They fought hard, reducing their vaunted opponents to 169/6 on the first day before the experience of the Mumbai side took them to victory on the basis of a first innings lead.
Once their last wicket fell and the game got over however, the professional in the Services players retreated and they reverted to their inner fan. It seemed like they were grateful for it as they finally got to shake hands as the two teams crossed each other. The Mumbai dressing room was to soon become a fan zone.
Services players lined up with requests for pictures and autographs on all sorts of cricketing paraphernalia.
Yashpal Singh, the highest Services run scorer for the last 11 seasons came out with a Tendulkar autograph on an old photograph of the the Indian cricket team he had taken many years back. Opener Prateek Desai got both ball and bat autographed for himself. His brother-in-law will have to be satisfied with an autographed piece of paper.
Desai wasn’t the only one who kept family in mind. Coach Raju Singh had his son meet Tendulkar but the youngster was too shell-shocked to say anything during or after the meeting.
Services manager Deepak Bhaskar also had Tendulkar speak to his players after the match. With every Services player listening eagerly, Tendulkar spoke of how impressed he was with the team’s fighting spirit and how he had told the Mumbai team not to underestimate their rivals.
“He told us that our performance to get to the semis wasn’t a fluke but if we wanted to get better from this level we simply had to work like a mad person towards it. There were no two ways around hard work,” recalled Bhaskar. “He didn’t say too much that was different from what a coach would say but his words undoubtedly carry much more weight.”
And while what he said may have seemed generic, Desai says he will never forget his time with Tendulkar. “He said that I had a good technique and to stay positive. He had asked (Mumbai coach) Sulakshan Kulkarni about me and said that batsmen with my willingness to leave balls outside the stumps and play in line are valuable. He spoke to me in Marathi as he knew I had played cricket in Mumbai,” said Desai.
For Desai, who has had a poor season averaging 16 and scored just 3 against Mumbai, the words meant everything. “I was really disappointed but when God has told me to have faith in myself and that he liked my batting, what more inspiration do I need,” he said.