Friday, 11 October 2013
When Sachin came to Chesterfield
By any standards by which you care to benchmark, Tendulkar has been one of the greats and must surely now be considered the best after Bradman. In my time I have been privileged to see some of the greatest players in cricket history and the likes of Garfield Sobers, Barry Richards, Viv Richards and Ricky Ponting have been a joy, even when they were making runs against the team I supported.
My Dad told me from an early age that I should always see both sides in any match and I’ve always done that, whether in football or cricket. Only the most partisan of fans could fail to enjoy the batting of such players as those above and Tendulkar has been touched by greatness since we first saw him as a teenager.
That was at Chesterfield in July 1990, when he played for an Indian team managed by the great Bishen Bedi. A pre-match pleasure on a sunny day was seeing the great slow left armer bowling a few in practice, a reminder of that classic, easy style that graced the game for so many years. Derbyshire posted 235 in 55 overs, with a fine century from Kim Barnett and runs from both Peter Bowler and John Morris. For a long time we looked like winning easily, especially when the visitors slipped to 88-4, with both Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev back in the pavilion. A notable scalp was on the cards.
The batsmen were all troubled by steepling bounce on a lively track, especially when Ian Bishop was bowling seriously quickly from the pavilion end. Bishop took an early wicket but had moral victories several times an over. The diminutive Tendulkar, coming in at number three, sparred at several balls and the battle seemed uneven, as if one of the world’s fastest bowlers was bowling at a schoolboy. Which is exactly what it was, of course. Bishop was a West Indian Test star, the youngster was barely seventeen years old and looked younger.
We continued to chip away at the Indian batting but no one could perturn the little player, who had an obviously impressive technique as well as the most phlegmatic of temperaments. He was not at all fazed by the occasional ones that passed his bat, but the longer he stayed there, the more time he appeared to have to play his shots, against all but Bishop. Even then he was working the lifting ball off his hip and there was a delightful, Boycott-like force off the back foot that brought a murmur of acknowledgement from Dad. “He can bat, this lad. I like the look of him” he said, which has always been the most effusive of praise from his lips. He's reminded me of that early judgement a time or two since then...
The calculation came down to a tricky twenty-odd from three overs and with Bishop to bowl at least one of them, it was obvious where the key to the game lay. Surely the youngster’s charming but charmed life against the scarily quick but genial Trinidadian couldn’t last?
It could. As Bishop dropped another ball short, climbing and homing in on the batsman’s chest, the fledgling maestro rocked back and pulled the ball a country mile over the trees by the old score box. It was an enormous hit for a player who looked too slight to produce such a shot, the result of fast footwork and impeccable timing. After that, the Indian side won in a canter, their young star finishing unbeaten on a superb unbeaten 105 out of 239-8, the win coming with just two balls to spare. His timing was impeccable, just like that of his retirement, with a planned final appearance in his beloved Mumbai.
Prior to that innings at Chesterfield, Sachin's previous best one-day score was just 36, so we were in at the start of something very special. He has subsequently scored a staggering 108 one-day centuries and has become a global brand and icon of his country - indeed the game as a whole. Despite living his life in the spotlight, he has remained a man of charm, modesty and consummate professionalism.
A Test average of 54 is impressive, but perhaps no more so than a one-day international one of 45, a first-class one of 58 and a T20 average of 33. He has also been a useful bowler and has had stints as captain. Perhaps the only disappointment has been that his international commitments have seen him spend only one season in the county game, a year with Yorkshire as a teenager. It was asking a lot of a young lad, no matter how talented, to adapt to life in a foreign country in such a key role and Tendulkar’s class came through in glimpses, rather than with the evidence of a mountain of runs.
Like many before him, however, the experience probably did him good and went some way towards the making of the batting maestro we have all enjoyed for over twenty years.
So too did that innings at Queens Park, Chesterfield.
Thanks Sachin, for a career touched by genius. It has been a pleasure to watch from start to finish.