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Updated: November 8, 2013 20:16 IST

God’s own country

Vijay Lokapally
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Sachin Tendulkar at the Palam Cricket Ground in New Delhi. Photo: R.V. Moorthy
The Hindu
Sachin Tendulkar at the Palam Cricket Ground in New Delhi. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Master blaster Sachin Tendulkar is as much a Delhiite as a Mumbaikar

Can Sachin Tendulkar belong to just one city? The batsman with a universal appeal, transcending human frontiers, is everyone’s cricketer, a role model who reaches out to every section of the society, and loves being in the thick of action. Mumbai claims Sachin to be its own but the master blaster believes he belongs to the whole of India. As a cricketer with some gigantic achievements that promise to stand the test of time for eternity, Sachin is as much a Delhite as a Mumbaikar.

The Capital boasts a rich history, dating centuries back. Some of that golden period now lies in ruins but the majestic allure of the Red Fort, the Humayun Tomb or the Qutab can’t be missed by the millions of visitors to Delhi. One of them is Sachin, who has loved every visit to this historic city, whether making runs at the Ferozeshah Kotla or relishing the culinary delights or marvelling at Delhi’s green cover, the spacious roads leaving him gaping.

He had come to attract the attention of some of the finest critics of the game in the earlyv’90s when he came to Delhi for a Test match at the Ferozeshah Kotla against Zimbabwe in 1993. It was his first Test at Kotla and he was clearly excited. He was 20 and the world of cricket beckoned this prodigious talent from the cricket field of Mumbai.

He had played a Ranji Trophy match at the Kotla in 1991 when he slammed the Delhi bowlers on a hot and humid day. He had missed his century in the first innings by 18 runs but came up with a superb knock of 125, embarrassing the attack with a range of awesome strokes. “I remember it was extremely tough to contain him but then, it was hardly surprising because we all knew what he is capable of,” recalls former cricketer Maninder Singh, now a noted commentator.

It was an eventful match for former Delhi batsman Bantu Singh. That Ranji match in 1991 was a “war” between the two teams with bouncers galore. The batsmen sledged and the bowlers retaliated, Sachin one among them. He was “inspired” by the seniors. He bowled a short which Bantu whacked for a four. Sachin stared, actually glared. And his next delivery, bowled from a shortened run up, crashed past Bantu’s defensive blade and struck him on the nose. This was more in response to Dilip Vengsarkar being hit in the ribs earlier than Bantu taking a boundary off him.

A bleeding Bantu, having fainted, was carried off the field and needed a surgery to set his nose right. The Mumbai team left in the evening while Bantu recuperated in the hospital at Ansari Road, close to the Kotla. His father, Dilbagh Singh, got a late night call from Mumbai. “Sachin here, how is Bantu?” said the concerned voice from the other end. “I don’t know from where he got my residence number but he grew in esteem that night as far as my family is concerned.” Bantu has since been the Indian team’s local manager in Delhi and Sachin still jokes, “Bantu, how is your nose?”

The ground staff at Kotla remembers Sachin as a polite star. The dressing room attendants are his biggest fans. “He is so caring and never forgets to give us gifts,” says one of them. His impeccable demeanour even in the dressing room is what they admire. “Have seen him carry juice and soft drink even for the juniors,” raves another. They vow that he has never kept anyone waiting at any time. He is the first to board the bus and obviously the first to alight.His journey from the team hotel to Kotla is an exercise in concentration. A glimpse of the outside world is not ruled out but he makes use of that time to prepare himself. Ear phones bring him peaceful music before the game but there was an instance that showed the man’s commitment. It was a practice session on the eve of India’s last Test against Australia and he was to try out a new pair of shoes. When most of his teammates were hooked on to their i-pods and some indulging in chatter, Sachin attended to his new shoes, using the time from the hotel to Kotla to change the spikes. When he arrived at the ground, Sachin was ready and was the first to take the field for the training session. His fans would remember Sachin for that blistering 137 against Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup league encounter. He has two centuries too in ten Tests.

My lasting memory is of Sachin staring out of the car and unabashedly appreciating the wide roads and the lush green environs as we drove past the ridge. It was a Maruti Esteem and he flooded the driver with questions pertaining to the speed, mileage and engine quality of the car. His love for cars did not miss the attention of our fellow passengers, Ajit Wadekar and Vinod Kambli.

Sachin’s love for Delhi is not confined to Kotla. He just loves the lush green environs of the Capital. His room, with 9 an unmistakable number, must present him an unhindered view of the green. He can’t give expression to his desire of visiting the gardens. That he loves nature can be gauged from his holiday destination, hills mostly, but Delhi too has a special place in his itinerary.

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