Sachin has compiled a batting record that may never be challenged, writes Greg Chappell
Lady Bradman, rather than Sir Donald as has been reported, was the one who remarked on the similarity between ‘The Little Master’ and ‘The Don’. It was assumed that she only meant in the way that they played cricket, but perhaps she saw more than we gave her credit.
Being exceptional invites great interest and scrutiny in the private life of an individual. In the case of these two intensely private men it complicated matters.
I have been lucky to see some of the most talented batsmen that the game has produced, and it is fair to say that they have all been different from your average player. In their own way, they were driven by something deep inside them that no other person understood.
The most gifted batsmen that I have seen are, in chronological order; Harvey, Sobers, Pollock, Walters, Barry Richards, Viv Richards, Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting. Each of them had the ability to dramatically alter the course of a game that differentiates them from other outstanding batsmen of their time.
I did not see Bradman bat, but I have seen the archival footage which suggests that he was in another class from his peers altogether. He was driven by something that no one, maybe not even he, fully understood.
It is hard to imagine that Tendulkar played Test cricket at the tender age of 16. That he played for 23 years is astonishing, because I believe everyone has a finite number of significant performances in them. To think that he has carried the hopes and expectations of more than a billion people each time he batted set him apart, even from Bradman.
He also played in many more countries and varied conditions than Bradman. Along the way, he compiled a batting record that may never be challenged. This can be credited to an awesome talent, a unique grounding and an ability to switch off from the distractions around him.
In the process, Sachin has caused thousands of parents in India to reconsider cricket as a legitimate career and has inspired tens of thousands of youngsters to excel at the game.
I had the privilege of working with Sachin closely for about two years. In that time, I saw a side of him that few people would have seen.
I saw the sublime artist with bat in hand, I saw the little boy that he once was, I saw his vulnerability and I saw a man that had to compartmentalise himself in a way that would have tested a lesser individual.
Being Sachin is not easy. The demands on his time are ridiculous and the privation of withdrawing from what went on around him must have been like torture. But rarely did I see him let his guard down.
On the times that I did are special memories.
Travelling with the Indian cricket team was like travelling with The Beatles. People lined the streets waving and shouting as the team bus drove by and crowds jostled at airports and hotels just to get a glimpse of the members of the band.
And, Sachin was the Indian team’s John Lennon! Everybody wanted a piece of him; a look, a touch, a photograph or an autograph.
Initially I was surprised that Sachin did not acknowledge these crowds. He preferred to sit in the bus with his headphones on, listening to his eclectic music compilation and looking straight ahead as though the crowd did not exist.
It took me some time to realise that this was an act of survival. Had he acknowledged even a small percentage of those who demanded something from him, he would have been mentally and physically exhausted by breakfast. He, therefore, chose the only path available.
One of the special times that have stuck in my memory was on the 2006 tour of Pakistan. I had noticed that, due to the unique nature of their life, the Indian players did not spend much time together off the field. They retreated into their own little world away from the ground; to remedy this, I decided to organise an opportunity for them to socialise.
In Faisalabad, we arranged a private dinner for the team and support staff at which Sachin decided to play bar tender. During the evening, he mixed drinks and delivered them to teammates and staff who were relaxing with food and music.
In those few hours, I saw Sachin unwind and play prankster. He took great delight in the outcomes. It was a touching moment because I glimpsed what the young Sachin might have been. I also sensed that this Sachin was not allowed out, very often.
My time with the Indian team provided many happy moments and some memorable experiences. This was certainly one of them.
In December 2005, we were in Chennai and I was in my room at the Taj after we had trained at Chepauk.
My phone rang and it was Sachin asking if he could come over and have a chat about his batting. I agreed and he came over immediately. We talked for a few hours during which he bared his soul in a manner that I believe was rare, for him. He showed a hint of vulnerability that I doubt many had seen as he asked about why batting got more difficult as one got older.
At the end of our discussion, he thanked me and as he was leaving, I commented on how difficult it must be for him to keep up with his many friends around India. I had seen people coming and going from his room over recent days, so I assumed that some of them were friends. He looked at me momentarily before saying, “Greg, you have more friends in India than I have.”
I got the shock of my life and at that moment I realised how tough it was being Sachin. Indian cricket may never see an individual with such an incredible combination of mental and physical skills.