Malcolm Gladwell has written in Outliers, his study of what makes people exceptional, about the “ten thousand hour rule”. Those who make it to the top, he says, work harder, much harder than anyone else. “Excellence,” he says, “requires a critical minimum level of practice.” Gladwell settles on ten thousand hours as the magic number for true expertise. You can argue over the figure, the principle is sound. And Tendulkar played more cricket at a higher level than any of his contemporaries. His idea of relaxation was to play more cricket.
And play he did, for hours and days and weeks and months, oblivious to most other things. Tendulkar made his debut for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy at the age of 14. Now 14 is obviously a very tender age to be playing first class cricket. And he was a genuine 14-year-old, not one of those 14-year-olds popular in our age-group tournaments who shaved clean every morning to look 14. Tendulkar at 14 had played more cricket matches than I had at the age of 19 (when I made my first class debut). So here is another case in point for Gladwell’s theory on genius. By that age, Tendulkar was already battle hardened and ready to take on the big boys with the approach and attitude of a 20-year-old.
Master shot: Tendulkar during a training session. Photo AP
He had strong legs and strong forearms too and that was by playing countless numbers of Achrekar’s friendly matches and attending the relentless net sessions. Tendulkar also used a very heavy bat, one of the heaviest used at that time. So batting with it constantly was like the frequent gym sessions that modern players go through to strengthen their forearms. With two important differences, though. Tendulkar’s batting was getting better all the time and what’s more, he was having fun doing the ‘weight training’. Achrekar was a big believer in match practice. So on days when his boys did not have any official junior matches he would get them to play friendly matches amongst themselves.
And there were net sessions before and after the game. Achrekar did just one thing differently for his exceptionally gifted boys like Tendulkar. He gave them extra net sessions. Which meant at the Shivaji Park Maidan, where there would be at least 15 net sessions going on simultaneously, Achrekar would use his clout to get Tendulkar to bat in four nets. One after the other.
Achrekar had just one net session that was his own, but the guys who ran the other nets obliged him. This is one of the secrets of Mumbai’s success and the reason they keep producing quality players. Exceptional talent excites the Mumbai cricket community. Hence Tendulkar the ‘outsider’ was more than welcome at those other nets.
It is because of this Mumbai trait that we senior Mumbai players playing for India had already heard about Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli even before they had played grade A cricket in Mumbai. “Watch out for these two new Achrekar boys” we were told. Because the Achrekar boys played so many matches they were generally good at all aspects of the game. Fielding, catching, running between the wickets, especially, can only be significantly improved by playing more matches. Also the one vital characteristic that separates the best from the good is what is called ‘street smartness’.
An excerpt from the chapter “Smart Coaching” by Sanjay Manjrekar from Sachin—Genius Unplugged.
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