The Pune Cricket Masters Academy going strong

Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar, two words which may just grab your attention and cause you to read further.

The man affectionately known as the “Little Master” returned to Lord’s at the weekend to captain an MCC side against a Rest of the World XI to celebrate the ground’s 200th anniversary.

Last Tuesday I had the spent an enthralling couple of hours at Donaghcloney talking to someone who was going to be there to watch his friend Sachin play in that game.

The Pune Cricket Masters Academy was on tour; the 6th hosted by Donaghcloney Cricket Club. Looking at the excellent tour brochure the President of the Academy states that their primary motto is to “promote young talent and provide them with the appropriate platform.”

One of the coaches is Anil Walhekar, himself a professional at Donaghcloney from the 1980’s, the current Donaghcloney professional, Mansing Nigade, Lurgan’s Niranjan Godbole and Indrajeet Kamtekar are also alumni.

I spoke with Donaghcloney Cricket Club Chairman, Keith Ogle and suggested that this was a relationship that was beneficial to all parties:

“Very much so, kids not only get to play 12 to 14 fixtures but also get to do some sightseeing in Northern Ireland, and then they have three days in London before going home. For them it is a well managed trip of a lifetime.

“We may be the focal point but we cannot do this without other clubs and help. I would like to pay tribute to Niranjan and Indrajeet for organising the fixtures and also to all the clubs within the Union for fulfilling the fixtures at what is a busy time of year.

“We have been talking about some sort of reciprocal arrangement with perhaps some younger players going out there or indeed even a club tour. I’m also thinking there may be an opportunity for the Union to take young players across to develop their games.”

I did mention a friend of Sachin’s earlier, not only that but turning to the tour brochure you find two excellent interviews with MS Dhoni the current Indian captain written by Sunandan Lele.

He works freelance and is one of the top Indian sports journalists; a consultant to IBN-Lokmat TV news Channel, sports consultant for Sakal Group, works for BBC Hindi and Urdu, does video blogs, but his first love is still newspapers.

He is what I call a “real journalist” and dare I say it the conversation was surreal, when he told me his weekly newspaper sports column “for the local paper” has a circulation of 1.7 million copies!

Sunandan is from Pune and came across with the Academy for his first visit to Ireland before heading on to England to cover the test series, so I asked him about his career:

“I have covered all India’s test series except two since 2001; I have seen something like 152 test matches, 140 ODi’s, 4 World Cups, all the T20 finals, the Champions Trophy. Throw in the fact that I have been present for 75 of Sachin’s tons and you have to say it is a tough job!

“I am a cricketer first and captained Maharashtra U19’s although I never played first class; I gave it up and play more tennis these days. I started working for the daily newspaper Kesari in 1985, a paper founded by Tilak a well known freedom fighter, prominent in the Indian Independence movement.

“Now I write for Sakal, which means morning, not just about cricket I have a weekly column basically about sport but cricket is my passion.”

So what about Sachin?

“Well I feel privileged to call him a friend; first meeting him when he started playing in the Ranjiv Trophy. What I will tell you is that he is very humble, friendly and has no airs about him.

“If you think of the great generation of Indian players, like Dravid, Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Kumble; Sachin would give credit to all these guys and say that because of the positive competition it made him the player he became.”

What would you rate as his best innings?

“His 241 in 2004 at Sydney v Australia, he was getting caught playing shots on the off side, in that innings he played no scoring shots in the off-side that was mind over body and keeping his ego at bay.

“Also in 2003 World Cup against Pakistan, the plan was that he would anchor the innings, the break was 40 minutes, he was ready to play in 10, all he had was one scoop of ice cream, he was MOM with 98 from 75 balls.

“I am also very close to MS Dhoni, sometimes this makes the younger guys a bit wary of me but hopefully they will open up over time. Both do a tremendous amount for charity with me, we work with a blind school, with people who are physically and mentally challenged and with armed forces who are going through paraplegic rehabilitation.

“It is about sharing experiences and the mental aspect. Sachin’s father told him you have a lifespan of say 70 years, play cricket for 20, it should not stop with people saying you are a good cricketer, you also want to be remembered as a decent human being.”

Sunandan then went on to tell me he was also very close to Sir Viv Richards who he described as “one of a kind” who also loved Sachin and recalled how when he was going through a low spell at 2007 World Cup, Sir Viv spent 30 minutes on Sunandan’s phone talking to him and giving mentoring advice.

Sunandan brought with him two bats signed by MS Dhoni, which he presented to Donaghcloneyand who knows perhaps we will see the “Little Master” in a couple of years time play in the club’s 125th be a story I would love to write.