Sachin Tendulkar was a real bully as a kid with long locks. Ask Mumbai Ranji cricketer and childhood chum Atul Ranade. "He used to beat up other kids in class. All of us were scared of him." Though older than Sachin by a year, Atul used to be on his side to escape the beatings. "But even then he used to be "concentrated, focused, all the way". When it came to cricket, that is.
School made a man of him. "The Harris and Giles Shield tournaments helped me make the grade," says the master blaster. "I played for my state and country because of my outstanding performance in school cricket."
The habit of bullying the bowlers was picked up there. "He would study the game and visualise the bowlers, who will bowl what kind of ball to him," says Atul. "The mental preparation was amazing. He used to psyche himself up. He would lose sleep over the pitch even after he was in the Ranji and India teams."
Sachin is dedicated to the game to the point of being religious. Recalls ace ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar: "In the Pepsi commercial there was a shot where Sachin hits the ball with a fly swatter. We were thrilled with the shot, but Sachin was very uncomfortable." When he saw the film he asked Kakkar to replace the shot. Sachin didn't like the action of shooing away the ball like some flies. "The shot makes me look bigger than the game. I can never be bigger than the game," said Sachin. Finally the sequence was reshot with a stump.
He dreams cricket. And that's not for effect. Says former physiotherapist of the Indian team, Dr Ali Irani: "I have seen Sachin talking in his sleep. Talking about the game, planning for the next day's match and shouting, ÔMove here, go there, give me the ball'. He always plans the whole game in advance."
Selflessness and team spirit are his greatest
qualities. When a friend rang him up in the West Indies saying
that off-spinner Noel David was to replace an injured Srinath,
Sachin asked, ÔNoel who?' Sachin not only included Noel in the
playing eleven but also guided him in the nets.
Pal Salil Ankola, who made his Test debut along with Sachin in 1989 in Karachi, could vouch for it. "I could see Sachin's leadership qualities even then," he says. "He was different from the others and used to talk only about cricket." Sachin was 16 then. In Sialkot he had ordered for bats. "At 12.30 in the night he opened the latch of the door and asked Maninder Singh and Raman Lamba whether the bats had arrived."
Cricket is in his psyche. In the run-up to the last Aussie rubber, he called in Ranji colleague Sairaj Bahatule to bowl to him, Shane Warne-style. Sachin evaluates Ôthe enemy' at least a month in advance. When he hit a bad batting patch in his first Test as captain, scoring just 18 off 80 balls on the first day, he called Atul and Vinod Kambli. "He drove us to Worli and sat there eating ice-cream. It was nearing midnight, yet obviously he couldn't sleep." Atul asked him, "What will happen tomorrow?" Sachin said, "I just need some time. A couple of shots from the middle of the bat and I will be through." He went on to score 170.
His sense of power and strength goes back to his schooldays. "He lives on the fourth floor and every day he would run up the four floors with his heavy cricket kit and school bags," says Irani. "It developed his legs."
"He works out for almost two and a half hours and runs for more than 45 minutes non-stop on the treadmill," says Irani. "Once when he wanted to lose weight he was off soft drinks, sweets, ice-creams and fried food. He lost eight kilos in 50 days."
If he is in the mood he can do 1,000 sit-ups in a day. "Once in Calcutta, he did his share," says Irani. "But when somebody did more than him, he started again and did more than the other guy. Sachin hates losing."
He loves doing press-ups, the secret of his powerful arms. "He used to out throw us," says Atul. That, after giving them a handicap! "In his first Aussie tour, he outthrew Ankola, physically the fittest," says Atul. "His arms are so powerful that he can hit soaring sixes playing left-handed." He does it all the time playing with friends at the nets.
His friends matter to him. "After the recent Bangladesh tournament he called me over to his place," says Atul. His wife, Anjali, had cooked biriyani, fish, prawns and mixed vegetables. "He got a plate and served me. I was very touched that he still has that feeling for an old friend."
Paras Mhambrey has played a lot of cricket under Sachin. "He has been a major influence on my career. He is very helpful. Whenever I have any problems regarding cricket I go to him. I tell him this is not working for me, and he says okay then let's try that. He is very accessible." A true pal.
A mentally handicapped person in his late 40s, the brother of a statistician, makes it to almost all the venues when Sachin plays in India. During the last Test against Australia in Bangalore in March, he tried to gatecrash the Indian team's practice session. Sachin rescued him from a policeman and allowed him to enter. Soon the fan was hurling balls at Sachin, who played ignoring an official who said he could get hurt.
But he hardly loses his cool. After losing to the West Indies in Sharjah last year, his last overseas outing as captain, Sachin faced pure venom at the press conference. "When are you quitting as captain?" a veteran journalist shouted. "This boy is the root cause for India's defeat. He should step down from captaincy." Sachin was courteous: "Sir you should ask this to Anshu (Anshuman Gaekwad). He can give an answer."
Atul has seen him get angry only once. But he did get angry on an Australian tour when a woman called him a baby. He hates being called a baby. He was furious in the dressing room. After all his teammates had to smuggle Sachin into a disco in England because he was, and looked, under 18.
Says Irani, who has known Sachin for nine years, "The angrier he gets the more silent he becomes. When Sachin starts ignoring you that means he is angry. He becomes silent and withdraws into a shell. And when he is angry he either does workout or goes and plays tennis or squash." Sachin's friends say he has always been a shy person, and opens up only if he knows you well. "People have the wrong impression that he is egoistic," says Mhambrey.
Recently Sachin celebrated his daughter Sara's
first birthday with a party at the very middle class MIG Club in
Bandra East where he stays. Though all the bigwigs of the city
were invitees he never felt compelled to choose a more upmarket
venue for the party.
Sachin is a family man. He likes being at home and relaxing with music and movies. He always carries a music system when on tour. When he is free he loves to go to Lonavala with his family. Sometimes he calls his old-boys gang over, too, and handles the barbecue himself. "He makes mouth-watering fishy curry, especially with bangda (mackerel)," says Atul.
And he is a hog, too. "He freaks out on caviar," says Atul. "He loves to eat good food, junk food, steak, ribs," says Irani. Once there was a competition, who could eat the most ribs. Of course, Sachin won. He hates smoking and drinking. "I have never seen him do that."
But then you have never seen him drive either! It's his passion. He knows all about cars, the engine, the works. "Once when he was driving his favourite Mercedes in England the needle touched 240 miles an hour," says Atul with a bobbing Adam's apple.
On Indian roads he hits 170-190 kmph on the highways. "I fear for him and keep telling him to drive slowly," says Irani. "He is national property."
Come August 15 and Sachin's car flies a small tricolour. He is careful when it comes to Mother India. The man is absolutely devastated after India loses a match.
But the batsman doesn't let it bog him down for long. "Sachin loves challenges," says Irani. "He loves to be defied. If a bowler takes him on in a game he destroys the same bowler in the next game." Check with Zimbabwean Henry Olonga.......