It was Sachin Tendulkar’s first season and my last. He was 16 and I was 32, leading the side (Saurashtra) at Rajkot. I did not realise then the importance of bowling to a curly-haired, enthusiastic batsman.
I claimed his wicket too (lbw), a wicket that remains my most prized. I had, on different occasions, dismissed batsmen like Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards, Kim Hughes, but Sachin remains my best ‘catch’ ever.
He came into that match with a big reputation already. His unbeaten 100 in the previous match against Gujarat on Ranji debut had caused unprecedented curiosity about a youngster who was said to possess hugely precocious talent. We were to discover it in that match.
I have lived that experience countless times. Sachin walked in at zero for two as Bombay lost Lalchand Rajput and Alan Sippy. Precarious situation, but the lad was oozing confidence as he took guard and settled into a perfect stance. I had him first ball, caught-behind, but the umpire missed the snick. Thank God he did.
For that match, I had requested the curator to prepare a rank turner because Bombay always amassed big scores against us. We had three slow bowlers for the game, all off-spinners, and backed ourselves to dominate. We did by taking the first innings lead in that drawn match but there was just one winner in that contest — Sachin Tendulkar.
He scored 58 and 89 and convinced us that he was a great batsman in the making. I observed him closely and came to admire every aspect of his cricket, his skilful batting, impeccable cricket acumen and polished behaviour. His knocks were education on how to excel when faced with grave challenges.
The ball was turning square at times and most Bombay batsmen were happy to play with the pad. But not this boy! I don’t remember one ball hitting his pads, not one ball. It was astonishing how Sachin got his bat to every ball and how he ignored the harmless ones. He was stepping out every time I flighted the ball and playing the cover drive like a champion. His aggression left us stunned. He became the subject of our discussion for the remaining part of the season.
At the first drinks break, I said to him “son, show me your palm.” He was amused. I can read palms and have done it for Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil, Dilip Vengsarkar. I am not sure whether Sachin would remember. I predicted he would grow into one of the greatest batsmen. I am glad I did not err in my reading.
He played my benefit match (at Surat in 2010). We had dinner and I said to him it was my finest day. With all humility he remarked “Ashok bhai, you deserve every bit of this.” It was very kind of him as always. Lest I forget, I will be in Mumbai for his farewell Test!
(As told to Vijay Lokapally; Ashok Patel, off-spinner, played eight ODIs for India and was the first bowler to take Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket in a domestic match. Patel is now settled in the United States)