Editor's note: In this excerpt from the book Ramakant Achrekar: Master Blaster's Master, author Kunal Purandare looks back at the first interaction between Indian batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar and his guru Ramakant Achrekar.
The Sachin-Achrekar partnership was a special, and some would say lethal, combination – a dedicated coach, hell-bent on getting the best out of his players, and a prodigy, ever-so-keen to learn and keep improving. Their first meeting, however, did not give the slightest hint of what was in store.
Sachin’s brother Ajit took him to Achrekar’s nets at Shivaji Park one evening when practice was halfway through. Sachin, then just 11, stood and watched the others play, something he wasn’t accustomed to doing. At his residence, Sahitya Sahawas in Bandra (East), he was always in the thick of action, but more on that later.
On his first day at Shivaji Park, when he saw some boys bat in the nets, Sachin, at times, turned to his brother and pointed out how the batsmen were making mistakes. "He told me how he could have easily hit all those bowlers and clean-bowled all the batsmen, but there was nothing boastful about his judgement,’ Ajit wrote in his book, The Making of a Cricketer. A little later, he was asked to go for fielding practice where he judged high catches to perfection. This was the first time he played with a season ball.
At Sahitya Sahawas, a society with 11 buildings, it was impossible not to notice Sachin – a short, fair boy with chubby cheeks and John McEnroe-like curly hair. A restless and active kid, Sachin was so good at rubber and tennis-ball cricket that it did not take him long to break into the society’s senior team. His strokeplay was so clean that watching him bat convinced Ajit that his younger brother should harness his talent properly.
"Sachin used to play freely and hit the ball really well. I thought to myself that if he got better opportunities on a bigger ground, it would be good for his game. I started thinking on those lines and felt that if he wanted to play cricket, he should play it properly and wholeheartedly," Ajit told me.
Even as Sachin comfortably blended into the senior team at Sahitya Sahawas and gave every bowler a good hiding, Ajit was planning his brother’s next move. He zeroed in on Achrekar and decided to take Sachin to Shivaji Park.
"I chose Sir because I thought Sachin would get to play lots of matches as Sir had several clubs apart from the many nets he oversaw. He was also the coach of Shardashram, and the school reached the final almost every year. It was a huge advantage as a player ends up wasting a year if his school loses in the first round. Shardashram was also an English-medium school, so that helped too. Sir was ideal for Sachin from every angle."
Achrekar had five to six nets at Shivaji Park, and he would get different kinds of players from various places to his nets. "His network was terrific. His assistants Das Shivalkar and Laxman Chauhan would scout for good players across the city and bring them to Sir’s nets. His clubs played in different divisions. It was very well organised. Until then, I had not seen anything like this," Ajit said.
The shift to Shardashram happened much later for Sachin as mentioned earlier. First, Ajit asked one of his friends, who had played for Achrekar’s club, to introduce him to Sir. "I want my brother to join his nets," he told his friend. When the meeting took place, Achrekar inquired about Sachin’s age and asked Ajit if Sachin had played with a proper cricket ball before, and whether he batted or bowled. It was only then that he gave his consent for Sachin to attend his nets. Sachin did not have much to do on the first day, but Achrekar said he could come the following day. Ajit was told to get him at 7.30 am sharp and ensure that he wore full trousers.
On his way to the ground the next day, Sachin, wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sports shoes, kept asking Ajit whether he should attack or defend. Ajit’s reply was a vague "Let’s see". Sachin, however, played every ball on its merit. When it was his turn to bat, even his defensive strokes generated tremendous power. He was quick to judge the line and length of the ball and was positive in his strokeplay. The aerial strokes were unleashed too, but it wasn’t as easy as hitting the rubber ball in his society. Also, at Sahitya Sahawas, the trees were a hindrance. At Shivaji Park, Sachin could gauge whether his aerial strokes would lead to his dismissal. There was no dearth of confidence in the lad. Ajit was satisfied with his brother’s first knock in the nets, but what did Achrekar think of him?
"The day I saw Sachin bat, I knew he was special. He was not only middling every ball, but also timing it perfectly. He hit quite a few balls in the air, but that did not bother me because he had a lot of power. He was skinny, but he had a lot of strength. Also, young boys who bat in the nets for the first time are nervous; their feet don’t move well and some are even scared of the ball hitting them. That wasn’t the case with Sachin. He was extremely confident; it was as if he had been playing cricket for a long time,’ Achrekar revealed.
Achrekar’s assistant, Das Shivalkar, saw Sachin from close quarters from the day the Bandra boy enrolled himself at Achrekar’s nets. "He was soft-spoken and very fair. After taking a round of the ground, his cheeks would turn red," Shivalkar remembers. He says though Sachin was fluent during his first knock in the nets, he did not demonstrate what he was capable of. "He kept pushing the ball around with confidence, but was a bit hesitant." It was then that Shivalkar opened the off side of the net. It did not take long for Sachin to caress the ball sweetly through the covers though most of the strokes were played towards the mid-wicket region. "There was nothing wrong with his batting, but it wasn’t what I had seen some days before," Shivalkar recalls, standing barely a kilometer away from the Kamath Memorial wicket.
The ‘sight’ that amazed Shivalkar was when one of his friends coaxed him to tag along to Bandra to watch the boy play amazing cricket. Not exactly enthused by the prospect, Shivalkar agreed, but told his friend that he would have to treat him to beer or whisky in return. ‘Done,’ said his friend. They went to Bandra and stood below a tree watching a short boy with a curly mop of hair show utter disdain for grownup boys bowling at him. The ball flew in all directions as Sachin carted the attack with the maturity of a seasoned cricketer. ‘Let’s have beer,’ Shivalkar’s friend told him after about twenty minutes. ‘Forget beer, you have shown me pure scotch. Let’s watch him play,’ Shivalkar replied.
An excerpt from Ramakant Achrekar: Master Blaster’s Master by Kunal Purandare, published by Roli Books. The book is available at leading bookstores and on top ecommerce sites like Flipkart and Amazon.