There is a lot of talk about Sachin Tendulkar these days, and it is happening because of the very high standards he has set for himself. I watched him closely in the two Test matches he just finished—he looks like someone out of form. But one must remember that for quality players, getting into form needs just one good innings.
Someone like Sachin, who has played for such a long time, knows how to get runs. He just needs a start. He needs to fight his way to 20 or 30, and everything will fall in place. What Sachin requires is adjustment.
It would be a blunder if people expect a Sachin of age 25. They must remember, with age, one loses those sharp reflexes. However, that is when experience and knowledge of the game come in handy.
Sports is a profession controlled by age. We have seen the likes of Don Bradman, Pele, Diego Maradona, Pete Sampras and Shane Warne fade away with time. It is quite natural for someone like Sachin, too, to slow down. So it is important that cricket-lovers give him that benefit of the doubt—nobody in world cricket deserves it more than Sachin Tendulkar. We want to see him exit with the bat in the air.
One good thing is that he looks very focused, hungry, and I have a feeling that the big one is round the corner. Hopefully, his favourite stadium, Eden Gardens, would witness a spectacle.
Sachin is a champion and he knows the buzz going around him is part and parcel of the game. He will keep his mind away from it. To me, that is the right way; he needs to use his energy and concentration to score runs.
I can say all these with conviction, as I have known this man for long. It has, indeed, been a long journey.
The first time I saw Sachin was in Kanpur, while playing for the West Zone in the Under-17 Vijay Hazare Tournament. People in cricketing circles had already been talking about him—about him playing for Mumbai and being that special talent in Indian cricket. Those days, cricket was concentrated around Mumbai, so I did not go by the face value.
But what I saw in that game was something more than just talent. I told myself that day, ‘If this man does not go on to play for at least 15 years for India, it will be one big waste of talent.' Well, the great man has gone past 23 years, and still seems keen to take fresh guard.
Sachin has scored 100 international hundreds and is on the way to play his 200th Test. I do not think anyone will ever get close to these achievements. To be frank, I don't want anyone to!
Getting back to Kanpur, what I saw in that game has been the prime reason for this man to have reached where he has. He got 175 runs that evening. At 14, he used one of the heaviest ‘Insaan' bats. Yet, the next morning, he batted at the nets for an hour before the start of the game!
I need not repeat what Sachin has done thereon, because there would be hardly any Indian who is not proud of his feats. If Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev put Indian cricket on the world map, it is Sachin who hugely powered it to the current level.
Sharing the dressing room with him for 13-14 years was not only something that I cherish but also a great learning experience. I still remember my first two Tests at the Lord's and Trent Bridge, where I spent a fair amount of time with him at the crease. He got a hundred at Trent Bridge. It was the first time I saw him get a big international score up close and was amazed at his technique and balance.
That series marked the beginning of my international career and a long journey along with the greats like Sachin, [Rahul] Dravid, [Anil] Kumble, [Virender] Sehwag and V.V.S. [Laxman].
Sachin became captain soon after that series. His stint as captain may not be memorable, but my career certainly blossomed under him. The captain's faith in a player is paramount, and he gave me that in abundance.
We were a young team trying to establish ourselves in the international scene, but Sachin did not get the desired results. I am a firm believer that a captain is as good as his team—it is not a one-man show. I could see at that time how much he wanted India to win. He wanted the team to succeed.
I still remember the Barbados Test in 1997, which we should have won but lost. The legend was almost in tears. It took him time to recover. Sachin impressed as a batsman but, somehow, the team could not reach the heights he eyed. That led him to quit captaincy and it marked the beginning of my tenure as captain. Having given up captaincy, he looked different. There was so much freshness on his face and he seemed to enjoy his cricket more.
It was a huge honour for me to lead those big names, whose desires were similar to mine. It was our dream to take Indian cricket forward. We were a tough side at home, but many foreign teams termed us soft outside India. We wanted to change that.
Sachin contributed hugely to the team's success. He scored when the team required it the most. With the advent of Sehwag at the top, the line-up of Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman made India one of the world's best batting units.
Many players have marvelled at his adaptability at the crease. His knock at Cape Town in 1997 was a prime example. I asked him, after the knock, why his feet had been moving in certain way before each delivery. I had not seen him do that before. He said he had done it for the first time in life, when he took guard at the start. That was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.
There is a rule in cricket: you first practise in the nets what you do in the middle. This man went on to get a Test 100 against a top bowling team with a technique not even attempted before!
Sachin still remains an inspiration in the dressing room. His message to me in my last season for India—that it was the best he had seen me play—will always remain special in my life.
I am sure he would continue to bring the zing and confidence in the dressing-room. It is an honour and pleasure to have shared the dressing-room and know him personally. To me, he undoubtedly is the greatest batsman in the world.