My first time seeing Sachin Tendulkar in person was way back in, probably, 2000-01; so far back that I don’t exactly remember the year! I think it was a Duleep Trophy game we were playing and I was serving the drinks, quite well, if I might add! That game was in Pune and we didn’t interact at all. However, that was the first time I caught a glimpse of Sachin. Coming from Ranchi, I never thought I would meet the legend in the flesh, yet there I was serving him a drink!
On a serious note, my first real interaction was on the tour of Bangladesh in 2004. I remember I was standing (in a room) and Sachin was right in front, Dada (Sourav Ganguly) was also there and so was Rahul (Dravid) bhai. And imagine, I was supposed to give a speech! So I stood up on the chair and I just looked at Sachin and uttered a few nervous words. I am sure I sounded like a stuttering schoolboy! And, please don’t laugh, but the truth is that even now, after almost a decade I am still a bit shy when it comes to interacting with Sachin off the field. We chat a lot on the field but such is his aura that when we are off it, he still makes me nervous.
After the Bangladesh series, we were playing against Pakistan in an ODI series. The first two ODIs were in Kochi and Vizag. If I remember correctly, Viru pa (Virender Sehwag) got a big hundred in Kochi and Sachin took 5 wickets. He used to come over to me before bowling and would ask- leg spin, off spin, seam up, yah phir mix daalun (or should I mix it up)? And the very fact that he used to chat with me before bowling made me very comfortable from the very beginning. So, I was also not over awed on the field and felt like I could give my inputs by saying sometimes that he should bowl off spin instead of leg spin. By the time I became captain of the team I was very comfortable talking to him about cricket during games, but otside is still a different story.
Quite a few times, it has also happened that I have not agreed with his ideas or suggestions. But, the great thing is that he will come up with some more ideas in the next over. If I say, “no, no paaji, it won’t work”, he will not mind. And, it was same with Dada, Laxman, Dravid and Anil (Kumble) bhai. There was nothing called ego. They truly believed in the team’s success. That’s why when somebody recently asked in Hydrabad what was my feeling on overtaking Dada (most number of Test wins as captain) I simply said that the number of wins didn’t go with him nor will they go with me. It is Team India’s achievement and it will remain Team India’s record of wins. I have often seen Sachin emphasising on the team’s win rather on individual records and it’s a wonderful trait which has made him so successful.
It was a big compliment for me when I heard that he recommended my name for the captaincy. People sometimes ask why and I guess it was the honest opinions I gave from behind the stumps. Or the times, when we batted together and I used to express myself. I am not somebody who agrees just for the sake of it. Of course, Sachin was very professional when we used to have such interactions and I think that those were the ingredients that made paaji think I would make a good captain.
I was just asked whether I could be friends with Sachin after retirement. I took a long pause to answer. I think it’s a difficult question. Like I have just said that I find it difficult to talk to him outside the field except when the topics are cars and bikes and now one more topic since he has joined Territorial Army. I think the kind of aura he has, being friends and equals would be difficult.
A lot of people also ask why we call him paaji. Because we have that kind of respect for Sachin. However, there is also a twist in that. Sreesanth calls everyone paaji and Sachin Bhaiya!
The greatest aspect of Sachin’s personality is his humility. He is still so humble. After his international debut, he became a superstar but the way he has handled himself is incredible and exemplary. He still has the same passion for practice sessions even today. He gets plenty out of every nets session. These are things youngsters must emulate. He is a classic example of how to handle appreciation and criticism successfully. Handling appreciation is much more difficult than handling criticism. When somebody appreciates I simply say thank you and when somebody criticizes I will move on by saying g that I would work on that.
His ODI Double hundred against South Africa was a truly memorable moment as I was was watching it unfold from the non-striker’s end. People were critical, saying I did not enough of the strike during the last stage! It wasn’t like that. We were playing for the team and I was confident that he would get this special ton.
Sachin has always been my hero. Even though I am not a great follower of the game on TV, I used to ask my father to wake me up early when he used to bat in the 1992 World Cup in Australia. We have all been influenced by his batting. Somebody also pointed out to me that Sachin doesn’t play the helicopter shot (Dhoni’s signature shot) and I immediately corrected him. He does that too. He played it first time during one of the matches in the IPL. There is no shot in this world that Sachin can’t play! ±
(Exclusive excerpts from India captain M.S.Dhoni’s speech at the launch of Vimal Kumar’s “Sachin-Cricketer of the Century” by Penguin in New Delhi. Dhoni was speaking to an audience that among others, included Sachin Tendulkar.)