The ground-staff at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium fondly recall their association with master blaster Sachin Tendulkar and vignettes from the past
“Anna Soukiyama,” would be Sachin Tendulkar’s caring query to the groundsmen at Chepauk during his visits to an arena close to his heart. The maestro, indeed, could speak a few words in Tamil!
He comprehended the value of the ground-staff, those unsung men who worked in scorching heat or battled through thunderstorms to get the ground and the pitch ready.
“He had time for us, would always enquire about our families. After the match, he would walk up to us and thank us personally. And he never complained. Despite his enormous achievements, he is such a humble person,” said K. Parthasarathy, chief curator at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.
The legend with a wonderful sense of balance at the crease possessed a stable head untouched by heady success.
Chepauk was Tendulkar’s most successful venue in Test cricket. He made 970 runs in 10 Tests here at a whopping 88.18 with five centuries. He relished the ambience in a place steeped in history, turned matches around with strokes of joy and beauty.
“You could see happiness on his face, each time he came to the ground. He felt the surface here was a lot like the one at the Wankhede Stadium,” observed Parthasarathy.
Vasthirauthan, a Marker, joined the conversation. He was Tendulkar’s favourite practice bowler. “Whenever he came here, Tendulkar would call me to bowl at him. I bowled off-spin. He said I could really turn the ball.”
Parthasarathy explained. “Tendulkar’s practice would consist of two parts. First, he would have regular nets. Then he would have a separate session where he would ask members of the ground-staff to bowl at him. He had such drive and passion for the game.”
The experienced curator provided a fascinating insight into Tendulkar’s match-preparation. “He would go to one side of the main pitch, settle into his stance and play imaginary strokes all round the wicket. Then, he would go to the other end and do the same. It was his method of familiarising himself mentally with the surroundings.” Groundsman M. Mariappan revealed a discussion among the members of his tribe when they first saw Tendulkar — before he debuted for India in 1989 — as a little boy with sparkling eyes and curly hair. “We saw him stroking the ball with such confidence and timing even then that we felt that here was someone who could match Sunil Gavaskar. Tendulkar had journeyed here with famous coach Vasu Paranjpe.”
The other side of the master
The only occasion Parthasarathy saw Tendulkar displaying anger was following the dramatic India-Pakistan Test here in 1999. The legendary batsman had endured shooting back pain to construct an epic 136 but saw Wasim Akram’s men finish at the right end of a humdinger.
“Tendulkar was in tears as he returned to the pavilion. He was crushed. And he was furious with a particular member of the Indian team for throwing his wicket away. I had never seen Tendulkar like that before. He always had this burning desire to see India finish on the winning side.”
Parthasarathy recalled another memorable vignette from the past. The year was 1998 and Australia toured India. Realising the threat from leg-spin wizard Shane Warne, Tendulkar requested Parthasarathy to create an artificial rough outside the leg-stump and got leg-spinners, including former India bowler L. Sivaramakrishnan, to spin the ball into him from round the wicket. That was the focus, intensity and commitment of Tendulkar’s practice.
“He was caught in the slips early on off Warne in the first innings and was disappointed. I remember him telling me in the evening that he should have played the delivery differently. In the second innings, he made a match-winning century (an unbeaten 155) often pulling Warne from the rough. That was sensational,” noted Parthasarathy.
And Tendulkar’s fourth innings Test-clinching 103 not out in Chepauk against England in 2008 was another gem from the genius. “He wanted a fast outfield for the game. Despite the turn in the pitch, he made full use of a speedy outfield,” said Parthasarathy.
There would be lighter moments too for Tendulkar during non-match days when he would sit on the heavy roller or the super sopper and simply have fun!
Importantly, Tendulkar always respected the men of soil, put a smile on their visages. Another timeless lesson from the master.