How I Saw Sachin’s Humility While Dealing With A Billion Dreams
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is being republished to mark Sachin Tendulkar’s birthday)
Like most of the ‘80s kids I was a Sachin Tendulkar fan. After a childhood spent idolising him, I was lucky to see firsthand how he handled the expectations of a billion dreams with grace and humility.
When I started my career in journalism in 2000, I started seeing him from close quarters – at practice sessions, hotel lobbies and sometimes media interactions.
There was a different kind of aura about him. Forget asking for an interview, one felt a little nervous and shy even saying ‘hi’ to him.
In 2001, after India’s historic win against Steve Waugh’s Australia, I finally gathered the courage to ask him for an interview. The team was celebrating at a bowling alley and I had gone there to cover them.
I rehearsed what I was going to say to him and even practiced answers for the counter-questions he may throw at me. When I finally found him alone, with my pulse racing, I very politely asked for an interview. The interaction was short and sweet. He refused the interview saying, “Some time later.”
I realised his wasn’t an easy wicket to get. I continued meeting him and exchanging pleasantries.
At one such meeting at the Taj Samudra Colombo during the 2002 Champions Trophy, he asked me why I had left my previous TV station. That he noticed my job change had felt like a big accomplishment.
In 2003, I again gathered courage and called his landline number to request an interview. This time, he agreed.
We met at the Chepauk near Madras Cricket Club and I tried bowling a googly to him. I asked him:
I was expecting a no but to my utter surprise, he said yes.
At that point, getting a Sachin interview was a big deal and getting it in Hindi was a masterstroke.
Once that trust was established, it was really easy to deal with the great man. I was the first one to get him after he reached the 10,000-run mark in Test cricket and 20 years in international cricket.
However, my biggest moment with Sachin came in 2008. India was recovering from the horrors of 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. The team had given the country something to cheer about by winning a famous Test match in Chennai against England.
Sachin scored a brilliant hundred in a crumbling fourth and fifth day pitch to chase down a record 386 runs. He dedicated that innings to the victims and families of armed forces of the attack.
During the next Test in Mohali, I reluctantly went up to him and said: “Paji lets do something special for the 26/11 heroes.”
He replied: “Give me a plan.”
Next day, he asked me about the plan and I felt embarrassed. Eventually, it was submitted.
Sachin, along with Harbhajan Singh, spent a day with NSG commandos at their headquarters at Manesar. He struggled to keep his emotions in check while meeting families of two commandos who had died during operations.
He kept telling everyone, from the smallest rank to the director, that they were the heroes. And that he was thankful to them for what they did for the country.
During Yuvraj’s cancer treatment, I saw the big brother in Sachin. While I was in the US with Yuvraj, Sachin used to call regularly to motivate him. Sometimes he even messaged me to check on Yuvraj.
On meeting Yuvraj after he returned from the US, Sachin had to try his best to hold back his tears. He just couldn’t bear to see Yuvraj in that state. The most remarkable thing for me personally was when Sachin called me and thanked me for taking care of Yuvi. He didn’t need to do that. But that call showed the depth of his character.
Since 2000, Sachin has always wished me on big occasions in my life. Be it my marriage or the birth of my two kids, Paji has not forgotten to advise me. Despite being the ‘God’, his feet have continued to be firmly be on the ground.
Sunil Gavaskar, when asked to highlight one quality of Sachin, said “Balance”. Balance on and off the field. That one word describes the man perfectly.
(Nishant Arora is an award-winning cricket journalist, and most recently, the media manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He also co-authored the best-selling book on Yuvraj Singh’s battle with cancer.)