The two-minute walk from the Vinoo Mankad Gate to the sightscreen at the Wankhede Stadium’s Garware Pavilion End is an uneventful one, especially on non-match days. But when you spot a blue BMW 5 Series parked in front of the glass facade, you know it’s not going to be just another training session of the Mumbai side. You also spot a sparkling white Audi Q7 and wonder who the proud owner is. Your eyes, though, tend to focus on the sedan — its leather seats, exhaust, numberplate et al. The security guard, stationed at the staircase leading to the home dressing room, lets out a gentle smile. It’s as if he’s knows who you’re looking for. “Aa gaye hain (he’s here)” he says.
To put it simply (and frankly), only stray dogs and journalists are seen at a stadium two days prior to a Ranji Trophy encounter. But when Sachin Tendulkar is in the house, it’s a different story altogether. His fans, the passionate ones, are invariably there. Ah, and the cameras, plenty of them!
Twelve days after he decided to hang up that India Blue jersey he donned with distinction on 461 occasions, Tendulkar, fresh from a week-long holiday in the hills, strode out purposefully for his first serious nets on Friday. Mumbai are set to host Baroda in the quarterfinal tie of the country’s premier domestic competition from Sunday, and Tendulkar knows that a decent outing would do both him, and the team, a world of good.
Mumbai, led by Tendulkar’s good friend (and the owner of that Q7) Ajit Agarkar, finished their Group ‘A’ commitments with 23 points from eight matches. The opposition, boasting the likes of Yusuf Pathan and ‘migrant’ Ambati Rayudu, will be no pushovers. And the intensity with which Mumbai trained suggested they were ready to lock horns with their West Zone rivals.
Tendulkar, keen on finding form before next month’s Test series against Australia, batted for a good 40 minutes. The most interesting aspect was his ‘duel’ with a lean and quick 19-year-old left-armer called Royston Dias. Now this lad is not just any other net bowler. A senior Mumbai player had faced him at the Bandra-Kurla Complex ground recently. Impressed, he asked the Mumbai U-19 seamer to bowl to his mates at the Wankhede. On Friday, he introduced the wunderkid to Tendulkar, who watched him trouble the likes of Abhishek Nayar and Suryakumar Yadav. A little later, Tendulkar decided to face Dias, almost 21 years his junior! Hold your breath, the boy actually bounced Tendulkar before running up to the maestro with his right hand raised.
No issues there. So what did Tendulkar tell him? “It was great bowling to him. He asked me to pitch it up,” said a delighted Dias, who also managed to beat the master on a few occasions.
The Vasai resident, a second year BSc IT student, is a rare gem, says Mumbai U-19 coach Satish Samant. “He is a very energetic lad and his dedication amazes me. He has not played days’ cricket yet, but he will, very soon. He once picked up a hat-trick in a Dhruv Pandove Trophy match in Mohali. I remember that spell,” Samant recalls.
Asked if such talented youngsters should be fast-tracked into the senior team, a Mumbai player nodded. “How else do you promote talent? Don’t you know how Abey Kuruvilla made his Ranji Trophy debut (in the early 1990s)? Fast bowlers with spark should be unleashed right away. But who can explain this to the powers-that-be in Mumbai cricket? You know the system, don’t you?” the player rued, while preferring not to be named.
Well, given that Tendulkar spent a good 30 minutes watching and facing the Parkophene club lad, Dias may not have to go through a pointless regime of proving himself in one age-group tourney after another.