Leeds: No visit to Leeds for the cricket is complete without tales of Sachin Tendulkar’s stint at Yorkshire. The legendary Indian batsman broke multiple records in his career, but becoming the first foreigner to play for Yorkshire was one of his earliest milestones.
And it didn’t come easy. Who better than Sulieman Adam to narrate the story of Tendulkar’s entry to Yorkshire?
Adam shifted to England from Simlak in Gujarat in 1963 as a schoolboy. He was soon hooked onto cricket, and played at club and league levels in the country. He couldn’t make it big on the field, but helped numerous cricketers from India play league or club cricket in England.
Solly, as he is fondly called by many, would host Indian players starved of home food for dinners. He would help many players including Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Brijesh Patel and Vinod Kambli play league cricket. He would help them get sponsors for equipment. He would even help organise benefit matches. Solly proudly recalls leading players ranging from Imran Khan to Chandrakant Pandit in his club-cricket days.
His biggest signing, though, was the historic deal which got Tendulkar to Yorkshire in 1992.
“I was a member of Yorkshire club. I wanted some Asian to play for Yorkshire," he narrates to Cricketnext. “But the rule then was that someone born outside Yorkshire cannot play for the county. Even someone born in say Derbyshire or Lancashire cannot play.
“Suddenly one day I was watching on TV that Yorkshire changed the rule and are going to sign Australian pacer Craig McDermott. I was very happy that the door was opened for Asians. And within a week, he was injured. The minute he pulled out, I called the Yorkshire board and said ‘you’ve opened the gate now. Can I recommend you an Asian?’ They said no. They refused. I said I’ll put it in the press that you’re prejudiced against Asians. So they said okay, come and talk to us.
“The next day when I went to Headingley, I saw Fred Trueman outside. He said Solly I’m not happy, I don’t like anybody to come and play for Yorkshire. I said even I’m not happy with an Australian playing for Yorkshire. He said we’ve won many county championships without professionals, I said I’m sorry they’ve changed the rules and you have to accept it. I argued with the committee members for a long time…I had to do a lot to convince 12 people in the committee. And then they asked who do you want to recommend? I said Sachin Tendulkar.
“They said no, he’s too young. He’s only a kid. I said even Don Bradman says he’s reminded of himself when watching Tendulkar batting. When Bradman says that, how can you say he’s too young? Then they finally agreed."
However, there was the small matter of convincing Tendulkar.
“I knew Sachin before he became a Test cricketer, from his childhood. I called Sachin, he was in Australia. I told him it’s something unique and he will open doors for other Asians. He initially said he’s playing Ranji Trophy and is already playing a lot of matches, it will be too much to play four months. He initially refused but said give me a couple of days.
“I immediately spoke to Sunil Gavaskar, who is like a brother to me, and asked him to convince Tendulkar. They were in the same hotel then. Gavaskar convinced him and Tendulkar agreed."
That was only half the job done. The bigger issue was how Tendulkar, only 19 then, would adjust to a new country for multiple months. Solly offered his own house but Tendulkar was reluctant to disturb elders given he could be late after matches. Thus Solly arranged for a rented apartment close to his place, where Tendulkar would stay during his time at Yorkshire.
Fortunately for Tendulkar, home food was not too far away.
“I have three boys and one daughter. For them, me and my wife, we would order one large pizza. And for Tendulkar alone, another large pizza!" Solly recalls. “His appetite was unbelievable. He loved his food. But he would eat whatever we gave, he made no fuss.
“For a young person, he took to a new country very well. Spending three-four months in England made him a man from boy. In India, he was served everything. Here, he was serving himself. He learned a lot of things. He made a lot of mistakes too. We got him a washing machine in his house. Next day, he called to ask how to operate it. My wife told him to put some detergent inside and the rest will happen automatically. He put the whole box of the detergent inside the machine and went out for a game. By the time he returned, the entire kitchen was full of foam! That’s the first and last time he used the washing machine, he would bring his clothes to our house from then!"
Tendulkar, however, had no problems adjusting on the field. In his very first game, he made 86 against Hampshire but was disappointed to miss out on a ton.
“He would say a 100 is a 100. That’s what people remember," Solly says.
“Yorkshire were reluctant initially but it all changed after he came. Once he signed, it was completely different. He was prompt on practice, never missed training or matches. He was there with full dedication. The way he behaved, he became a Yorkshireman. Local cricketers were snobbish, but he was down to earth and would sign autographs for everyone. He used to play matches, and after the game he would practise with us in the club side. He was unbelievable in dedication.
“He was god-gifted. One day we decided to go to Blackpool where there are lot of fun games. We decided to play billiards. He was first hesitant as he hadn’t played billiards before. But within ten minutes, he picked up the game and was better than us. It was same with him in tennis too. But he was down to earth and treated everyone the same. He still respects all of us the same. On the last night before leaving England, he knocked on the door at 11pm and said he came to touch our feet saying we took care of him well. He still respects and treats us the same."
Solly is a reservoir of interesting tales beyond Tendulkar too. He recalls an incident where he had to host wives of many cricketers after the then team manager declined permission for them to stay with the team following a loss in the warm-up game.
He has a story involving Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly’s dream Test debut series in 1996 too.
“In 1996, Slazenger gave me 10000 pounds and asked me to sign some Indian players to use their sticker for the England series," he says. “I asked Dada if he would use it for 2000 pounds he was more than happy. He was over the moon. I asked Dravid too for the same amount, he too agreed happily. I was left with 6000 pounds. I was wondering who to sign up. I knew one player very well - Ajay Jadeja - and said I’ll sign him up for 6000 pounds because he was an established player, while Dravid and Ganguly were newcomers. In the end, Jadeja didn’t play a single Test!
“Dravid and Ganguly were scared how they can carry so much cash from Yorkshire to Nottingham, so my son went and gave them the money. That’s how simple they were then."
The likes of VVS Laxman and Madan Lal would work part-time at Solly’s petrol stations during their days at club cricket. Laxman in particular has a special place in Solly’s heart.
“Laxman and Abhey Kuruvilla are very down to earth and unbelievable human beings. My wife was in the hospital last week for an operation. Laxman found out and he came straight to hospital to visit her. He visited today too.
“I was never an agent for any of these cricketers. It was a hobby and purely for the passion of the game. It was the passion for cricket that united us all."