Friday, November 20, 2009

Dhoni: If Sachin got out, I’d switch off the TV

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni pays tribute to the Little Master

When I was a kid, my fascination for cricket began and ended with seeing Sachin Tendulkar bat. The moment he got out, I would switch off the television. Among the many innings that will be forever etched in my memory are those majestic backto-back hundreds against Australia in Sharjah (1998).

Soon, I started playing cricket with a tennis ball and I would try to imitate him. However, I must confess when I watched a video of my batting, it was like North Pole and South Pole! I laughed at myself for even thinking I could bat like Tendulkar.

When I made my India debut on the tour of Bangladesh in December 2004, I was both excited and nervous. It was a short tour but just being able to share the dressing room with my idol made it memorable. Being a shy person, I couldn’t muster the courage to speak to him, so I would avoid eye contact with him. I was overawed by his presence.

Finally, it was Sachin himself who broke the ice and made me feel comfortable since he would be standing close to me—in the slips. Once I got to know him better, my admiration for him grew further. As a cricketer, his self-discipline and commitment to excellence is unmatched. As a person, he is humble and honest; his feet are still grounded despite all the fame and fortune.

I was lucky to have Sachin at the non-striker’s end when I got my first Test hundred. We were playing Pakistan in Faisalabad (2006). We were in a precarious situation when I walked in to bat; Shoaib Akhtar was firing on all cylinders. He was so quick that I had no clue about the first couple of balls. Sensing my nervousness, Sachin walked down the wicket and told me, “Play the way you always play, with a smile. Enjoy the challenge.’’

Those inspiring words acted as a tonic. Shoaib pitched the next one short and I pulled it for a six over mid-wicket. That gave me a lot of confidence and from then on, I kept playing my shots, got my first century and took the team to safety.

As a sportsman and captain, I hate to lose. Tendulkar, now the seniormost citizen of world cricket, hates to lose too. The years have dimmed none of his passion for the game. He continues to give more than 100% and his schoolboy-like enthusiasm for the game is something I envy and admire. For the team he is the best available coaching manual. He keeps guiding everyone with his wealth of experience.

Critics needlessly go on talking about his retirement, but the manner in which he keeps going about his business, I joke that I might well retire before him! That’s how good he is even after two decades of international cricket. His quality knocks in the two finals against Australia (117 not out and 91) helped us win our only tri-series title in Australia (2008) on our last tour. Again, his hundred in the finals of the Compaq Cup against Sri Lanka in September this year was a quality innings. And he sliced a piece of history for India, scoring a brilliant 103 not out in Chennai (against England in December 2008) as he guided us to the fourth highest run-chase in Test history (387). His 175 at Hyderabad in the last one-day series against Australia was simply breathtaking. He seemed to have pushed the clock back by 10 years—such was the quality of his strokeplay.

Tendulkar continues to be a prolific run-getter for India and a great ambassador for the sport. Indeed, a player like Tendulkar is born once in a century. We all know that his dream of winning a World Cup is the only thing that remains unfulfilled. As captain of the Indian team, I hope that we win the 2011 World Cup for him. It will be a fitting tribute to a man who has given so much to the country.

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