SACHIN Tendulkar’s retirement from cricket last week sparked a thousand eulogies as one of the greats of the game called it a day at the age of 40.
The staggering number of runs amassed, the God-like status he enjoys in his own country and his place in the pantheon of the game, rubbing shoulders with the immortals, were all mulled over in millions of column inches and thousands of television bulletins around the world.
But for one cricket fanatic in Sunderland, statistician Keith Gregson, the Little Master’s retirement simply recalled pin fresh memories of when India’s sporting demi-god played at Ashbrooke more than 20 years ago, just as his astonishing gifts were starting to be recognised.
Tendulkar was only 17 when he walked out in front of a modest crowd at Sunderland Cricket Club’s home to bat against a League Cricket Conference XI.
It was Thursday, June 28, 1990 and the 5ft 5in batsman strode to the crease to notch a modest 19 runs before being caught by Steve Wundke off the bowling of Holmes in a game India went on to win.
The tourists finished on 231-9 from their allotted 55 overs, before the Conference XI were all out for 191.
Tendulkar shared in a 50-run partnership with Dilip Vengsarkar but was part of a sticky start for India who, at one point, were 87-5. They were indebted to young wicketkeeper Kiran More, who picked up the man-of-the-match award for an important 58, which included three sixes and six fours.
For the home side, Blackhall professional Clayton Lambert and Duncan Lampitt shared an opening stand of 41 against the attack of Kapil Dev and Sanseen Sharma.
But only Nigel Heaton was able to keep it going, scoring 41 before Jamaican Ken McLeod arrived to score an unbeaten 46 only to run out of partners as wickets fell around him.
It was a decent workout for the tourists and a great occasion for all those watching the action.
Keith said: “Being the archivist at Ashbrooke, I realised that it was a special honour to have an international touring side at Ashbrooke although in ‘the old days’, games like these had been a regular event.
“At the same time, the Press was full of this 17-year-old ‘wonder-boy’ – the new Bradman.
“I took my three lads (aged between five and 11 at the time) to see the match, knowing it would be something worth remembering.
“Also, Ashley Day, who I used to teach in Hartlepool, was playing in the opposition invitation League side.
“We sat on the boundary and at one point Sachin came to field in front of us and we were struck by how small he seemed and how young he looked.
“He batted neatly and was out fairly quickly, but it was indeed a day worth remembering – India in Sunderland, and a chance to see the youngster up close that everyone in cricket was talking about.”
Although Tendulkar’s Ashbrooke innings was low-key this was to be followed by a Test series in which the teenager fully displayed his remarkable potential, with a match-saving innings and his first Test match century.
His numerous achievements as a schoolboy had highlighted him as a rising star in the 18 months before he pitched up at Ashbrooke, but among the questions surrounding him were, could he bat as well in England as he already had done in India, and just how good was he?
As a schoolboy he had amassed double and triple centuries with stunning regularity and had become the youngest ever Indian Test cricketer but was still awaiting his debut hundred when he arrived in England.
His moment was coming though and it arrived in the Second Test at Old Trafford after England had lost the opener at Lord’s.
Led by Graham Gooch and Mike Atherton, England made 519 in their first innings and India were in trouble before before Tendulkar’s 68 helped salvage the situation.
But England’s second innings also produced plenty of runs and Gooch declared, leaving India the improbable challenge of scoring more than 400 on the final day for victory or surviving 85-95 overs for the draw.
India lost wickets early, bringing Tendulkar to the crease and the Indian nation was on edge wondering both whether they could save the Test and whether the teenager could reach three figures.
Unlike the first things in which he had been restrained, he chose to attack the bowlers this time, with great success, saving the Test and, 40 minutes before the close, reached his maiden Test century.
He was 17 years and 112 days old when he made that eagerly-awaited ton – an amazing achievement for one so young.
But perhaps less amazing than the fact that by the time he retired, he would be the only person in cricketing history to score a century of international centuries, the first batsman to score a double century in a one-day international and the only player to score more than 30,000 runs in international cricket.
More than two decades ago though, the cricket fans who made it to Ashbrooke for the visit of India, were able to see that greatness in the making.