Indian cricketer Aakash Chopra reflects on the achievements of his teammate, Sachin Tendulkar, as he sets a new record for the most runs scored by a batsman in Test cricket.
A couple of decades ago when I started playing cricket I, like everyone else in India at the time, wanted to be the next Sunil Gavaskar.
A couple of years of watching and playing cricket changed it all. And let me assure you that it was not just I who found a new idol, the whole of India had found a new hero too. A young kid of 15 stormed on to the international scene and completely took over the imagination of the millions of cricket-crazy people.
This guy was Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
Now, every kid, including me, wanted to be like him. It holds true even now, without realising that geniuses like Sachin are not made but born.
Little did I know then that I would get an opportunity to share a dressing room with the man himself.
The first time I met him was when I was picked to play for India against New Zealand.
I will be honest: I was in awe of him and could not strike a conversation beyond exchanging a few formal pleasantries.
He being what he is, an extremely humble and modest man, sensed it and did his best to make me feel at home.
He asked me about how Vettori and the rest had bowled in the warm-up games. I knew that he did it to get me involved and help settle my nerves. And it worked.
I cannot write anything about Sachin's batting that has not been written ad nauseam.
His immaculate balance at the crease sets him apart and his insatiable hunger for runs is keeping him going, strong as ever.
He is someone who was born to play cricket and inspire millions to follow and take up the game.
Yet, there is much more to the man than what we get to see on television.
Some lesser known things about him also help define the person he really is. For example, he is always the first one to get into the team bus at the start of the day.
Everyone gets delayed from time to time and often someone with his seniority and stature would tend to take things for granted and relax on regularity and trivial effort.
With time and seniority one gets into a comfort zone and that is what triggers one's downfall. Sachin, perhaps, realised that right at the beginning and kept the complacency at bay.
Once I got a bit more comfortable around him, I started picking his brains.
I asked him about how he prepares for a big match. He said that his preparation is always the same regardless of the importance of the occasion.
But sometimes even he gets carried away. On one such instance he did not sleep for 15 consecutive nights. That was before the India-Pakistan match in the 2003 World Cup.
The thoughts of how to handle every bowler, and working out strategies against the likes of Shoaib and co, kept him awake.
One must not forget that he was actively involved and scoring heavily in the games prior to that one, and all that without adequate sleep.
He went on to score 90-odd in that game, and many rate that knock off as one of his best ever.
Then there was Sydney, 2004. He was short of form and runs in the series and almost everyone was taking pot shots at him saying how he was past his prime and how he was not the same threat any more.
I found it a little over the top, but there was little I could do about it.
In that particular series, I was getting a few forties and was praised to the heavens, but Sachin was getting crucified for getting the same number of runs.
He was not out of form and we sensed that a big one was just round the corner.
I would see him fiddling with his bat for hours, shadow practising a particular shot that he was getting out to, fishing outside the off-stump.
He went on to score a big unbeaten double hundred in that game and I did not find anything unusual about it - scoring runs for him is routine - until he asked me if I noticed something different.
He told me that he did not play a single cover drive in his innings and I was shocked.
I was oblivious to the fact that he curbed his instincts not only at the beginning but even after he was well set.
He did not allow the ego to come in his way and went about doing his job carefully and methodically, once again silencing his stupefied critics.
For the last 19 years the Little Master, as he has come to be known, has carried the hopes and dreams of a billion cricket-crazy people on his shoulders and has rarely let them down.
His record means a world to all of us who have followed the fortunes of the Indian team over the years.
He has been the flag bearer of the sport in this country and has been greatly instrumental in making cricket as big as it is at the moment, not just in India, but all over the world.
6 months ago