It was ahead of the tour game against Australia in 2004–’05, and I was practising at the nets of the Cricket Club of India. That’s when I had my first close encounter with Paaji. The first of many. Paaji had come to the CCI and was standing behind our nets and was watching me train. I have to confess I was nervous. It was natural I would be. Here was someone who was instrumental in me starting to play cricket. In our household, cricket meant Sachin Tendulkar. The TV would be switched on and off depending on how Sachin Tendulkar batted. And when you have the same person standing behind you and watching you play, it’s a surreal feeling. You just wanted to impress him. To get recognition in his eyes was the ultimate yardstick. Thereafter we played the 2006 Ranji Trophy final together, which Mumbai won, and I kept learning from seeing Paaji up close. Frankly, all you needed to do was observe. Follow up closely and see how he went about his drills. What he would do at the nets, for he was always the epitome of perfection. And that’s what I was trying to imbibe. Whatever little I could learn would do me good in my career.

Our first real partnership happened in the final of the CB series in Australia. We needed a partnership to win the contest, and Paaji was batting brilliantly. It was important I stayed with him and backed him up. The final was being played in the aftermath of an intense Test series, and much was at stake. Australia had claimed that they would close out the three match final in just two games, and we needed to turn up at our best. We did and beat them 2–0. The third final was not required, and Paaji was brilliant in the two finals. He was reading the bowlers exceptionally well and could understand what they were about to bowl to me. In fact, he would come up and tell me what to expect, and it was of great help. I could trust his judgment while batting, which helped me make an important contribution to the team. Ultimately, it turned out to be a match-winning partnership and was a hugely satisfying moment for Paaji, me, and the entire team.

To be honest, I have a lot of stories with Paaji and memories that are countless. If I start to recall all of them, I will consume reams of newsprint. So instead, let me just say a couple of things. Growing up in Mumbai, Sachin Tendulkar was second to God for me. He was a part of my growing up. My inspiration to play the sport has made me what I am. Cricket in our household meant Sachin Tendulkar. He was the yardstick in everything that we did. If you wanted to be the best, you needed to try and bat like Sachin Tendulkar. He was the de facto coaching manual. And then, to be able to play with him meant the world to me. It was like I was living my dream to share the same dressing room, discuss batting with him, and make plans together. We played years together for the Mumbai Indians, and Paaji was hugely supportive of me each time. Finally, in 2013 I even got to captain the man I considered my idol. Think about it for a second. He was my role model, and now I was captaining him in the IPL. These are things you dream about. In my case, dreams have come true. When I became the captain of MI, Paaji was always there for me as a sounding board. I could go up to him and discuss plans and draw on his experience. To have someone with his level of cricketing genius on the field was a huge plus for us in Mumbai.

I also want to talk about getting my Test cap from Paaji. The West Indies versus India series in November 2013, was all about Sachin Tendulkar. He was playing his 199th and 200th Test, and emotion was outpouring everywhere. With Paaji having announced that this was his last series, the sentiment was very different. Each of us was emotional and wanted to make him feel special every second he was with us. In fact, for us in the team, we had to do something special for him and ensure we won the series. It was deeply satisfying to be able to score a 100 and contribute to the team’s effort after we had been reduced to 83/5 at Eden Gardens. Paaji was very pleased, and so was I. To make my Test debut in his 199th Test and then make a contribution will always be a very special memory. I was able to score another hundred in his last Test match at the Wankhede, and it was fantastic to see Paaji score a very good 74. It was evidence of how focused he was even on his 200th Test.

For us who play international cricket scoring a hundred is a yardstick. It is one of the most difficult things to do. It is about concentration and commitment. And when you score 100 international hundreds over 24 years, you must be someone of a different level. Paaji was, and I was fortunate to be able to play with him and even captain him in the IPL. As I said at the start of this piece, Sachin Tendulkar was my role model and inspiration. He was the benchmark. Still is and always will be. As Paaji turns 50, I want to wish him a very happy birthday and good health in the coming months and years. He has enriched our sport as a true devotee, and it is fair to say that there will never be another Sachin Tendulkar. Happy 50th birthday, Paaji.

Excerpted with permission from Sachin@50 – Celebrating a Maestro, Simon & Schuster India.