Sachin Tendulkar loved youngsters in the side. He would often take them out for meals and speak on the nuances of the game. It made the newcomers comfortable around the seniors.
On the master’s 47th birthday — which coincides with the historic triangular series triumph over Australia in Sharjah in 1998 — Sportstar reached out to Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Rahul Sanghvi, then rookies, for their memories with the legend.
Tendulkar had scored two hundreds; the ‘desert storm’ knock, 143 off 131 balls, that took India to the final followed by the birthday special ton, 134 off 131 balls, on April 24.
Kanitkar hit the winning runs in the final and he had “butterflies in the stomach” when Tendulkar was batting.
“I was just focused on doing my job. The team plan was to build partnerships. If Sachin was there at the other end, there was no worry of hitting a six or a boundary. You just had to give him the strike,” said Kanitkar, who remained unbeaten on six besides picking up two wickets with his off-break.
“Australia got a good total [272/9] but the way we qualified for the final gave us confidence. The way Sachin was batting was very heartening and we were looking forward to playing with him. He was solid and we knew he was not going to get out easily. Everyone wanted to play around him.”
The Indian team also had Sourav Ganguly, Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja in its ranks. “Of course, we had other players who could also win matches but the form he was in, along with that mindset, it was very positive.”
This, however, wasn’t the first match that Kanitkar had finished. Earlier that year, in January, he had smashed Saqlain Mushtaq for a boundary to drive India to victory over Pakistan — with a ball to spare — in the Silver Jubilee Independence Cup in Dhaka.
A sound advice from Tendulkar kept the southpaw calm in that phase of his career.
“He told me ‘don’t let external pressure make you play rash shots. You play according to your plan, play your shots but you have to decide what to play; just because of the tense situation, you should not play what is not natural to you’. You think it is common sense but when you are in the cauldron, the thought won’t come to your head. You tend to do foolish things,” said Kanitkar.
Spin bowler Rahul Sanghvi only played the final but he never felt he wasn’t part of the XI. “It was such a close-knit group, thanks to some of the players specially Sachin. For us youngsters, joining the Indian team and playing with Sachin and other senior players was a big thing. There was no IPL that time. Those days, only 10 to 15 players were representing the country and around seven or eight players would play for 10 years. They were the legends and they made us feel like cricketers,” he said.
Sanghvi recalled how Tendulkar, when on tour, would ensure that everyone sat together in the evenings.
“Those days, spending time in the evening made a lot of impact to what you did on the ground, and Sachin was very good with youngsters. He would take us out and talk to us freely. We would discuss cricket, have a drink here and there, laugh and spend quality time. He made every player feel comfortable,” Sanghvi said.
He echoed Kanitkar citing how the ‘desert storm’ knock united the side. “It changed our outlook towards the final which was one-sided. We were charged up looking at his innings. Sachin showed us that you could take on any strong side. He was always ready to put up a fight. And that’s why, after the sandstorm came the Sachin storm,” said Sanghvi, who did not claim a wicket but finished with a decent economy of 4.50 in the final.
Both Kanitkar and Sanghvi are established in their post-retirement careers.
Kanitkar is a batting coach with the National Cricket Academy while Sanghvi is the manager of the most successful IPL team, Mumbai Indians, where the connection with Tendulkar continues.