Sachin Tendulkar will enter his 25th year of international cricket on the second day of his 200th Test against the West Indies at the Wankhede on November 15. For someone to last this long at the international stage and perform consistently speaks volumes of his concentration, determination, hunger to perform well and most importantly unwavering maturity.
Longevity adds credibility to talent and in this respect Tendulkar has been legendary. However, if we were only to talk about promise, Tendulkar is not the lone name from whom much was expected in the last three decades. There was Maninder Singh, and of course, Vinod Kambli and many more.
However, a few years before Tendulkar made his debut, there were two youngsters who made the world sit up and take notice. They formed a formidable pair as a leggie with a prodigious spin and a lightning fast wicket-keeper and together they brought the 1984-85 Benson and Hedges series alive.
Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Sadanand Viswanath are two of the finest young talents who should have played longer for India than they actually did. From the heady days as popular cricketers to the days of oblivion and then the struggle to claw back into reckoning, the careers of these two stand in stark contrast with that of Tendulkar.
Leggie Siva became the youngest Test debutant for India at 17 years and 118 days when he played against the West Indies in 1983. Viswanath’s heroics behind the stumps in India’s triumphant World Championship of Cricket in 1985 are legendary.
Siva, 47, now a successful television commentator, paid tributes to Tendulkar’s long career.
“His longevity is brilliant. During the time I played, we did not have any support staff. Seniors in the team were under pressure from the selectors. The seniors had to really perform to stay in the team all the time. They could not guide young talent that included Maninder Singh, Chetan Sharma, Sadanand Viswanath and myself.
“We could have played a lot more cricket. The prevailing circumstances then were such that the juniors had to fend for their own. Me being new to Test cricket at 17, I needed people to guide me to be on the right track.”
Karnataka’s 50-year-old Viswanath, a qualified BCCI umpire, is hoping to officiate in Tests with proper encouragement from the Indian board. Saluting Tendulkar for his consistency over the last two-and-a-half decades, Viswanath said: “Whatever he epitomised stands testimony to any youngster who wishes to pursue cricket as a career. He had a very nice cricketing background.
Every era produces a champion and this guy made art of batting very sublime.
“He had a wise head on young shoulders. He was never distracted for the simple fact that he was always focussed on his cricket. He knew he had a mountain to climb when he started. He probably had the mind of an Olympian. It is not easy to have such a focus. That must have been a real blessing and there was no question of him going astray.”
Siva, who played just nine Tests between 1983 and 1986, said Tendulkar’s preparations set him apart. He said: “Seniors’ guidance would have helped me prepare for every match, which is what Sachin did. He prepared for every match, right from schools to Tests.
“When it is so difficult for youngsters to come and play at that level, Sachin started preparing even harder. An example of how he prepared was in 1998 when he called me to the nets to prepare for Shane Warne. We created a rough outside the leg stump and practiced for a week. The result was he got a brilliant 155* in the second innings in Chennai. It is not only mental preparation but also physical in terms of going out and trying to do it in the nets before doing it in the match.
“There can be no better example. You can see the childlike enthusiasm even now when he enters the field. And, for somebody who has played for 24 years of international cricket, it is not possible for anybody else to play continuously.
“Sachin was destined to break records. The moment he entered the Test arena, he broke my record for being the youngest ever Test cricketer for India. He had the right people to put him on the right track.
“He is also one of the nicest human beings I have come across. He has so much respect for senior cricketers that some of the juniors have to learn from him. That he has taken the entire nation’s expectations for 24 years is remarkable.”
Speaking of personal experience, Vishy did not want to think about what could have been. He said: “I’m extremely happy with whatever cricket I played. It was an honour playing for India with my childhood heroes Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Roger Binny, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar among others. I was happy to be able to contribute to India’s victories in the World Championships of Cricket in Australia and Rothmans Cup in Sharjah.
“After my dad and mom passed away in 1984 and 1985, respectively, the fire in the belly was not there. I was too young, did not have a Sandy Gordon (sports psychologist who worked with the Indian team in 2003 World Cup) at that point of time. The financial security that a young cricketer gets nowa-days, holds him in very good stead emotionally. In our days, it was more for prestige, honour and joy of playing for the country.”
Viswanath felt that he might not have gone haywire had he had a shoulder for support. “Perhaps, if I had someone to show me the right path and somebody who could have been a comfort to me, shared my joys and sorrows, perhaps straightened me out at that point of time, I could have had a longer innings in my cricketing career,” he said.
“I was shortlisted for the Reliance World Cup in 1987. When I did not get into the final squad, that’s when I knew my time was up as far as my cricketing career was concerned.”
Viswanath left his Syndicate Bank job in Bangalore, went to Abu Dhabi to work for a friend and returned in 1995 to take up umpiring and coaching.
So what is his favourite Sachin moment?
“It will have to be the 2011 World Cup when the team took him on a lap of honour. Also, Sachin drove straight from the Bangalore airport to come for the dinner ahead of my benefit match, which was the NKP Salve Challenger final in September 2003. It was an amazing moment in my life,” he said.