Sachin Tendulkar has cemented his greatness with truckload of runs but what former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar admires most about the batting great is his humility, manners and the unabashed love for the game that he has maintained for nearly two decades.
"What I admire about Sachin is his humility, respect for elders and the passion for the game that he has retained even after so many years and after achieving so much in cricket. He has not changed at all," Vengsarkar said in praise of the master batsman who made his international debut on November 15, 1989 .
The former chief selector told PTI that he had his first look at Tendulkar's precocious talent during the 1988-89 series against New Zealand when he invited the prodigiously talented schoolboy to the Indian team's net session here.
"I had heard about his exploits (in schools and juniors cricket) in 1988-89 when I was India captain and Vasu Paranjpe (former Mumbai cricketer) told me I must make it a point and see him play. We were in the middle of the series against New Zealand and I invited Sachin for the nets," Vengsarkar recalled.
"I was very impressed after seeing the way he batted against Kapil Dev, Chetan Sharma, Maninder Singh and Arshad Ayub at the nets and the same evening the Mumbai selectors met and picked him to play his first Ranji Trophy tie against Gujarat. He played very well and went on to make a hundred (100 not out) in his first game," the former middle-order stylist said.
"Then he got picked for India. At that time we never thought he would score so many thousands of runs or play for 20 years for the country," Vengsarkar said.
Vengsarkar was emphatic that the 36-year-old batting genius, scorer of 12,773 runs in Tests and over 17,000 runs in ODIs, is the best batsman ever to play for India.
"I can definitely say he has been the best batsman produced by India not only for the sheer number of runs he has scored but also for the pace at which he has got those runs which has given the bowlers enough time to bowl out the opposition," said the 53-year-old former captain.
Vengsarkar remembers very well the brilliant hundreds scored by Tendulkar as his India teammate in England and Australia at Manchester, Sydney and Perth and said even at that age he had a very mature head on his shoulders.
"As a teammate, I have seen him score his first 100 that saved the Test for India against England (119 not out at Manchester in 1989-90 series) and the hundreds he scored against Australia (on his first tour in 1991-92) at Sydney (148 not out) and Perth (114 out of 272)," he said.
"They were amazing innings and even at that young age he showed a lot of maturity. He was also physically strong. We knew then that he would go on to achieve bigger things in cricket," he said.
One of Tendulkar's best innings in domestic cricket was a blistering near-ton he scored against Haryana in the Ranji Trophy final in 1990-91 at the Wankhede Stadium when Vengsarkar was the team captain.
"I can also never forget his blistering innings of 96 against Haryana (led by Kapil) in the 1990-91 final at the Wankhede Stadium when we chased 350-plus runs in 65 overs and were down to 30-odd for three. It was an amazing knock, one of the best I have seen," he gushed.
Mumbai lost that match by a heart-stopping two runs after they made a great effort to chase the target (355) by riding on Tendulkar's early pyrotechnics and Vengsarkar's brilliant unbeaten knock of 139 on virtually one leg.