Tales from the Boundary
"Is Mr Tendulkar Coming Today?"
To the Indian cricket-lover Sachin Tendulkar is a sporting God and his autograph is eagerly sought and highly prized. To the man himself, however, those who seek his autograph have become the bane of his life: at his every turn he finds pen and paper thrust before him and not always by the youngsters. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that there are times when he goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid the consequences of recognition when he is not actually involved in the cricket. Some people, though, are not easily hoodwinked or deflected from their quest; like young Sandip (as we stewards ‘christened’ him) when the Indian touring team played a friendly match against Essex at Chelmsford in August 2002.
Fourteen-year-old Sandip specifically took out junior membership at Essex for that season so that he could move freely around the members’ enclosure and pavilion area when his heroes came to town. From the season’s earliest days he would talk to us with enthusiasm about the contest still several months away and how he was determined to collect the autographs of all the players. During the match itself this cherubic-featured young Asian became rather tiresome with his constant chatter about Indian cricketing supremacy, so we decided on a policy of non-cooperation with him in the hope that he would eventually tire of our negativity and leave us alone.
Sachin Tendulkar was not actually playing in the match and did not even put in an appearance during the first three days. He was, however, expected to come to the ground at some stage on the final day to meet up with the rest of the squad prior to their coach journey to Leeds where the next Test match was due to start a few days later. In order to offer him the maximum protection against the autograph hunters we were instructed to deny all knowledge of his impending arrival. Young Sandip, however, was still one signature short and was determined to complete his mission.
“Is Mr Tendulkar coming today?”, he asked – not once but fifty times. “We know nothing”, we lied, “security reasons”. All day long this pantomime continued, Sandip kept asking the same question of anyone he thought might be ‘in the know’ and each time he was met with the same increasingly unconvincing denial.
Eventually, the elusive Mr Tendulkar was smuggled into the ground in the Essex team’s kit van which had gone to the nearby railway station to collect him; news of his arrival began to spread around the members’ enclosure. Sandip, though, was already one step ahead of the masses, having astutely guessed at the identity of the figure he saw hiding under a coat in the passenger seat of the van as it passed through the members’ gate. Running after the vehicle until it came to a halt behind the pavilion, he trapped his hero as he jumped down from the cab. Before long Sandip could be seen leaping up and down in youthful delight, brandishing the bat upon which he had just acquired the signature of the finest batsman in the world. His mobile phone fairly glowed with the heat of the calls he made to impart the good news to his friends and family.
When the initial euphoria had subsided Sandip approached us at the members’ gate and good-humouredly chided us for having consistently denied that the great man was coming when we clearly knew otherwise. Rashly taking the youngster into my confidence, I did my best to explain that there are times in life when, for whatever reason, it is acceptable to be a little economical with the truth and that this particular occasion was one such incidence. Though seemingly unconvinced, Sandip let the matter rest and contented himself with displaying his trophy with a pride that might suggest that Mr Tendulkar had never before signed anything other than a cheque book or an endorsement contract.
I was just beginning to savour the realisation that our long-running battle with our young friend was finally over when two little Indian lads, several years Sandip’s junior and clearly oblivious to the recent excitement, approached us and asked “Is Mr Tendulkar coming today?” Quick as a flash, Sandip turned towards them and barked dismissively, “They know nothing – security reasons!”.