There’s nothing you can say about sachin ramesh tendulkar that hasn’t already been said. Except that his story still has pages.
The internet hardly existed when Tendulkar made his debut. This was the late ’80s, nearly two decades before the beast called social media was born. Nowadays, people can spew venom on everything that’s wrong with the world, trash a player after one poor show, thereby giving the poor bloke very little margin for failure.
Back in 1989, the landscape was a little different. Everyone knew about the little wonderkid, one “Tendulkar,” who terrorised school bowling attacks in Mumbai. A 16-year-old was considered good enough to leapfrog from Bombay’s maidans to the cauldron of a Pakistan bowling attack that consisted of the wily Wasim Akram, the tearaway Waqar Younis and the master, Imran Khan. The public could do little more than give the selectors the “Are you crazy?” look. It seemed as outrageous as the suggestion of throwing a hydrophobic into the deep end to see if he could resurface.
Now, how much did Tendulkar score in his first one-day international? Zero. That’s right. Batting in Gujranwala, he lasted just two balls. Talk about first impressions. He was benched for the remaining one-dayers on tour. In March 1990, halfway across the world, in New Zealand, the cooler climes at Dunedin did nothing to reverse his wretched luck. And, yet again, back he walked for a second-ball duck. Would Tendulkar have survived the unforgiving world of social media had it existed then? For all you know, the Boy Wonder may have been banished to domestic cricket before a recall, had the selectors been swayed by public opinion.
As it happened, the wait for the first precious run ended nearly three-and-a-half months after he first took guard in a one-dayer. Batting in “windy” Wellington, Tendulkar nudged Shane Thomson down to fine leg to finally get off the mark. There it was. Run No.1 of 18,426, to come over the next two decades. Who’d have thunk?
Another compelling period in Tendulkar’s career that hasn’t been documented in the kind of detail it deserves is his stint with Yorkshire in 1992. The background to his signing could gather more headlines than his actual stint with the county. For decades, Yorkshire followed a rather rigid and archaic policy of not fielding players who didn’t hail from the county. Bringing in an overseas player? Sacrilege.
While other sides were benefiting from the overseas influx, silverware deserted the fiercely-proud Yorkshire. It was time to wake up and smell the (Yorkshire) roses. The legendary Yorkshire and England bowler, the outspoken Fred Trueman, termed the idea of recruiting a foreign player a “bloody disgrace.” Australian batsman Dean Jones was the original choice, but a fast bowler was summoned instead. Jones’ team-mate, Craig McDermott, pulled out due to injury a month before he was to arrive. Crisis. At the time, the 19-year-old Tendulkar was making waves in international cricket. A Dewsbury businessman who knew Indian batsman Vinod Kambli, asked him to approach his schoolmate. A week later, Tendulkar signed with Yorkshire as their first-ever overseas player.
The bigger question was how the Yorkshire public would warm to the young turk, rather than him gelling in an unfamiliar dressing room. The players found his confidence infectious and always enjoyed his company on the field. His presence filled more seats than expected in the smaller county grounds. Membership at the club increased. The attention, naturally, overwhelmed Tendulkar. An embarrassed Tendulkar even reportedly called the club’s CEO and requested to get his name taken off his car. Why? Because too many girls were hanging around wherever he parked it! His batting may not have stormed the county season, but Tendulkar left the country with very decent returns—more than 1,000 runs in 16 county championship games with one century and seven fifties, at an average of 46 runs per innings. He may not have won them the championship, but he won several hearts.
A “bloody disgrace?” Not quite, Fred. The vitriolic world of social media can make a celebrity trip and fall. Tendulkar has braved more storms than most, and stood like an elaborate pillar in the game’s fortunes... even if the margin for failure was slightly greater when he began. Did it really take him three matches to get off the mark? Yes. Does that change anything? No.
Tendulkar has done a lot for the sport, and much of it has been off the field, too. If ever a cause needed a messiah, he was it for cricket.
Text: Kanishkaa Balachandran