It’s 22 years now, since Sachin Tendulkar scored his 2nd hundred in 48 hours, on a summer evening in Sharjah. For a lot of fans around the world, this was his zenith amidst the high of 1998. Twin hundreds, making bowlers like Michael Kasprowicz, Damien Fleming and Shane Warne look pedestrian. Special right? But this was not my favourite moment involving Sachin. No, It was not Nairobi, Wankhede or Chepauk either. You may wonder, if you missed the moment I was talking about? You did, since it happened to be a moment off camera, when Tony Greig was not shrieking “Whaddaplaya.”
The scene is set to Aug 7, 1996. I was made part of a group and as part of our curriculum in class 9, we had to make a radio show and interview a personality. Most of the groups had started their homework in earnest, except for the laziest group in the class (which I was part of), which was yet to think about whom to interview. A week had passed and while a day’s holiday was about to come the next day (Vidya Mandir-Adyar in Chennai), we realised that we had not started on the assignment. Most of the other groups, started finding people around the 4th main road who were either parents of our school or they interviewed school teachers.
As I woke up to a cloudy Independence day in 1996 (August 15), I skipped to the last page of ‘THE HINDU,’ like I usually do. I open the sports page first and then the other pages. I had noticed a photo of the Indian team practicing at Chepauk, before heading to school for the Independence Day celebrations. I mooted the idea, of picking the new Indian captain Sachin for an interview, towards our radio show. Three of my group mates (Vishnu and Pranesh), gave me the sneers, while one of them found merit in the thought, since we anyway were not doing anything after the Independence day celebrations. The ride from Adyar to Chepauk, was pregnant with hope of possibilities. Would I able to say 1996, would never be 1996 from this day, in a very George Orwellian way? We will see.
At Chepauk, our eyes gazed on Sachin and during one of the fielding routines, the ball sped towards the ropes in front of the MCC stand, and chasing it was none other than Sachin. We walked up to him, and politely introduced ourselves, and said that we need an interview for our school radio show. Nothing wrong in asking right? Much to our surprise, the great man treated us very courteously and asked us to come to the dressing room at 6 in the evening and sped back to practice. My friend and I were were taken aback. WE HAD JUST SPOKEN TO SACHIN! If the world ended then, I would have happily taken the moment with a smile.
The next step was to hunt for an audio recorder, and given that it was a rare commodity to have in a household of the 90’s, I decided to go and buy one, just for this event. On a public holiday, most shops in the city were closed, and I had to roam for a couple of hours before I bought a Chinese radio recording handset for a huge amount. I tested it and it worked!
I took that and went to Chepauk at 5 with my friend Vishnu. We emphatically told the policeman manning the boundary ropes that we wanted to sit in the dressing room, since Sachin had promised an interview for us. Nobody took us seriously, and the policemen laughed at us. The practice had ended, and we saw Sachin walking into the dressing room, and we were still waiting.
The crowd to interview Sachin was growing by the minute. We now had close to 20 journalists and photographers waiting for their dose of god. Sandip Patil, the then manager of the Indian team, was still on the ground. I tore a bit of paper and wrote a quick note to him about how Sachin told us he’d give an interview for our school magazine. 5 minutes later, the police who laughed at us a few minutes back, came towards us, and asked us to go into the dressing room. They weren’t joking right?
We could not quite believe our luck, and 8 minutes later, and hundreds of photographs later, we emerged out of the dressing room, smiling and giggling. It was surreal, standing next to Sachin. I have not felt a more divine hero worship moment ever in my life, as my friend Vishnu and I rattled of some hastily written questions, trying to look unfazed. Sachin’s seriousness in answering the questions made me understand one thing in life pretty early, that if you do something you put in 100% and life is a series of those 100% moments.
One of the answers that Sachin gave was around the fact that his parents gave him total freedom to follow his dreams. Could I do that? Could I maybe ask my parents about the same? That question rung in my head like a bell that keeps beeping. It beeped every few months till I turned 30, and that’s when I managed to find a career that was around cricket. That one answer from Sachin inspired me to go search for my calling to build a possible career around cricket. That’s the power of iconic sportsmen, where a mere interaction for a fan can mean so much in their lives to take back home for inspiration.
And yes, there was no question on which was the best radio show content for that year in school. Vishnu and I were the toast of the school that week!