In terms of enthusiasm and passion for the game, Sachin Tendulkar hasn’t changed at all. Actually, the enthusiasm has only increased.

I was fortunate to witness how he prepares for matches. Since I was very different as a bowler, he was one batsman I would go to and check whether everything was fine. I am glad he didn’t focus too much on bowling, otherwise I would have had to fight for a place in the team! He was exceptional as a leg-spinner.

As a batsman, he could pick the ball pretty early. He could judge the length of the ball, and also had the ability to pick it from the bowler’s hand. He could pick up reverse swing. He is probably the best batsman I have come across who had the ability to assess the pitch and its bounce and pace.

The special ones

In a hundred 100s, it is difficult to pick a favourite. For me, the Sydney double hundred (241 not out) was unique as he shut out his cherished scoring area on the off-side because he was getting out.

The Chennai second innings hundred (155 n.o.), against Mark Taylor’s Australia in 1998, was special and he set the game up for us. With (Shane) Warne pitching in the rough, it was a tough situation. Sachin’s knock was, hence, very special. Even the hundred (136) in the second innings against Pakistan in Chennai in 1999 was special.

Off the field, he is chilled out and doesn’t throw tantrums when he gets out. That is truly amazing, because it is not just about his expectations, but also about bearing the expectations of a billion people.

We have all received the odd poor decision, but when he returns to the dressing room, he looks at the TV and asks whoever is around, “Was that out?” After 10 minutes he is normal again.

Though Sachin has the awe-factor, he makes youngsters comfortable. He loves all the good things and the youngsters come to him to discuss even stuff like cars. He is also not averse to somebody coming up to him and telling him his “feet isn’t moving enough.” He is not like ‘I am Sachin Tendulkar and nobody should tell me this.’

Something special

Over the years, our friendship has also developed. It’s been five years since I retired and we have been in touch. Now that I am part of the Mumbai Indians team (as mentor), I get to spend more time with him.

He would always congratulate you on any milestone, yes, all teammates do that, but he would send something special to your room with a small note and it was touching that someone cared for you. When we won the World Cup (2011) at the Wankhede, I went to the dressing room and Sachin was celebrating. It was one trophy all of us wanted and he represented all of us — our generation of cricketers. With his retirement, that entire generation is now retired.

‘No’ is probably the most difficult word he will have to face after his retirement because everybody would want a piece of him now.

By the way, I will be there in Mumbai for Sachin’s final Test.

(As told to K.C. Vijaya Kumar)

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