Sachin Tendulkar made his international debut against Imran Khan’s Pakistan in 1989 as a 16-year-old, alright. But, did you know that the first time he stepped on an international arena as a player, he actually turned out for Pakistan?
The date was January 20, 1987. It was an exhibition match between Indians and Pakistanis to mark the golden jubilee of Cricket Club of India. The venue was Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai.
It was a 40 overs-a-side match and played before the five-Test series, which was Sunil Gavaskar’s last.
Tendulkar, still a little over three months away from his 14th birthday, was excited when the opportunity to field came.
Recalled Marcus Couto, Tendulkar’s childhood friend and now a Board of Control for Cricket in India umpire: “Some of the Pakistan players were going to the team hotel to rest. Imran came to Hemant Kenkre (CCI captain) and said that he was short of players and if he could get three-four players to field. Two youngsters were in the vicinity – Khushru Vasania and Sachin Tendulkar.
“Sachin saw Hemant and asked in Marathi ‘Me Zaaoo Ka?’ (‘Can I go’). Before Hemant could nod his head, Sachin was already in the field as a substitute for Pakistan. It was towards the end of the match and Sachin was on the field for about 25 minutes.”
Couto said that Tendulkar was placed at the boundary and was disappointed at not being able to catch big hits that sailed way over his head into the first tier of CCI.
Said Kenkre: “For that match, Shishir Hattangadi (former Mumbai batsman) and I were given the dressing room duties. We had to look after the requirements of the teams. Pakistan players Javed Miandad and Abdul Qadir went back to the hotel and we were asked if we had players to field as substitutes.
“Khushru was the first choice to go as a substitute and Sachin was sent as the second sub.
Khushru, elder to Sachin, was an India U-19 player and a brilliant player, currently living in the United States. Khushru was placed on the off side and Sachin on the leg side, at deep mid-wicket. In one instance, a skier came towards Sachin and he ran as if his life depended on it. Though the ball fell out of his reach, he was very disappointed that he could not catch it.”
Then India pacer Bharat Arun, who turned out for the Indians in that match, vaguely remembered a talented youngster coming in as substitute for Pakistan. “To be honest, we did not know that one of the boys was Sachin Tendulkar. But we were told later on that he’s Sachin and that he was very talented.”
Couto recalled: “After the match, we were returning home by local train and Sachin said to me that he was disappointed at being asked to field at the boundary line. He asked if one of those big hits was a catch and I said it was very tough as it was sailing to the first floor.”
“With all his kit bag, he got down at Dadar.” Couto said that was the last time Tendulkar travelled by a Mumbai local. However, his long journey at the international level had only begun.
(Indians, led by Ravi Shastri, chased down Pakistan’s 189 to win by six wickets, Mohammad Azharuddin scoring 80 and current selector Roger Binny, 63. Vasania took a catch as a substitute to dismiss Mudassar Nazar off Shastri in Pakistan’s innings.)