Former Karnataka batsman Sujith Somasunder tells Cricketnext how Tendulkar calmed him as the two walked out to open in the 1996 Titan Cup. (Cricketnext Images)
Former Karnataka batsman Sujith Somasunder started his cricketing career with the legendary Rahul Dravid but his claim to fame was when he was picked to play for India and opened alongside Sachin Tendulkar in ODI cricket.
Somasunder, who is currently coaching the Kerala Ranji Trophy team, played 99 first-class matches and amassed 5525 runs at an average of 35.64, including 11 centuries and 30 half-centuries.
A hard-hitting batsman during his playing days, Somasunder fine run in domestic cricket earned him a place in India's ODI squad for the series against South Africa in 1996. And when included in the XI during a Titan Cup match in Hyderabad, he walked out to open with the one and only Sachin Tendulkar.
As arguably India's greatest cricketer exits the game, Cricketnext talked to Somasunder who narrated his experience during those two games when he opened batting with Tendulkar.
Though you played for India in a just two matches, how was the entire experience, especially opening with Tendulkar?
Somasunder: Every cricketer has a dream of playing for India one day, so did I. I had scored good runs in the domestic tournaments playing as an opener. Those performances helped me earn the India jersey. I know I played just two one-day internationals. Unfortunately, I couldn't carry on, which I regret. Playing for India and representing the country is a completely different feeling.
I had admired Sachin Tendulkar. It was an honour playing with him, especially when I opened the batting for India and he was at the non-striker end. He was in his prime at that time. He had already scored four centuries that year. From the dressing room to the field he was helpful as well. I will always remember the tips he gave me. It was my debut and I was nervous. He came to me and tried to calm me down. He said, "Buddy ...just be normal and focused. Play your natural game. Don't worry."
These were the words that gave me confidence and I carried on. He made batting look so easy for me. In the first match, I fell short of crease (run out) and departed cheaply. In the second match, against Australia, I faced problems while facing Australian pacers. Sachin, who was on the non-striker end, came to me and said, "Just watch the ball and hit it when it comes to you". But I couldn't score much in that match too. That was my last international match.
You had admired Sachin. What did you learn from the experience?
Somasunder: Sachin was my inspiration and playing with him was an honour. Being selected for India was a great achievement for me as it is for any Indian cricketer. It is correct that Sachin Tendulkar is the God of cricket. I have never seen a player like him, nor there ever will be. He could bat both left-handed and right-handed. The same was with the bowling. He was a complete package. He knew all the tricks that a spinner should have. He could bowl legspin, offspin as well as the googly. Being a youngster, I got to see him play and learned a lot from him. Watching him bat gave me a lot of tips. His flicks towards the leg-side were incredible.
You and Rahul Dravid started your career at the same time. Can you tell your experience with the Test veteran?
Somasunder: Yes, Dravid and I made our domestic debuts together. We first played for Karnataka under-15 state tournament in 1986. After that we made our Ranji Trophy debut together in 1991 as well. Dravid was a totally focused player. There are very few players like him in the world. All the time he would think about cricket. Even while walking, eating, he used to talk about cricket. He was extremely dedicated towards the game.
You played with both Tendulkar and Dravid. How will you differentiate them?
Somasunder: Both Sachin and Dravid have different strengths. Sachin is more of a dominating player. He can demolish any bowler in the world. He won't let the bowler rule. For Dravid, his determination stands out. He can end the bowler's hopes of taking a wicket. He can frustrate a bowler with his determination at the crease.
Somasunder played two ODIs in which he opened the batting the Tendulkar. Against South Africa he managed just nine runs before getting run out by Daryll Cullinan. In his second game against Australia, he was bowled by Glenn McGrath for 7.