Mumbai: The Cricket Club of India (CCI), which changed its rules in the 1980s to let a then 14-year-old Sachin Tendulkar use its dressing room, honoured the senior batsman as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations at the Brabourne Stadium here.
The 39-year-old became nostalgic at a function here last evening as he recollected his memories of the facility that shaped his formative years in the game. "It is a special occasion. Whenever I come to CCI, I feel special. Thank you for the love and affection; it really means a lot to me. I remember my association with CCI started when I was playing school cricket. I played Harris Shield finals here. I was playing cricket at Shivaji Park," Tendulkar said at the ceremony here.
CCI changed its rules to allow the then 14-year-old cricketer to use its dressing room when he featured in local tournaments in the late 1980s. "I happened to play against CCI, against [Madhav] Apte, and even Raj bhai [Raj Singh Dungarpur] was there and I got some runs against CCI. I was maybe 13 or 14. That is when the decision was taken to have me play at CCI. But under-18 were not allowed in dressing room and I was only 13 or 14," he recalled.
"Thanks to Raj bhai and Apte for allowing me to be in the dressing room. From there on things started looking a bit different for me in cricket. I remember when we played Australia here and then Mumbai and we won convincingly, a fantastic moment for a Mumbaikar.
"The best moment was when we played IPL, just the energy of this ground, it is so positive. I thoroughly enjoyed that season. I have come across so many guys who have got not much to do with cricket but just to feel the club and feel the ambience," he added.
Tendulkar described CCI as a "positive and invigorating" facility. "...I hope you continue to get better because you are the best. I want to thank CCI for this wonderful gesture," he said at the event.
Indian team coach Duncan Fletcher and Indian Premier League chairman Rajeev Shukla were accorded membership of the club. BCCI president N Srinivasan was also awarded lifetime membership of the club.
In response to the request put forth by CCI president to host international matches from the ground, he said, "I have no doubt in my mind that your request is made to a person who believes in it. However, the BCCI is an organisation which takes it's own time. I can assure you that I will convey with the strongest of recommendations to the managing committee of BCCI to explore ways and means of how it is possible to bring cricket back here in the form that you desire."
CCI is one of the members affiliated to the BCCI but does not take part in the Ranji Trophy national tournament.
The Brabourne Stadium was regular Test venue in this metropolis before all the international cricket matches were shifted to the nearby Wankhede Stadium in the mid-1970s, following a long-standing seat-sharing dispute between the club and the Mumbai Cricket Association.
When Wankhede was undergoing renovation before the 2011 World Cup and was unavailable to host matches, Test cricket returned to the Brabourne, albeit for just one game, when India played against Sri Lanka in December, 2009.
Visiting England team captain Alastair Cook, team director Andy Flower and batting coach Graham Gooch also received lifetime membership of the club. "It is a great honour for an English cricketer to come here, let alone be made a member. I came here many years ago with present England captain Alastair Cook and we learnt so much about playing this great game. It is a great honour," Gooch said.
The English Skipper Alastair Cook wasn't present at the event and Gooch apologised for it. "I do apologise that our captain Alastair Cook is not here. He couldn't make it here because he is brushing up on his tactics for tomorrow's game. He did ask me today as a batting coach, how many Test matches I had played in Mumbai. I said we played in 1980 when we were victorious, 1981 we lost and 1993 we lost," Gooch said. "He looked at the pitch and asked what is the best way of playing spin bowling and I said watch it from the non-striker's end. That was my advice to him."
The former English captain heaped praises on Tendulkar and said he is a true hero for the sport. "I was the English captain when he [Tendulkar] scored his first century at Old Trafford in 1990. He showed great skill and determination that day to stop England from winning that match. That century was full of commitment for his country's cause. It's been a remarkable career.
"The desire, the sacrifice the discipline that he showed over a long period of time. To be a great run-maker, you need to have great attitude, fantastic technical ability, supreme knowledge and above all wonderful concentration," he said. "This cricketer has had all those in abundance. I know I speak on behalf of all cricketers and all cricket lovers in England, I wish to pay this cricketer a tribute for not only inspiring the nation but for being an ambassador for this great game all over the world.
"All of us players and ex-players are just custodians of this great game for a short period of time and we hope to influence the game when our time is there. This cricketer can be called a true hero for not only his own country but future generations of cricketers and cricket lovers all over the world. I salute him," he added.