The room in Sharadashram Vidyamandir comprising Sachin Tendulkar’s memorabilia, in many ways, represents the rich legacy of the school as a cricketing factory. It dished out Praveen Amre, Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli, Ajit Agarkar, Atul Ranade, Amol Muzumdar and many other top class cricketers from a small building on the streets of Dadar in the latter half of the 1980s.
But outside those four walls, a stark contrast of the present day scenario strikes. Gone are the days when the school consistently had a presence in the national and international cricketing circuit from its factory. The situation now, as the school’s current coach and former Railways player Naresh Churi puts it, is that they even “struggle to put together 11 players for a match, forget talent.”
“The mentality of students and parents has changed,” Churi said. “Every parent wants their child to become a Sachin Tendulkar, but they must realise that the amount Sachin used to practise in a day, kids nowadays practise in a week. The education scenario has changed, and it just not just about sport anymore.”
The school’s principal, KR Shirsat, who has been teaching there for the past 30 years, and taught Tendulkar mathematics and science in classes XII, IX and X, said, “Before, there were only three or four schools with a strong cricketing base. Players would switch schools to concentrate on the sport. But now, because of the popularity of the sport and the money involved, every school and every lane in the city has a cricket academy. The competition has increased and priorities have changed.”
The principal adds that Sachin’s hallmark, more than in his cricket, was in his attitude.
Recalling an incident that happened almost a year back, the 55-year-old said, “When Sachin was in school, he always used to run and come to me whenever I called him. He would look up only once, and never look in the eye.
“A year back I had gone to Sachin’s house to meet him, but his personal assistant wouldn’t let me in, saying he was busy. I told him to go tell Sachin just once that Shirsat sir has come, and if he didn’t come I would leave. He did, and Sachin came out running, not walking. Even after 20-odd years, he ran towards me like he used to in school. He also did not look into my eye. Sachin is Sachin because of what he is from inside.”
Tendulkar never neglected his academic work, no matter how busy cricket kept him. On the day of his class X board internal exam, Tendulkar had a match at the Wankhede. Shirsat requested the external examiner to grant him one more day to give his paper, hoping that Tendulkar would turn up the next day.
“I told the examiner that Sachin would become a great player one day, and to allow him that extra day. Sachin came the next morning and gave his exam,” Shirsat said.
Cut to 2013, and a 15-year-old boy from the same school has taken a break from the game “to concentrate on his class X exams.”
“It’s a very shocking state,” Kambli, who shared a world record 664-run stand playing for their school in the Harris Shield in 1988, says. “Kids should remember that we became what we are due to our sheer hard work. But they want to take shortcuts now, want the play in the Indian Premier League and be satisfied.”
Agarkar feels that they were very fortunate to have been coached by Ramakant Achrekar.
“I’m sure even Naresh agrees that not everyone can be like Achrekar sir. I remember losing just two games in my 5-6 years of school cricket. But the game has undergone a change over the years and I hope the school again touches the highs of our time,” he says.
Muzumdar adds, “The efforts of the teachers and coaches during our time was phenomenal, and we were an extremely dedicated lot. Every player that came out of Achrekar sir’s factory was sealed and stamped. The quality of players was that good. That is never going to happen again.
It’s a once-in-a-century phenomenon.”
Just like a certain Tendulkar.