It's birthday time for Sachin Tendulkar and the world's top spinner Muttiah Muralitharan is wasting no words to lavish praise on the Little Master who turns 40 on Wednesday. "I'll always remember Sachin as a quality cricketer, one of the best of all time. Importantly, he is also a great bloke, one of the nicest I have met in the game." The Sri Lanka legend said, adding Tendulkar inspired him to play positively and aggressively.
"I saw the curly-haired cricketer for the first time in 1993. Soon after his debut a few years ago, he was the most spoken-about and discussed and was also touted as the next big thing in cricket. He was just 19 and I had not seen much of Sachin then. He didn't open the innings, he'd come out to bat at No. 5 in the one-dayers.
"When he stepped onto the ground, everyone was speaking about his talent, but I was wondering if this young bloke was really good enough to challenge us...I thought he is much greater than what people think, he was better than some of the established players," said the former Sri Lankan bowler.
"Sachin inspired me, because I thought if such a young player could play positively and aggressively, then I can surely put in hard work and contribute to the team success."
Muralitharan said, adding Tendulkar was the world's No. 1 player on his list.
"He is the world no.1 in my list simply because of the way he has performed at the highest level for such a long time. In that journey, I also take into account the number of years he's been on the road, records by his name. In fact, statistically too, he has performed much more than any other cricketer.
"He is a very quiet person, doesn't interact much, but I have always heard he is a great team man. He has always shown respect to his opponents, an important yardstick for a great cricketer," he said.
Muralitharan said the only bowler against whom Tendulkar ever struggled was Sri Lankan spinner Ajantha Mendis. "I don't think he struggled a lot against opposition because he knows how to handle and play bowlers. But the only player who I saw him struggle against was Ajantha Mendis, when he first saw him during India's tour to Sri Lanka (in 2008)", Murali remembered.
"For the very first time I saw Sachin couldn't pick a bowler. But it was the only time and with his desire to outplay the opponent, Sachin analysed videos of Ajantha and picked him well in the next series," said Murali.
(With inputs from PTI)