He met Tendulkar as a fan, and found a mentor
It must have been 2001. I was playing the Times Shield Trophy in Mumbai when Atul Ranade told me Sachin Tendulkar would be coming there for practice. I had grown up admiring Sachin. I had watched his Sharjah knocks on TV. When India toured Australia in 1999, my brothers and I would wake up early to catch the action. We were in awe of his straight drive. That high elbow, steady head, perfect feet position, everything just looked so balanced.
I requested Ranade bhai to arrange a meeting and he obliged. I remember Sachin came for practice wearing a Sahara jersey and carrying two MRF bats. Meeting him was a fan moment. At the same time, it inspired me to pursue my dream of representing India.
I had many memorable moments with paaji once I started playing for India. The biggest one obviously is winning the 2011 World Cup, but apart from that, winning the CB series in Australia [in 2008], the ODI and Test series in New Zealand [in 2008-09] and becoming the No. 1 Test team.
I was at the other end when paaji scored his 100th international hundred. After he took a single off Shakib [Al Hasan] to reach the milestone, I congratulated him saying, "Well done, paaji, it was due for so many months." He said, "My hair has turned grey waiting for this moment." That's when I realised how much mental weight he was carrying all that while.
There is a funny incident from my debut Test in Sri Lanka in 2010. I scored a hundred, paaji scored a double-hundred and we had a big partnership. Next day paaji took me, Yuvi paa [Yuvraj Singh] and Bhajju paa [Harbhajan Singh] to a Japanese restaurant for dinner. I was this dal-roti and rajma-chawal person, so even going to a Japanese restaurant was a big thing for me. When wasabi was served, paaji said, "Have it, Suresh." Yuvi paa also said, "Yes, yes, have it." So I took two buns, put wasabi in between and started eating it like a burger. For the next hour, my eyes were watering non-stop.
He might have retired now but our bond remains strong as ever. Before the 2014 England tour, I rang him up and said I wanted to come to Mumbai and work with him on my batting. Paaji gave me two full weeks and I practised with him and Sameer Dighe for three hours every day at the Bandra Kurla Complex.
One day during practice he told me, "You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe you can do miracles." It charged me up so much, the same evening I got a tattoo on my biceps saying "Believe".
Those two weeks of preparation put me in a completely different zone. In the first game [the second ODI; the first was washed out] in England, I scored 100 off 75 balls and won the Man-of-the-Match award. When I checked my phone after the game, there was a congratulatory message from paaji, saying, "Always believe in yourself". We went on to win the series 3-1 and I was named Man of the Series.
Things like these, apart from playing with him, I am going to cherish forever.
Suresh Raina played over 300 international matches for India between 2005 and 2018
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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