“It’s on the roof! The ball is on the roof! This little man is the nearest to Bradman that any man has ever been!”

Tony Grieg’s commentary when Sachin Tendulkar lifted a full delivery from Michael Kasprowicz straight over the bowler’s head for a massive six in front of a packed Sharjah remains as iconic as the Little Master’s shot was.

The Master Blaster scored back-to-back whirlwind centuries at Sharjah and helped India lift the Coca-Cola Cup in 1998. The first of those, a magnificent 143-run masterpiece in a losing cause against the most fearsome Australian bowling attack, earned the moniker of 'Desert Storm' owing to a sandstorm that suspended play for nearly half an hour mid-innings. His second, a match-winning 134 against the same team in the final, cemented his place as the best batsman in the world. 

While Sachin demolished the Australian bowling attack in Sharjah in 1998, little did he know that he was inspiring a six-year-old lad from Jalandhar who would grow up idolizing the batsman and mimicking that famous shot.

"Watching Sachin Tendulkar inspired me to become a cricketer," Mandeep confesses. "Since then I have always wanted to pick a bat and become a cricketer."

"When he hit that straight six with a straight bat, he didn't follow through much," he observes, adding that not only did he watch the Master at work, he also tried to learn from him. "It was an outstanding shot!"

Cricket fever

Awed by Sachin’s technique and inspired by Grieg’s description of it, Mandeep recalls how he tried to emulate it. “I used to have hanging ball in my house, and I tried to hit that shot like he did. And I did it with the commentary,” he reminisces.

Like many, Mandeep was obsessed with the game, but the 1998 tournament had pulled the trigger for him to make it a career.

"I was very young. But whenever India played a match, I used to skip school," he reveals. "I remember my family saying that 'if it's India's match, he isn't going to school.'

While Tendulkar's explosive effort remains Mandeep's earliest memory of the game, he had actually started liking it when he was around three or four.

"By the time I was 10, I had started going to the academy," he adds. "Before that I don't quite remember how many years I was crazy about cricket."

Mandeep rose through the ranks quickly in his younger days, captaining teams at all junior levels and piling up runs like the man he wanted to emulate did. For the Kings XI Punjab returnee, cricket has always been his calling and when asked to sum up his journey in his own words, he said, "I have always had that cricket fever."