Karachi:When Sachin Tendulkar made his Test debut against Pakistan in Karachi in 1989, it was clear to me and a lot of my illustrious teammates that this fellow is destined for great things. The reason for this assessment is simple as even at that young age of 16 years may be, he had shown against us that he had plenty of guts and courage and was hungry to succeed at the top level.
His career over the last 21 years and his 50th Test hundred only confirms the volume of talent Sachin has and his dedication and commitment to Indian cricket. Yet, I really don't know what this fuss is about Sachin becoming the first man in cricket history to score 50 Test centuries.
Watching him all these years I have no doubt left in my mind he is the best batsman in the history of the game. When Sir Donald Bradman was playing people used to say no one can match his records, when Sunil Gavaskar scored 34 centuries people said no one could break his record. But in the case of Sachin's feat of 50 Test centuries, I really don't see anyone breaking that record for a long time.
And the way he is going at 37, he seems likely to soon become the first batsman in history to also score 100 international hundreds... phew that is a record one can only dream about.
For me and Waqar Younis, our biggest regret remains that for 10-long years between 1989 and 1999 their were no bilateral Test matches between Pakistan and India and we never got a chance to bowl against him.
Yes we did play couple of one-day matches on mostly flat pitches against him but the real battle between bat and ball comes in Test matches and that sadly was not available to us although at that time we were ranked as the best opening bowling pair in international cricket.
I will always regret the missed opportunities because I can recall clearly the first time we played against him. It was in 1989 and India was coming to Pakistan and their was a lot of media hype about this teenaged batsman who had set a new world school record with Vinod Kambli.
There was a buzz about this new talent and myself just 22 and Waqar 23 we were excited about pitting ourselves against this new talent.
In the first Test, he didn't leave a big impact on us but it was in the match at Sialkot on a lush green wicket that we got a glimpse of what Sachin was really about. I remember the first few balls he faced I bounced him and he got a cut on his chin but he scored 50 odd runs and he batted with lot of guts and we knew "okay this guy has talent."
Then in a exhibition match in Peshawar he hit Abdul Qadir for five sixes and he had arrived. The new kid on the block had shown he was ready to do battle with the giants.
I have a quiet laugh when I read or hear some people argue that Sachin has not been a true match winner or good finisher for India. To them, I say grow up what more can you expect from the man, a great cricketer and the best role model for not just young cricketers but all sportsmen.
I played a number of times against him and although I saw him get frustrated if things were not going India's way or he was not playing well but he never lost his cool. I know just how passionate he is about himself doing well and seeing India win. I can still recall how devastated he was in that 1999 Test at Chennai when India lost narrowly to us despite a fabulous hundred from Sachin.
So please don't talk about his being a selfish or individualistic player, he is not that but on second thoughts all great sportsmen need to be a bit selfish to achieve the impossible and be successful at the top level.
When he started off his career I remember he was a bit of a half cock player and myself and Waqar used to plan to bowl him full length yorkers as soon as he came into bat and then bowl a few bouncers to unsettle him but whether our plan worked or not his wicket was the prized one for us always.
Today Sachin has evolved into one of the most complete batsmen in cricket history and the way he is scoring runs in Test or one-day cricket it speaks volumes of his commitment to India and cricket -- he is a very very special batsman in my book.
And it is because of his superb form I rate India as favourites to win the World Cup. As a team also they are playing the best cricket in one-dayers and they have the ideal specialist player for every position. And it is working for them.
So where does Sachin Tendulkar end - Seeing what he has been doing after the age of 35, I just think the Indian Cricket Board and selectors should let him play as long as he wants too. Because I know one thing about Sachin no one will need to tell him when to go... the sort of person he is I have a feeling he will go gracefully when he feels it is time to hang up his boots and when that happens, believe me, cricket is going to lose a lot of fans.