I and Sachin Tendulkar go back a long way, since kindergarten, in fact. I also opened the innings for our school Shardashram in that famous match in which Sachin and Vinod Kambli notched up the 664-run partnership in 1988.

I feel what makes Sachin different is the utmost respect with which he treats all kinds of people. Be it a groundsman or the senior-most cricketer, his behaviour is impeccable and identical. He makes this possible because the respect he shows is immense and straight from the heart.

Many people ask me what makes him go on and on. I think it's the devotion. He sticks to the basics,
does the hard work each day and follows everything with discipline and honesty.

He is mentally very strong. We were training at the Bandra Kurla Complex gymnasium in Mumbai recently, and while I finished in 45 minutes, he went on and on, for hours. He has certain plans in mind and sticks to them faithfully, to the core. He is also very aware that his road is long, and he wants to go the distance. He knows there are no short cuts in life. Sachin feels that he was fortunate to get a chance to get into the Indian team when he was 16 years old and he treasures his place. He doesn't want to let go of that.

His batting has changed over the years, of course, and he has started including new shots in his repertoire, like the upper cut. As a friend, though, he's still the same. He has always been concerned about our families and will do anything to help out. His sincerity and morals come from his father, who always imbibed in him the importance of being humble.

When we were at the Ramakant Achrekar academy, our coach would make us put the nets, roll the pitch and even learn to do things with the outfield. So if the groundsmen were missing, we could still get on with the game. These basics are deeply ingrained in Sachin. He's still the same hungry boy who always wanted to bat and bat.

He's a brat too. Once when we were on the tour to Ahmedabad with the under-15 team, he applied Sloan's balm around my eyes and pretended to be asleep. When I awoke in the middle of the night, I rubbed my eyes and realised they were burning. They seemed to be on fire! I started screaming, ‘‘I can't see anything, I've gone blind!''

Sachin rushed to me and took me to the bathroom and said, ‘‘Apply this cream it will make you feel better.'' The cream was actually a toothpaste and since I couldn't see that too, I rubbed it all over my eyes!

When we catch up these days, we still talk about our schooldays and have a lot of dhamaal!

Atul Ranade has played first-class cricket for Mumbai and Goa

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