“When will you finish?!”
Chandrakant Pandit, all concentration at the nets, did not have to turn back to see who it was. It was that annoying little kid, again. And he knew what the boy really meant with that question was: ‘Why don’t you leave, so I can bat?’
This was almost three decades ago at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, Mumbai. That boy’s name was Sachin Tendulkar.
“He had recently begun to train under Ramakant Achrekar, our coach at the Kamath Memorial Cricket Club who was mighty impressed with him,” Pandit, former India wicket-keeper who recently took over as Kerala’s director of cricket, told The Hindu.
“Sachin was 12 at the time.”
Pandit is not sure why Achrekar had so much confidence in the kid. “I wasn’t the only one in the club who was sceptical about him initially,” he recalls. “There were many others. When the coach told us that the boy would go on to be in the squad regardless of his scores, we were not exactly pleased.”
Pandit recalls an incident involving Tendulkar with a smile. “Once we wanted to run him out; the idea was the non-striker would call him for a non-existent run, and Sachin would be run out,” he says. “But Sachin was smart, and realised that there was no run and he stood his ground; it was the non-striker who got run out.
Pandit says it was a privilege to play along with Tendulkar for Mumbai and India.
“It feels great to think that I have captained him in the Ranji Trophy,” he says.
He has vivid memories about an 18-year-old Tendulkar’s astonishing hundred against Australia at Perth in 1992, which is rated by many as the Mumbai maestro’s best.
“I was the 12th man of that Test, and therefore had to be alert right through when India batted, as batsmen would need water or want their gloves replaced,” he says. “I watched every ball he played; it was an incredible innings on that bouncy track against a battery of ferocious fast bowlers.”
Earlier in that series, Pandit had kept wickets for India in the Adelaide Test, which would be his last.
Memorably, he had taken a catch off Tendulkar’s bowling. And it was the prized scalp of Aussie skipper Allan Border, for a duck.
Pandit says it is Tendulkar’s passion that set him apart from all other cricketers.
“Yes, he was gifted, but he nurtured his gift and was willing to sweat it out,” he says. “All he wanted to was to play cricket. Till his last day in cricket, he retained the passion, and the hunger of that little boy who was impatient for his turn at the nets.”