By Charlie Bennett
VIRAT Kohli’s impending arrival at Surrey has made quite the splash but it is nothing compared to the tsunami Sachin Tendulkar created at Yorkshire 26 years ago.
With 100 international centuries and a World Cup to his name, it is easy to forget that India’s greatest ever player once lived in Dewsbury and made County Championship tons at Chester-le-Street.
Aged 19 in 1992, it was clear the talent was there. He was already a fixture in the Indian Test team and had made a century against England two years before.
But it is unlikely that the locals knew the teenager who dabbled in snooker and sampled local frothy bitters would go on to become arguably the best of them all.
Tendulkar’s legacy in India is almost un-scalable. He is the yard stick for every aspiring batsman, including Kohli, and, as the saying goes, if cricket is a religion then Sachin is god.
But he also changed the game from Leeds to Scarborough in God’s Own County.
Still stuck in its traditional ways, many of Yorkshire’s board members were opposed to the idea of anyone from outside the county ever playing for the White Rose.
But eventually they relented and after their first choice Craig McDermott got injured, Tendulkar got the call.
It needed the forceful persuasion of local club cricketer Solly Adam – an Indian-born businessman who helped many Indian and Pakistani players, such as Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, settle in England to play club cricket.
It wasn’t easy. As Adam remembers: “I was speaking to Fred Trueman about the idea and he called me all the names under the sun.”
But with times changing and Yorkshire’s production line declining, the board – marshalled by Geoffrey Boycott – voted for change. Not everyone was happy but luckily, Tendulkar soon showed them the error of their ways.
“It would have been hugely criticised if it did not work so we needed it to be successful,” remembers Martyn Moxon, who captained the 1992 side and now coaches them.
“We were playing at The Oval when he arrived and as soon he got into the dressing room it was as though he had been there forever.
“We breathed a sigh of relief. It was always that easy with him. You’re never sure when someone comes in but straight away we all thought ‘we’re going to be fine with him’.”
And fine they were. Although Yorkshire registered just four wins and finished 16th in the table, Tendulkar averaged over 46 and finished with over 1,000 runs.
His willingness to engage with the board, supporters and the local community made him popular, while his star status back home ensured the squad were guaranteed a free curry whenever they visited an Indian restaurant.
“Everyone took too him and everyone warmed to him,” added Moxon.
“That was because of his nature, he had time for everyone. He was treated like a King at every Indian restaurant in the country.
“Needless to say, he became very popular in the dressing room.”
Many of that squad were invited to Tendulkar’s wedding some years later, highlighting how much he loved his time with the White Rose.
He was out of the limelight that had been thrust upon him in India, a teenager living alone for the first time – although under the wing of close friend Adam.
“He was a completely different when he left. He became who he is,” said Adam.
“He still thanks me and keeps in touch. My wife, Maryan, has been in hospital since January and they have had to amputate her leg.
“But he rang as soon as he found out to see how she is, he is like my son.”
That warmth is what makes Tendulkar universally popular and he, along with the tireless Adam, played a major part in enhancing relations between the club and the surrounding Asian community. That is their legacy.
“So many players refused to play for Yorkshire before Sachin,” Adam added.
“Often the response was ‘I don’t want to, they are prejudiced’ but Sachin shifted everything.
“The door opened, people’s attitudes opened and that was my aim. I have played cricket here for 50 years and I have always wanted cricket in Yorkshire to be better, from the county side to the club circuit. Sachin helped with that.”
Playing for Yorkshire soon became an ambition for the many talented Asian-born players in the county, and today that legacy is strong.
Adil Rashid and Azeem Rafiq are two stars of the current Yorkshire side, while Cheteshwar Pujara is back for a second spell as an overseas player.
Already a god back home, Tendulkar soon became Yorkshire’s favourite son – with strong performances on the pitch, combined with his attitude, warmth and love for English life, washing away all doubts.
He became handy at snooker, followed Adam’s club team Spen Victoria whenever he could and was often seen driving a Honda with his name on it.
As Adam says: “After Sachin left, Fred Trueman came to me and ‘Solly you were right, he changed us’.”