In Peshawar, India find a "little bugger who can play"

A walk down the memory lane reveals how Sachin Tendulkar, all of 16, impressed one and all on his maiden tour to Pakistan.

Updated: December 25, 2012 16:56 IST
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Twenty three years ago, it was easy to see why the forefathers of the security men at Peshawar could not control the Khyber Pass. A huge crowd had turned up at the cricket stadium, many fans allowed in by the combination of the friendliness of those paid to check the tickets and the aggression of those who thought valour might be the better part of discretion.

The India-Pakistan match was an occasion, as always. India hadn't been to Pakistan in five years, they had a brand new captain, and Pakistan were led by that wily fox Imran Khan.

Everything was in the hosts' favour. But Peshawar was bound to be different. On a clear day, a guide told us, you could see Afghanistan. But this wasn't a clear day. In fact, it rained, putting paid to the aspirations of thousands of spectators some of whom had even bought tickets. It is possible that those who shouted loudest about being deprived were those who didn't have any tickets. It is often that way.

The Indian team was coming together as a unit on that tour - led by Krishnamachari Srikkanth, it was in transition, Sunil Gavaskar having retired and Dilip Vengsarkar having lost his job as captain after a poor tour of the West Indies. The forced camaraderie - for security reasons - meant that the team and the journalists had to find entertainment among ourselves. I have a picture somewhere of Tendulkar in a false beard - we had to wear one to attend one of the 'club' meetings.

It was my first Test tour; the oldest among us was Dicky Rutnagur who had been touring for over three decades. He had reported the series in England in 1952 when India were led by Vijay Hazare. It was possible that there were only two degrees of separation, three at most, between me and a reporter who covered India's first-ever Test, in England 1932. It was easy to feel a part of history.

If Sachin Tendulkar nurtured similar thoughts, I couldn't say. His connection to that Lord's Test would necessarily have more links. One route was: Kapil Dev to Erapalli Prasanna to Vijay Manjrekar to Vijay Merchant to CK Nayudu. Six degrees of separation.

All that was academic as India took on Pakistan in a hastily-arranged friendly (or as friendly as you could get under the circumstances) match after overnight rain had made a full international impossible. Kapil Dev pulled out with a stiff neck. It was a theme that was to play out with greater significance later, when Navjot's Singh's stiff neck opened the slot at the top of the order, one that Tendulkar made his own with 82 off 49 balls in Auckland.

"Just get a feel of the game," Srikkanth told Tendulkar. There was no plan to play the 16-year-old in a One-Day International then; you didn't throw teenagers into the deep end. But this was a team in transition. Sanjay Manjrekar was establishing himself as a pillar of the batting (he was to make a double hundred in a Test in Pakistan, after a century in Barbados against the West Indies).

India's one-day future arrived with startling speed. Everything changed in 18 deliveries. Srikkanth, till then India's best regarded one-day batsman, hardly got a stroke in edgewise as Tendulkar hit five sixes off the leg spinners Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed. The unbeaten 53 he made included 27 in one Qadir over. There was no wild slogging, just scientific and gleeful driving and pulling. Three sixes in a row.

When Qadir dropped one short as Tendulkar stepped out, and was technically beaten. But he was 16, he didn't know better, and so he went through with the shot. The bat made a lovely arc, and for all we know the ball is still travelling - no one could find it.

That evening Srikkanth made what must rate as an understatement. "The little bugger must play now."

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