When Salman Khan lost to Sachin Tendulkar

Salman Khan had just hit the screens with Baaghi. He beckoned. Sachin Tendulkar was in town to play. No contest. Of course, Salman lost this battle for a fan’s affection in January 1991.

The Duleep Trophy semi-final between West Zone and South Zone was special. Both Tendulkar and I were teenagers.

He did not – and still does not – know me, but like it or not, the kinship of the heart had been established.

A wiry Javagal Srinath was bowling thunderbolts, the likes of which had been never seen before at Ispat Stadium in Odisha’s steel town Rourkela.

On a flat wicket, Srinath’s speed was quite a sight. But as India’s heart breaker of dead pitches ensure, it was a run fest on both sides. South Zone (515 in first innings and 409 in the second) and West Zone (747 in the first innings).

Amid the tons of runs, the little legend in the making stood apart.

A flick from one end and a cover drive from the other smashed into a dais that also doubled up as a boxing ring just outside the boundary rope.

A straight-drive and a punch off the back foot, to my eye, took nanoseconds to reach the boundary.

Tendulkar’s bat, to my ears, gave off a muffled thud and not the crackling woody crunch when the ball sped off the meaty portions of his blade and scorched the grass.

Those weren’t twangs, but thwacks that emanated from the sweet spots of his bat.

Some of you, who have received corporal punishment in school, think of two particular sounds of yore: one that came when your teacher rapped you on your knuckles or open palm (twang) and when a cane came down on your posterior (thwack).

I am no advocate of such punishment, but have been there and, obviously, survived that.

No other player had that muffled thud of timing and that thwack of assurance. And, I am willing to bet my sliding rupee that no one still has, apart from the great man.

Mind you, there were some batsmen of pure pedigree in the park for that match.

Mohammad Azharuddin, Dilip Vengsarkar, Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Ravi Shastri were there, as were Sanjay Manjrekar, Vinod Kambli and WV Raman.

Tendulkar fell to another legend in the making, Anil Kumble, after making a scintillating 131.

Caught Salman Khan and the fresh-faced Nagma’s Baaghi the next day. A popular song from the movie went: Kaisa Lagta Hai, Achcha Lagta Hai. Indeed, it was a magical winter 22 years ago.

Another intensely personal magical moment revolving around Sachin is in the making for next week.

Keep playing.

Ipsit Mohapatra

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