It was in 1997, at the Titan Cup practice, I had my first glimpse of Sachin Tendulkar. Next, when I played for Sungrace Mafatlal, I remember interacting with him. He was already a star, already a legend.
Everyone was in awe of him and I was floored by the manner in which he carried himself. He behaved just like another player and I have always admired him for this quality. I was awestruck by his humility.
I was looking forward to seeing him bat and bowling to him. Look at his stature. He was the world’s best batsman for the longest period. He is the world’s best batsman, and will always be.
Obviously, it was huge motivation to get to bowl to the best batsman in the world. We were in the same team and he helped me bowl fast.
His guidance has been a crucial factor in my career. The way he reads the game is amazing, always a step ahead of the rest.
Sachin understands batting so well. When he is at mid-on or mid-off, he is constantly reading the situation and helping the bowler.
His inputs are priceless and all those who have benefited from them will vouch for what I am saying. Sometimes, the batsmen are looking to play line, sometimes length. He would advise me on that and plan the dismissal.
I remember bowling to Michael Vaughan in England. I was bowling over the wicket and Sachin suggested I go round the wicket. Sachin had studied how Vaughan was playing the line and realised he was letting the ball go because it was on the right side of his eye.
He wanted me to change the line so that Vaughan feels every ball was coming in.
Actually, that is why I started bowling more round the wicket in England. Through my discussions with him I realised how he could understand the angle and all, even better than the bowlers.
He is so passionate about the game. His talk, even when we go for dinner or movies, invariably revolves around cricket. He will discuss players, situations and it has always helped.
When a partnership is building, he would tell you what to do. His knowledge of the game and the technical reading are unmatched.
Look at his humility. How he takes the pressure on himself. Look at his achievements and see how he has conducted himself. It has to do with his learning process.
He says he is still learning. It has also got to do with the values that he brings to his character. It has helped him stay grounded and also influenced others to respect the game and fellow cricketers.
I want him to enjoy his last two Tests, go out and bat freely, without the pressure he has faced throughout his career. Life will continue, we shall do certain things together, off the field. On the field, I will miss his presence.
I can never forget the joy on his face when we won the 2011 World Cup. I know how much it meant to him. Most of us knew he wouldn’t be around for the next World Cup and the whole team wanted to gift it to him.
I have not known anyone who has revered the game as much as Sachin. Cricket got top priority in his life. He took the game to a high level.
He shared his experiences with us and that’s what I shall cherish, those moments of learning cricket with a phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar.
(As told to Vijay Lokapally)