| Sachin Tendulkar, in Rohtak, on Saturday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha |
Calcutta/New Delhi: Billed to be Sachin Tendulkar’s last domestic match ahead of the Test series against the West Indies after which he will call it a day, the Mumbai-Haryana Ranji Trophy encounter has assumed huge significance.
To be played at Lahli, near Rohtak, the match starting on Sunday has turned this rather quiet town into a cricket-crazy arena.
The fact that Sachin will play in their own backyard at the Chaudhury Bansi Lal Stadium has made Lahli residents ecstatic and the fans are eager to catch a glimpse of the Master.
Ajay Jadeja, Sachin’s former India teammate, has made his comeback in the domestic level and will lead Haryana as coach cum captain. Zaheer Khan will be leading Mumbai for this match, though Rohit Sharma is the captain for the season. Rohit is busy on national duty.
The two captains got emotional about the match, that not only kicks off the Ranji Trophy season, but also allows fans from a sleepy town to see Sachin live in action.
Jadeja is raring to go. “For every team this is the tournament to win. Everyone wants to win the Ranji Trophy. What better start can we have than to have all of you here (Lahli), taking so much interest in the game,” he said.
But he maintained that no matter what is causing the hype around this match, any player worth his salt would always want to give his best.
“The match is going to be played on the ground. Whether there is hype or no hype, every player wants to give his best.
“This is a player’s career, his life. It’s wonderful to have people watching, because if there’s interest in the game and people talk about it, it can only inspire you.
“That encourages our team to go out there and do what needs to be done. It’s not as though you can do something extra just because of the hype.”
Jadeja had seen Sachin since his early days in the Indian team and recalled the last time he played Sachin in Ranji Trophy.
“The last memory is of beating them in Mumbai. That’s the last memory I carry of a Ranji encounter against Sachin.
“I have been watching him for 30 years. He is enjoying the game today as he did when he started off. For a player, any match, whether it is his first or last, is about enjoying the game. Sachin always gives it everything.”
Jadeja said he was fortunate to have shared the dressing room with the ‘god of cricket’. “Some of us were fortunate to spend time with him. He is considered the god of cricket, so to have been able to spend that time with him, on the field and travelling, I consider myself lucky. I’m just grateful, because people will be talking about Tendulkar 100 years from now, and perhaps 1000 years from now. At least I can tell my kids about the times I spent with him.
“This is my first game here. Generally the pitch has been helpful to seamers, but there have been occasions when 500 has been scored… I think it will help Zaheer for sure.”
Mumbai skipper Zaheer Khan said everyone was looking forward to this game.
“It is a special game for all of us. The atmosphere is very festive. Everyone is excited to be seeing Sachin in the Ranji Trophy for the last time.
“As a team, we are lucky to have him here. In a way it is like his farewell game. It is emotional and exciting.”
Zaheer was also pleased with his own form. “I’m happy with the way things are going for me. The couple of matches I played for India A were a good opportunity to get some overs under the belt. The rhythm is good.
“It’s very important for me to be match fit. I am controlling the things I can control. The emotion and the occasion will help everyone put in that extra bit to perform.”