New Delhi: Former India head coach Anshuman Gaekwad had the best seat in the house as he witnessed Sachin Tendulkar’s “peak” from close quarters in the late 90s and early 2000s.
It was a phase when Tendulkar made the best of the bowlers look ordinary, whether it was taking Shane Warne to the cleaners on a turning track, or negotiating Saqlain Mushtaq’s magical doosra.
In a chat with PTI ahead of Tendulkar’s 50th birthday, Gaekwad fondly recalled the time spent in the dressing room with the little master during the memorable home series against Pakistan in 1999, the ‘Desert Storm’ in Sharjah the year before, and his first meeting with a 15-year-old Sachin during a Ranji Trophy game in the late 80s.
Tendulkar was a child prodigy who made waves in Mumbai school cricket and going by Gaekwad’s first interaction with him, the “incredibly curious” kid was always destined for greatness.
“It makes me happy to say that we have played Ranji together, it was my last year. One of the Mumbai cricketers brought him to me (for advice). It was a game in Thane and I sat with him for about 45-45 minutes and the whole time he listened and did not blink once.
“That itself gave me an indication that he wanted to be somebody in the game. He was not listening, it looked as if he was drinking what I was saying. Very patient and concentrating,” said the former India opener who played 40 Tests and 15 ODIs.
Tendulkar made his Ranji debut aged 15 years and 232 days during the 1988-89 season, and soon after, he found himself facing the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in his debut series in Pakistan.
A decade later, Gaekwad shared the dressing room with Tendulkar during his two stints as India head coach between 1998 and 2000, covering some of the defining moments in the batting legend’s 24-year long international career.
The moments included India’s series win against Australia in 1998, when Warne toured the sub-continent for the first time, the drawn series against Pakistan, the Coco Cola Cup in Sharjah, and a disappointing campaign in the 1999 World Cup.
Besides his mastery with the bat, Gaekwad said the mere presence of Tendulkar on the field made a massive difference. One such instance was the Chennai Test against Pakistan that India lost despite one of the best knocks from a half-fit Tendulkar.
“Playing Pakistan is a big deal. Sachin was too important part of the team to be left out for any reason. He had back problems in that Test and I talked to him. I said ‘I don’t care what happens, you stand in the slips and half the battle is won’.
“Unfortunately we lost the game but he was declared man of the mach and he did not go to accept the award. I had to do that for him. It showed he was a total team man,” said Gaekwad, referring to Tendulkar’s 136.
As the rest of the batters struggled to pick Saqlain’s doosra, Tendulkar read him beautifully, something the Pakistan off-spinner has admitted publicly on numerous occasions.
Another innings that came to Gaekwad’s mind is the 155 against Australia in the Chennai Test in 1998.
“The way he hit Shane Warne all over the place on a turing track was amazing to see. Probably his best batting in limited overs cricket came in Sharjah when he hit those two hundreds. Till date it is the best I have seen in white ball cricket. He told me before hand that he will get those two hundreds and he got them.” Gaekwad was also around when Tendulkar returned to the 1999 World Cup in the UK following the death of his father and scored an emotional hundred against Kenya. Even when he played other sports, he hated losing
Tendulkar’s love for music and food is well documented but Gaekwad said his personality as a whole helped create a pleasant vive in the dressing room.
“He brought positive energy in the team. On tours, what I liked about him was that he wasn’t someone who would sit in the room. He would play tennis or any other game and always wanted to win there as well. He did not like losing. That is a big part of his personality.
“When he was alone in the room he would always have music on. He would always iron his own clothes, never sent them for laundry and was very particular about his dressing and cricketing equipment. He was someone who you would like to have in your team all the time.”