Cutting, polishing, and giving shape are more important than mining and extracting a diamond. The process of treating the diamond by heating, irradiation, and drilling improves clarity, changes color and purifies a diamond, and makes it valuable.
The same goes for sportspersons.
Identifying their talent and allowing them to flourish is not enough, the young prodigies need to be coached, mentored and crafted into an individual who can go on to polish their talent and display their wares in competitions to become legends one day.
As he celebrates his 50th birthday coming Monday, Sachin Tendulkar will be reminded of all those people who cut, polished, and treated the uncut and rough stone into one of the most precious diamonds the game of cricket has ever seen.
These are people who identified young Sachin’s talent, nurtured his passion for cricket and mentored him, and instilled in him a sense of responsibility and ability to excel at the highest level of the game, and that too for more than two decades.
There are people who played a key role in helping Sachin eventually become the ‘God of Cricket’.
First and foremost on that list of those who influenced Sachin at a young age are his parents, who got him to be grounded when he became famous after figuring in a world record partnership in school cricket.
The person who got Sachin into cricket was his elder brother Ajit Tendulkar, who first spotted the spark in him and took him to his first coach, the late Ramakant Achrekar.
Ajit intended to guide young Sachin, who was turning into a bully in school and getting into fights daily, into a positive path when he took him to the nets conducted by Achrekar at the Shivaji Park in Dadar.
His role did not end with just getting Sachin to join coach Achrekar’s camp. For years Ajit was Sachin’s sounding board and helped him make technical adjustments to his game. At one time after the disastrous 2007 ODI World Cup in the West Indies, Ajit along with coach Achrekar and other members of Sachin’s family had helped him come out of the depression that had almost made him decide to quit the game.
Then comes coach Achrekar, who molded an uncut gem into a unique diamond, instilling in him the importance of hard work, technical superiority, putting a price on his wicket, and making the most of his chances. Sachin joined Achrekar’s academy in 1984 at the age of 10 and stayed with him till he made his international debut in 1989.
Achrekar got Sachin to shift from IES New English School to Sharadashram Vidyamandir. A young Sachin would attend nets conducted by Achrekar in the morning and evening at Shivaji Park.
He would practice for hours; if he got exhausted, Achrekar would put a one-rupee coin, a good amount at that time, on the top of the stumps, and the bowler who dismissed Tendulkar would get the coin. If Sachin completed the session without getting dismissed, the coach would give him the coin. Tendulkar considers the 13 coins he won in this manner among his most prized possessions.
Achrekar also got Tendulkar to play club cricket, making his Kanga League debut for John Bright Cricket Club at the age of 11. It was a big deal at that time because Kanga League was played on wet, uncovered pitches without helmets. It was considered dangerous and many players suffered injuries in those treacherous conditions.
Achrekar had such confidence in Sachin’s abilities that he allowed him to play in this league. For the next three years, Sachin played for Sassanian CC and then for Shivaji Park Youngsters, changing clubs and schools to concentrate on cricket, batting for clubs in maidans, as he rode pillion on Achrekar’s scooter, going from one club to another just to bat and bat.
In 1987, he joined the Cricket Club of India (CCI) thanks to the interest shown by former India player Madhav Apte, who got CCI to make an exception to its rule that did not allow children under the age of 18 to enter the clubhouse and pavilion. Sachin was 15 at that time.
It was at CCI that Sachin got to practice and play on the pristine facilities of the Brabourne Stadium and also interact and be mentored by stars like Dilip Sardesai, Hanumant Singh, and Milind Rege.
During his club cricket days, he picked up friends like Hemant Kenkre, his first captain at CCI, Sharad Kotnis and Prakash Kelkar, the owners of John Bright Club, and Atul Ranade, Faisal and Vivek Palkar, his childhood friends who have been in touch with Sachin in thick and thin all these years — when he struggled for form, battled injuries, self-doubts, depression, criticism over his unsuccessful captaincy, besides many happy episodes of his life.
Sachin made his first-class debut in 1987 at the age of 14 and scored 100 not out in the very first match. In 1989, he made his international debut in Pakistan under Krishnamachari Srikkanth and became famous after hitting legendary Abdul Qadir for four sixes in an over in an exhibition match with the leg-spinner’s figures reading 6, 0, 4, 6, 6, 6.
The rest, they say his history. There have been many people like Ajit Tendulkar, Ramakant Achrekar, his coaches in domestic cricket and international level in his early days, his wife Anjali, and friends who played key roles in helping Sachin on this momentous journey from a prodigy to GOAT.
Sachin had remembered them all in his speech after his final Test at the Wankhede Stadium in October 2013.
He will always remember them for the role they played in polishing him into the Kohinoor he turned out to be.