Hello and welcome once again to DRS, my very own personal space where we talk matters cricketing. Let me rewind the clock a bit today because I am going to talk out about Sachin Tendulkar and the Ranji Trophy. That’s right, the Ranji Trophy. Because after many years he is playing this week for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy and I want to take my mind back to the first time I saw him in a first-class match. It was his very first first-class match. It was against Gujarat; it was in the year 1988.
A long time ago, you would say. I was just a month into journalism. And we were sitting in the Times of India office in Mumbai. We had seen and watched Sachin play club cricket and we were excited at the prospect that Sachin was making his first class debut. So what did we did do? Well, we did what a good journalist or what any good office-goer would do is simply bunk office that afternoon. So after lunch when we heard that Sachin was about to come into bat we left for the Wankhede Stadium and for the next two hours we watched the rising star of Indian cricket.
Sachin that day against Gujarat scored a brilliant ton in about a couple of two hours and really announced his arrival on India’s cricketing stage. I still remember that day. He with his curly locks; his rosy cheeks. He looked a very tiny figure surrounded by all the big men of Indian cricket. But it was clear that even though he was short in height he was going to be big in stature. The one thing about Sachin that I can remember from that day is that he never seemed out of place. Here was his first match. He was what 14 or 15 years old making his first class debut. You would’ve thought he would be nervous.
But Right from the first ball, you could sense there was something special about him. The way he approached what was a very ordinary Gujarat attack really made him stand out as someone who could put the bowling to the sword. He was an aggressive, attacking batsman in those days. He loved to hit the ball hard and hit it far. And, I can still recall in my eyes how all of us were just overjoyed at the sight of watching a young man conquer the world at such a young age.
Since then, of course, he has conquered many peaks. He has gone on to score a hundred international hundreds; has every conceivable record; has been likened to the great Don Bradman. For me somewhere he will always be remembered by that one day I saw him in November of 1988 when he made his first-class debut. In those days the Ranji Trophy was not just some side show. I recall there were about some 10,000 to 15’000 spectators who had come to the stadium. And most of them had come to watch Sachin. Today you don’t frequently see hundreds in most Ranji Trophy matches. But Sachin had that drawing power and first-class cricket would be richer if the likes of Sachin could play Ranji Trophy cricket more regularly.
In fact it’s one of regrets that over the years, the Ranji Trophy has lost its importance. Most of our Test players don’t even play Ranji Trophy cricket. My father Dilip Sardesai, who played for Mumbai, always used to tell me that one of the great joys of playing cricket was playing a Ranji Trophy final or a big Ranji game in front of a full house. I hate to say “those were the days.” But really, those really were the days. And Sachin’s Ranji Trophy debut was a very special moment for all of us cricket fans.
I recall going back to office by about 4.35 after Sachin scored that hundred, approaching my editor Darryl D'Monte and saying, “Sir, can I write a piece on Sachin on the fact that I’ve seen a new star being born in Indian cricket?” And Darryl, kind man that he was, said, “Why don’t you write it for the front page?” And there it was somewhere in November 1988 that I had a front page story on a new star being born in Indian cricket. I have got the cutting somewhere at home so when anyone asks me whether you always believed that Sachin would be a star, I show them that cutting. I might get political predictions right. But I think I got this one right. Sachin was always destined to be a great batsman.