BOOK EXCERPT

‘A new dawn in Indian cricket’: Remembering Sachin Tendulkar’s iconic Ranji Trophy debut

Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai recounts in his book ‘Democracy’s XI’ how a 15-year-old Mumbaikar rose to stardom.

I had joined the Times of India in Mumbai in October 1988 and was struggling to find my young feet in the Old Lady of Boribunder. Having returned from Oxford as a law graduate and spent a few eminently forgettable months in the Bombay High Court, I was a disoriented twenty-three-year-old looking at journalism as my window to the wider world. This was the pre-breaking-news television era, and the Times of India moved at the pace of a tortoise with its hind legs tied up. As a trainee assistant editor, my job was to write the occasional opinion piece: it was a pretty cushy existence and by 1 p.m. I was already making plans for a long lunch. But what I was itching for was to be a reporter and to get a frontpage byline. In a rigidly hierarchical structure of a newspaper imbued with feudal colonial traditions, this wasn’t easy. And then a miraculous December day just six weeks into the profession changed everything.

The editorial meeting on 11 December 1988 was over by noon and I was at a loose end. Mumbai was playing Gujarat in a Ranji Trophy match at the Wankhede stadium, a few kilometres from office. In normal circumstances, a domestic cricket match would hardly attract any attention. But this match was not routine: a fifteenyear-old was making his first-class debut for Mumbai, the youngest to play for a city with proud cricketing traditions. Which is why I suggested to my editor, the very amiable Darryl D’Monte, that maybe I could be sent to cover the game. ‘But we already have a sports reporter at the ground,’ he reminded me. ‘Yes, but maybe I could do a colour story around the teenager making his debut,’ I sputtered. Darryl wasn’t much of a cricket aficionado but reluctantly agreed, perhaps more out of pity for a young journalist stuck with writing editorials on famine in West Africa.

When I reached Wankhede stadium, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was striding in to bat for the first time in a first-class match. The stands were mostly empty but there was a distinct buzz in the air. Next to the press box is the VIP enclosure, occupied by many former Mumbai and India players. Sunil Gavaskar was in the stands – he had been the sole divinity of Mumbai cricket for almost two decades, now he was about to witness the birth of a new God of cricket. Tendulkar’s school buddies from Sharadashram Vidyamandir were also there: they had been given the day off to cheer their classmate. ‘Sachin nakki shambhar karnar [Sachin will definitely score hundred],’ they all exulted confidently. ‘Shambhar’, the Marathi word for century, has echoed through the city’s maidans for decades, the ultimate marker of cricketing excellence.

The Gujarat bowling attack wasn’t too special but they weren’t going to do any favours to the teenager either. In the first over, Tendulkar was struck on the pad, a close LBW decision which went in his favour. Perhaps the umpire too wasn’t keen to give up his chance to watch the teen prodigy. Once he settled in, Tendulkar began to treat the bowling with the same aggressive spirit that had seen him break batting records in school cricket, hitting the ball to all corners of the ground. It was almost as if making the transition from the maidan to the big stage was the easiest thing in the world. His batting partner in that game, Alan Sippy, recalls being awestruck by Tendulkar’s calm demeanour at the crease. ‘The day before the match I remember telling my dad that I don’t know why the selectors have picked a fifteen-year-old, he may get hurt,’ remembers Sippy. ‘Next day, I realized that Sachin was from another planet!’

When he came to bat, Sippy as the senior player went across to Tendulkar and told him, ‘Relax, aaram se.’ ‘I thought he would be nervous but Sachin just said one word to me in response,
Bindaas”, and then went and hit the first ball so hard that I didn’t know what to say,’ says Sippy. Indeed, the teenager with the curly locks and rosy cheeks who had barely had his first shave was truly ‘bindaas’, a unique Mumbai word suggesting a fearless approach to life. With every shot he played, the cheers of his school friends intensified, and as the score began to mount, the stadium began to slowly fill up.

Just before the day’s play ended, Tendulkar reached the almost inevitable shambhar: at fifteen years, seven months and seventeen days, he had become the youngest centurion in the first-class game in India in his very first match. Gavaskar and the few thousand spectators stood up to applaud, astounded by the strokeplay of an adolescent for whom the bat was a sword in a knight’s hand, flashing through the air with deadly intent, even as his peers sweated over their school maths. Australia could never find the next Bradman; India had found its new batting icon less than a year after Gavaskar retired from the game. And yet, while we were captivated by Tendulkar’s magical batsmanship, the teenager was unfazed by the adulation. Shishir Hattangadi, the former Mumbai captain, recalls Tendulkar coming to the pavilion with barely a hint of a shy smile on his face. ‘It was almost like another day in the office for him, as if he knew he would score a century since that is what he had been doing in schools cricket from day one,’ says Hattangadi. Indeed, when I rang up Tendulkar’s coach, Ramakant Achrekar, for a reaction, his response was equally unruffled: ‘He has a long way to go, this is only the beginning.’

I returned to office, only to be accosted by my editor. ‘So, how was your afternoon out at the cricket game?’ he asked with a hint of sarcasm. ‘Well, sir, I think I have just seen the birth of the next cricket superstar,’ was my excited response. The next morning, I found my article on Tendulkar with a byline on the front page with the headline ‘A New Dawn in Indian Cricket’! It was my first frontpage article. Little did I know that the dawn of a new age I had predicted would spread the most glorious sunshine across the cricket world for the next twenty-five years.

Excerpted with permission from Democracy’s XI : The great Indian cricket story, by Rajdeep Sardesai, published by Juggernaut Books.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.