A career that ruled an entire nation for 24 years would not have taken shape like it did had it not been for two persons in Sachin Tendulkar's life - his elder brother Ajit and childhood coach Ramakant Achrekar.
Achrekar may never have played the game at the highest level but the cricket world knows him as Tendulkar's coach. Sachin considers him to be part of his family and it is down to Archrekar's hardwork on Sachin in his early years that master blaster climbed the ladder of success and finished on top.
In Tendulkar's own words, it was a "late cut" (a tight slap) from his beloved "sir" Ramakant Achrekar after missing a match that made him realise the importance of hard work. "After finishing school, I used to hurry to my aunt's place for lunch and by that time, sir used to organise some matches for me. He used to tell the opposition teams that I would be batting at No. 4. On one such day, instead of playing in the match, I, along with a friend, went to the Wankhede Stadium to watch the Shardashram English-medium boys take on the Shardashram Marathi-medium boys in the Harris Shield final and cheer our team," Tendulkar once said.
"There, we spotted sir and went to greet him. He knew that I had missed the match, but still asked me how did I perform in it. I told him that I thought I would skip the match in order to cheer for our team. I got a late-cut (tight slap) on my face as well. The tiffin box in my hand flew and all its contents spread across," he said.
During Tendulkar's formative years, Achrekar was locally famous as a coach in Mumbai. Sachin's brother Ajit took him to Achrekar's training ground at the Shivaji Park when he was 11. At that time, Achrekar was an official coach of Sharadashram Vidyamandir from where Tendulkar completed his school education.
Tendulkar first studied in Indian Education Society's New English School where there was neither a cricket ground not coach. That is why Achrekar urged Sachin's father to change his school and join to Sharadashram Vidyamandir School, where he later started playing school cricket. That happened and the rest is history.
Achrekar took Sachin in different fields of Mumbai and made him play against and for different clubs in different conditions. Achrekar made Sachin play against elder and comparatively experienced players both in the nets and matches so that his favourite pupil can get more exposure. Achrekar used innovative ways to boost Sachin's confidence. He came up with the idea of putting a one rupee coin on top of Sachin's stumps and offered the coin to all the bowlers at the nets. The rule was that anyone who got Sachin out would get the coin, otherwise Sachin kept it. Tendulkar won thirteen coins and he still treasures them.
Another man, who played a major role in Sachin's career is his elder brother Ajit.
It was Ajit who first realised Sachin's hidden talent. Sachin was about nine when Ajit first watched him play rubber-ball cricket in the Sahitya Sahawas colony in Bandra and from that day he realised that his brother was 'born to play cricket'.
Ajit has been his most enduring mentor and no one knows Sachin's game better than his elder brother. Probably the best compliment paid to him was when Sachin dedicated his 100th international century to Ajit. Sachin told MiD DAY: "Ajit's was the first [congratulatory] call I got. Yes, it was special because he has been physically and mentally with me throughout. It's like he has played with me all these years."
Tallking ahead of Sachin's retirement, Ajit, the man who introduced Sachin to the world, said, "For me, Sachin is a millionaire only when he gets a hundred. The manner in which Sachin used to bat in his early days, it used to scare us. 'What if he gets out!' we used to wonder. Around the same time, Raj Singh Dungarpur told our father, 'Sachin ko bolo ki car first gear mein start kare, fifth mein nahin [ask Sachin to put first gear first, not the fifth."
Ajit has seldom watched Sachin bat during his career. "We used to be very nervous," Ajit said. "The family was never there at the stadium, but we were always with him in spirit. Mother used to always pray, my sister used to keep a fast, Anjali would do something else and I would sit and visualise something positive, hoping that Sachin would do everything right with the bat," Ajit said.
Asked if he ever had any arguments with Sachin, Ajit said, "Other than cricket, we do not talk anything else too much. Credit to Sachin as he heard me. He has faced toughest bowlers in difficult conditions. I watched on television and gave him suggestions. He took them in his stride. Not having gone to the ground and experienced, may be wrong on my part."
He also narrated a funny incident when Sachin had boarded a taxi to the airport. "I was in his BMW and there was a lot of luggage. As we drove, he said that there is something wrong in the car and we saw the tyre punctured. We parked the car, but we did not have the security guard with us," Ajit said.
"It was early morning, so there wasn't enough rush. We couldn't ask for another car as he had to reach the airport. I called for an auto and a taxi, and the drivers couldn't believe when they saw us. We put the luggage. Sachin was in the taxi. Once we reached the airport, everyone was surprised to see him in a taxi. It was quite funny."
More than a quarter century later, on the day of his retirment and surely for the rest of his life, Sachin will remain indebted to those two father figures for shaping up his decorated career.