For most of the Services team, their Ranji semifinal against Mumbai will not just be the most high profile match of their career but also the most memorable, just for the presence of one man on the opposing side. And while they say they will treat Sachin Tendulkar like any other player, it is clear there are nerves ahead of the once in a lifetime opportunity to share the field with Sachin Tendulkar. Only wicketkeeper Sarabjit Singh, sunglasses perennially on, shows little emotion. This isn’t the first time he has played against Tendulkar.
But it was not during the 38-year-old Army subedar’s 19-seasons of first-class cricket that he played against Tendulkar. That experience came when he was 12 years old playing in an invitational tournament in Mumbai. “I was a trainee in the RBS Cricket Academy in Agra and our U-14 team had been invited down to Mumbai to play seven matches, one of which was against the Achrekar Academy. Raj Babbar was the MP of Agra at that time and he had arranged the whole thing,” recalls Singh.
Tendulkar wasn’t an unknown at that time either, having recently broken the school cricket record for the highest partnership alongside Vinod Kambli . “Even at that time, we knew that Sachin was someone to watch out for. Everyone expected Sachin to score heavily in that game as well. He did well but he only managed around 45 runs. Though my memory of that match is a little hazy, I do remember that we won that game,” says Sarabjit. Twenty six years since they last met, Singh is hoping things play out in similar fashion. “I might remind him about the last time but I doubt he will remember the game,” he says.
While Singh says he won’t be overawed, he isn’t underestimating the magnitude of the encounter either. “Without doubt, this is the biggest match I have played in. I have been with the Services team in all phases. When I first joined in 1993, we had a team comprising some professionals and half soldiers. Slowly we started inducting more professionals and that has helped the team’s performance improve steadily,” says Sarabjit, who in addition to Services, has also played for Jammu and Kashmir.
Batting at No. 7, Singh isn’t the most prodigious of scorers with just a shade over 3000 runs in 87 matches but is seen as an