Tendulkar and Bhutia – the best of Indian sport

If you had to pick a date, and this is merely an approximation, you could start with November 15, 1989. That was the day Sachin Tendulkar became an Indian cricketer, something he remains to this day. That was the day when a 16-year-old was so completely consumed by one game that he had to drop everything else in his life and focus singlemindedly on the pursuit of excellence. There are enough indications that Tendulkar was anyway so inclined.

Asked what advice he had for youngsters who were interested in the game, Tendulkar was quick to point out that if “you fall madly in love with cricket, the rest follows.” There was little doubt that Tendulkar was obsessed with the game from an early age. “Because you love cricket, love batting, you don’t look at your watch at the end of a practice session – you stay at the crease till you get the job done,” explained Tendulkar. “You don’t count the number of hours put in and think about the hard work. It has happened in my case that coach had to tell me enough, you have to go home, because it was so dark we could barely see each other, forget about seeing the ball.”

While Tendulkar’s obsession with practice is well known, and endures to this day, there’s the widespread belief that he’s a one-sport man. Despite the many photo opportunities with legends from other sport – with Roger Federer at Wimbledon or Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari paddock – most people think Tendulkar has no time for other sport.

But Tendulkar says his first choice wasn’t even cricket. “At first, it was all about tennis. When my brothers threw tennis balls at me in the backyard at home, I hit it back with a tennis racket, not a cricket bat,” says Tendulkar. “This is because I wanted to be like John McEnroe and I roamed around in a headband with sweatbands and tennis rackets in tow because I wanted to look like him. That didn’t work, so I moved to cricket.” Not the worst move, you’d have to say, 20-plus years down the road.

While tennis was the one sport that captured his imagination before he became a professional sportsman, Tendulkar has already stated an ambition to widen his horizons once his playing days are done. “Today, I am in a better position to help not only cricket but also other sports. It means a lot to me,” said Tendulkar on June 4 as he took oath in the Rajya Sabha. While re-iterating that it was cricket that had got him this far, Tendulkar explained that he was keen to look beyond. “I will look at other things, and see how I can help and bring in whatever changes,” said Tendulkar. “Not only cricket but all other sports.”

A first-hand indication of this came in Dubai recently, where Tendulkar was at a dinner hosted by FidelisWorld*, who also own the United Sikkim Football Club. As he prepared for his dinner event, Tendulkar was told that Bhaichung Bhutia, of USFC, would be present, and immediately asked that time be set aside so he could speak with Bhutia away from the glare of the public eye. When pre-eminent figures from cricket and football meet, what they speak about is anyone’s guess, but then you have to be special to be in on a conversation like that.

For his part, Bhutia was impressed with the interaction and was left wondering at the possibilities the relationship could open up. After all, there might be a lot that’s different about the worlds of a professional footballer and cricketer in India, but two elite athletes understand each other in a way the rest of the world can barely comprehend. There’s no need for lengthy explanations, there’s no need for elaborate background. Something just clicks, as Tendulkar knows that what he feels for cricket is exactly the same as what Bhutia feels for football.

* FidelisWorld is the exclusive licensee for the Wisden brand from Bloomsbury for the regions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Middle East and North America.

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