendulkar

The other Tendulkar

It is almost impossible to be satiated by a book on Sachin Tendulkar. The canvas is too vast, the paints limited, the expectations as high as from a Tendulkar innings. I began searching for things I wanted to see, a mistake every reviewer makes.

The prerogative of telling a story belongs to the author and no one else and so you cannot complain about what he doesn't want to tell you.

And so I focused on what was there. I searched for the other Tendulkar; not the one exposed to difficult wickets and mean bowlers, not the one measured in numbers and scorecards, but the one who lived a fiercely-guarded private life even as every move in the public eye was recorded.

I wanted to see, as the movie publicists might say, "The Making of Tendulkar!"

I thought I knew the story, most of it at least. I had seen a boy evolve into a man, a batsman become a legend, a shy man with fewer words than shots deliver an extraordinarily moving retirement speech. I was delighted to see there was more, as there always is with Tendulkar.

There is always, in the evolution of great people, a moment when they caught the right bus, when someone held their hand, when the tide turned their way.

It happened with Tendulkar at 11 when a doting brother pleaded with a coach to take another look at the young man holding onto him. He had already been rejected, been told to come back when a little older.

Ajit Tendulkar asked for one more opportunity and requested that the coach pretend to go away, give the impression he wasn't watching. He knew that, freed of the pressure of being watched, his younger brother would play the shots he could.

Ajit comes through as a powerful, caring guardian angel, one of many Tendulkar was privileged to have. It is an amazing relationship. Ajit, in his own words, was just a club cricketer who didn't make it. And, yet, as Sachin conquered one batting peak after another, he kept turning to Ajit for advice.

The decision to cut out the cover drive in that amazing double century at Sydney in 2004 was as much Ajit's as Sachin's.

"He said I was allowing myself to get out to bowlers rather than making them have to take my wicket… I took up the challenge (from Ajit, of remaining not out in both innings) and played what was, in some ways, my most difficult Test innings".

I find it fascinating that a batsman able to play Dale Steyn at his most fiery, Shane Warne at his most crafty; bat through unbearable pain and, occasionally, through tissues stuffed into his trousers to guard against a bad stomach, should turn to someone who had never faced a ball outside a maidan for advice.

In Indian cricket's biggest blockbuster, Ajit Tendulkar plays a pivotal role.

As does another who played but one first class match (State Bank of India vs Hyderabad!). Once Ramakant Achrekar accepted Tendulkar, he took over his cricketing, life picking him out of colony games, plonking him on his scooter and taking him to play cricket.

"Don't waste your time playing inane games with these kids. Cricket is waiting for you at the nets. Practice hard and see what magic can transpire."

The coach was relentless, the pupil occasionally reluctant. Achrekar took the option of being reluctant away. When a young Sachin wanted to watch a higher age-group inter-school final, he was ordered back.

"He said it wasn't for me to come and watch other people play… if I practised hard enough, people from across the world would come and watch me play."

Both Ajit Tendulkar and Ramakant Achrekar are people of few words, but it would be fascinating to know from them if it was merely affection, altrusim or a deep insight into potential greatness that caused them to mould this rich piece of clay.

I searched too for insights into the art of batsmanship and found them amid nuggets loitering in narratives. Like this one: "I've always believed that cricket is best played when your mind is at the opposite end and that problems occur when your mind is stuck at your own end."

He explains it as he goes along, but it is well worth reflecting on it without the option of the next paragraph. He talks about batting in practice with his eyes shut, about suddenly altering his stance to play fast bowling. He does, but you want more. With Tendulkar, you always do.

Much will be written about the Chappell phase, the Dravid declaration, the disappointment with his captaincy, the many landmarks, the winning of the World Cup (and the many attempts that went awry), the frustration of the 100th hundred and the decision to retire.

But that was the public Tendulkar. The other Tendulkar is just as interesting!

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