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‘We knew he would become an all-time great’

Kolkata: Kepler Wessels first saw Sachin Tendulkar bat when he played against the master blaster when he was a teenager — and the former South Africa skipper knew straight away he would go on to become a cricketing legend.

Recalling the matches he played against Tendulkar, Wessels told Gulf News: “I saw him in 1991 during a short tour that we had for the first time to India and he got a 100 against us in Delhi in a one-day game. He played brilliantly.

“Everybody was really impressed at that time because Tendulkar was only around 16 or 17 and when he scored against us in Delhi we knew that he was a good player with terrific potential. We all knew that if he was going to develop like that he would go on to become an all-time great.”

That was also a time when Tendulkar was keen to play as an all-rounder, and he even clean bowled Wessels. Tendulkar as a young boy had even gone for training under legendary Australian pacer Dennis Lillee wanting to follow in his footsteps, but Lillee advised him to focus on his batting.

In the first one-day match of South Africa’s tour to India at Eden Gardens in 1991, Wessels top scored with exactly 50 but got out to a Tendulkar delivery. Tendulkar went on to crack a quick 62 to top score for India and ensure a three-wicket win.

Wessels hit 71 in the second match at Gwalior and 90 in the third match in New Delhi, while Tendulkar failed in these two matches, scoring only six and one respectively.

When Wessels saw him next, on India’s 1992/93 tour of South Africa, Tendulkar had shown rapid improvement.

The India great was run out for 11 in the first Test in Durban — while Wessels hit 118 in a draw — but in the second Test at Johannesburg, Tendulkar scored a first innings century that helped his side earn another draw.

Tendulkar’s 111 from 270 balls in India’s total of 227 was so dominant that the second highest scorer’s contribution was Kapil Dev’s 25. Top batsmen like opener Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar, Mohammad Azharuddin and Pravin Amre did not even reach double figures.

“It was a superb knock from Tendulkar at the New Wanderers. He played brilliantly,” recalled Wessels, who was Proteas captain for the series.

“At that time he was very young and [setting fields to him] wasn’t very difficult, but as time has gone on he dominated bowling and he improved and became more of a problem. In his early days he was still containable.”

Wessels is delighted he saw him blossom into a quality player. “I saw him bat when he was very young and saw him come through the system. Even in those early days it was evident that he was going to be special. He just wanted to be the best and he has had wonderful career,” he said.

Tendulkar will finally end his 25-year international career after his 200th Test against West Indies in Mumbai later this month.

“To play in 200 Test matches you’ve got to be mentally very strong. You also need to be physically in very good condition to have such longevity over such a long period of time. These two factors may have been the main factor that helped him play for so long,” Wessels said.