There is a signed photo on Chris Hassell’s dining room wall that will always remind him of the part he played in bringing Sachin Tendulkar to Headingley as Yorkshire’s first overseas player in 1992.
The message reads: “Dear Chris. You have done a wonderful job. Thank you for everything. I wish you a happy retirement. Keep smiling. Sachin.”
“It’s absolutely fantastic to think that I played a part in his year at Yorkshire. I feel privileged and proud,” admitted Hassell, who was Yorkshire’s chief executive at the time.
“We had actually signed Craig McDermott from Australia, and Yorkshire TV had sponsored him,” continued the former Lancashire secretary.
“The signing was quite a spectacular one because YTV had a live link up with him whilst he was still in Australia. We had all the press boys in their studios.
“That was all going along very nicely, so we went out to Cape Town for our pre-season tour. We then got a message from him to say that he had got a groin injury and wouldn’t be able to fulfill the contract.
“So we all put our heads together, including our president Sir Lawrence Byford and Brian Close, who was on the committee at the time. Bob Platt was cricket chairman at too. We came up with Sachin.”
One thing immediately springs to mind. Why did Yorkshire, who had signed a fast bowler, change tact and go for a batsman?
“Our greatest need was in the fast bowling department, so it was quite a change,” continued Hassell.
“But the reason for it was because this was our first overseas player, and we wanted a high profile player. We couldn’t just go for a Joe Soap who nobody had heard of. The pressure was on us to go for a really big name.
“We did it through Sunil Gavaskar, who was our go between. He persuaded Tendulkar that it would be a good move for him as he looked to develop his game.
“Having returned home from South Africa, I then had to get myself a visa to go out to Bombay as it was then. I jumped on a plane a day or so later and met up with him at one of the stadiums. We actually did the signing in the dressing rooms.
“He arrived in England a few days after I’d got back, and he met up with us down at the Oval, where we were playing our first Championship match. Tetley’s were our sponsors at the time, so they stuck a flat cap on his head and put a pint in his hand for a photo.”
It made for an iconic image ahead of a season in which the Little Master, aged just 19 at the time, scored 1,671 runs in 35 matches across all forms, including two centuries.
He passed 1,000 runs in the Championship with a top score of 100 against Durham at the Racecourse ground.
“The expectation on him was blown up out of all proportion, with people expecting him to score thousands of runs, which he didn’t do,” said Hassell, “You have to remember, although he had enormous talent, he was a young boy in a strange place. He had to adjust himself to the different wickets.
“I think you can class it as a successful season. The other thing apart from the runs, it gave the rest of the team confidence because they were playing with somebody of great calibre.
“Everybody loved him to bits, including all the members.
“His signing helped to pacify the members, from whom there had been some opposition to the idea of overseas players. He was a big’un, and he’s turned out to be one of the greatest players of all time.”
Hassell has not spoken to Tendulkar, currently playing his 200th and last Test for India before retirement, since he left Yorkshire.
“My greatest regret in my life is that I wasn’t able to attend his wedding.” he added. “He invited a number of us to Bombay, but I couldn’t manage it. The only one of us who went was Phil Carrick, who said it was a fantastic occasion.”
Tendulkar’s highest score of 107 came in a Sunday League defeat against Lancashire at Headingley.
“He did ok for us,” recalled team-mate and Yorkshire wicketkeeper at the time Richard Blakey.
“I remember that hundred he got against Lancashire in a one-day game. It was very evident that he had a lot of time and could play the spin very well. His footwork was exceptional.
“We had a couple of decent partnerships along the way together, and it was nice to stand at the other end and learn from him because I was a relatively young player at the time too.”
And off the field, Tendulkar seamlessly fitted into the Yorkshire dressing room. Mind you, that is not surprising when you listen to Blakey’s tales!
“He did fit in really well with us, yes,” he said. “I think he was teetotal when he arrived, and by the time he went back he’d sampled Tetley bitter, Baileys and all sorts. I guess we have to take a bit of responsibility for that.
“He also got us a free curry at every restaurant in England, which was a bonus. Wherever we went in the country, he always knew someone. Generally speaking, the local curry house invited all the team round to eat on his hospitality.”
There is no doubt that the game of cricket will miss Tendulkar, who has scored just over 50,000 runs in all forms of professional cricket since debuting in 1988.
“I can’t see anybody coming up with those sorts of game numbers again,” added Blakey.
“He’s been a phenomenal ambassador for the game. He never gets into any trouble, he just gets on with his job of scoring runs and respects all his opponents. But the game will carry on and thrive, no doubt about that.”