Sachin Tendulkar drives through the off side

Shikha Pandey would borrow water colours from her sister and paint "MRF" on her bat

Gerry Penny / © AFP/Getty Images

The First Sportsperson I Wanted to Be

Shikha Pandey: 'I remember reading that Sachin aspired to be a fast bowler'

It wasn't just batters Tendulkar inspired. An India Women opening bowler is proof

Interview by Annesha Ghosh  |  

You might hear this from a lot of people but, like them, the first sportsperson I looked up to was Sachin Tendulkar. My father was a big fan of his, and that's the primary reason I started watching him, when I was a couple of months short of turning seven.

My first memory of watching him play was during the World Cup in 1996, a year before we moved from Ramagundam [now in Telangana and formerly a part of undivided Andhra Pradesh] to Goa. At the time I didn't quite understand cricket. My interaction with the game was limited to playing gully cricket, and because the World Cup was held in the subcontinent all eyes were on Sachin. He would dominate all the discussions within our gully-cricket gang and my father's talk with his colleagues.

I vividly remember the semi-final of that tournament and my father telling me it was going to be a difficult task for India after Sachin got out. That was part of my initiation into getting to know who this player was. Then, in 1998, during the Desert Storm series in Sharjah, the innings that he played against Australia - it will remain etched in my mind forever. It stood out for me because he did not indulge in verbally giving back to the bowler; he remained focused on his batting. That knock is also memorable because it coincided with the time I started understanding cricket.

I felt like if you want to be a cricketer, you should try to be honest like Sachin Tendulkar

Growing up, what I liked about Sachin was how passionate he was about being involved and contributing to his team in whichever way he could. Apart from batting, he would come in and bowl legspin, offspin or whatever was asked of him. He had won so many Man-of-the-Match awards that I remember there was a time I started doing mock interviews during mock presentation ceremonies at home - "The girls played well…"

A gesture that left a mark on my mind was when he nicked Damien Fleming down the leg side during the Desert Storm innings and started walking when, initially, Fleming seemed to have made something of a celebrappeal [Tendulkar later said he hadn't walked, as was popularly believed, but waited till the square-leg umpire signalled him out]. As a kid, I felt it was the right thing to do and that he was very honest. When playing gully cricket, kids often cheat, but I never cheated because of that gesture. I felt like if you want to be a cricketer, you should try to be honest like Sachin Tendulkar.

I had an old bat which I hadn't used in a while. I borrowed water colours from my older sister and painted "MRF" on it. I used to read Cricket Bharti, Cricket Samrat and a whole lot of other cricket publications that my father would get from the railway station some eight kilometres away. In one of those, I remember reading that Sachin had gone to the MRF Pace Foundation because he aspired to be a fast bowler and that Dennis Lillee later told him that he may not be able to bowl fast, primarily due to his height, so he should concentrate on his batting. I was barely five feet tall at the time and I took his rejection as a challenge personally, telling myself that I, being roughly the same height as he would have been when he tried out at MRF, would make him proud if I became a fast bowler and played for India some day.

The first time Pandey met Tendulkar was at an IAF event

The first time Pandey met Tendulkar was at an IAF event © @IAF_MCC/Indian Air Force

Joining the Indian Air Force (IAF) was a childhood dream of mine and the first time I met him was not at a cricket ground or a cricket function but at an IAF ceremony. In 2013, I was part of the IAF Day Parade as a Flying Officer [three years earlier Tendulkar had been conferred the honorary rank of Group Captain by the IAF]. I was star-struck, in part because he was also in the blue uniform, as I was. Although I am not someone who likes taking selfies or autographs, I did take a picture with him, primarily for my father and sister. I make sure that whenever I change my laptops or phones, the photo is always on that device.

I've met Sachin sir three times in total. In January 2018, ahead of the tour of South Africa, he met our team at the Bandra Kurla Complex Ground in Mumbai. What struck me was his speaking to us, encouraging us and making us understand conditions in South Africa like a teacher would a student in the second standard. Everything he said was so simple. He made us realise that sometimes when the occasion demands our approach be simple, we tend to overcomplicate things unnecessarily.

As a medium-pacer, I have had a lot of niggles. In such difficult phases in my career, reading about his troubles with his tennis elbow made me think about how he would put setbacks behind, put in more planning and effort in his preparations - whether it was practising with tennis balls for bouncy pitches or playing on cemented or slightly wet surfaces - instead of heeding people who wrote him off. And he did it all despite the immense media attention on him. As a kid, I always wanted him to perform. I now realise how difficult it must have been for him to carry so many dreams and expectations on his shoulders.

Shikha Pandey has played over 50 ODIs and 50 T20Is and two Tests for India since 2014

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo