The making of a champion called Sachin Tendulkar.
December 1989, Pakistan. It was the fourth Test match of the India – Pakistan series. Just the fourth Test of Sachin’s career.
Making his debut at sixteen, the cherub-faced, fuzzy haired Sachin had already won admirers, being widely seen as a precocious talent. However, several young stars had sparkled briefly in India’s cricketing firmaments and then, almost as suddenly faded away-a gross injustice to their enormous talents. Let down on the long highway to success by a faltering mental make-up, that didn’t quite back up their reserves of talent. Would Sachin go the same way? Was he being blooded too early for his own good?
The series was level 0-0 after three Tests. Despite conceding a first innings lead of 65 in the fourth Test, Pakistan hit back strongly through blistering spells from Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, reducing India to 38 runs for 4 wickets in their second innings. India was suddenly staring at defeat, with which then would lose the series too.
In walked Sachin to join Sidhu. Experienced pros like Sanjay Manjrekar and Kris Srikkanth, Mohammad Azharuddin and Ravi Shastri had found the pak attack too hot to handle and were back in the pavilion. How would the new kid on the block cope?
Waqar bowled a nasty bouncer that went smack on Sachin’s nose. The poor boy was that hit and his nose began to bleed profusely. It made for a sad sight on TV, and most woman watching were convinced that there ought to be a law to prevent a sixteen-year-old from being subjected to such brutality.
As the Indian team physiotherapist rushed to offer first-aid and the Pakistanis gathered to check out bloody sight, Sidhu recalls walking down to a shaken – and still bleeding – Sachin. As the physio tried to stop the bleeding, Sidhu suggested to Sachin that he should retire hurt and come out later. That would give him time to get his nose fixed, regain his composure and hopefully return to a less menacing attack. ‘Go take a break,’ said Sidhu. He feared this might just be the end of another promising career. ‘come in, I well attend to you’, said the helpful physio. But Sachin brushed them away, almost annoyed that they should even suggest that he walk away.
‘Main khelega!’ he said. ‘I will play’. And, in that movement, says Sidhu, a star was born. Those two words verbalized the fierce determination of a young man who wasn’t going to quit.
Sachin could have gone into the relative comfort of the dressing room but he didn’t. People watching would have understood but he knew his heart wouldn’t understand. The heat was on. India was in trouble. The pace attack had its tail up. The blood was staining his gloves, his shirt, his face, his spirit.
But the kid would have none of it. Main khelega it was. Sachin went on to score 57 runs and shared in the match saving 101-run partnership with Sidhu. With two words main khelega- talent transformed into genius, that day in Sialkot.
There will be times when the pressure mounts and you feel like throwing in the towel and calling it quits. That’s just the time when you need to put up yours hand and be counted. Time to say main khelega. I will play. What separates champions from mere mortals is not just talent. It’s attitude. It’s mental strength.