India’s greatest bat walked onto stage in a blue uniform, a different shade from his normal field attire, but looking very much the part of an Indian Air Force (IAF) officer, albeit with a haircut that was a little over. Facing the audience, looking straight ahead and poised, he licked his lips, perhaps a bit nervous as the collar dogs and the stripes of a Group Captain were affixed onto the uniform of the soft-spoken batsman by Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik. He then turned, smiling and delivered a sharp salute to the air chief. He had prepared by picking up protocol from a compact disc sent to him by the IAF.
The IAF fraternity in the audience welcomed national icon Sachin Tendulkar into its ranks on Friday, when it commissioned him into the service as an honorary officer in New Delhi to a steady and resounding applause.
Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, the elder statesman of the IAF, who admitted he had never played cricket, said of Tendulkar, “He has never looked agitated on the field. That shows his strength of character,” pointing out that ‘sometimes he has ‘walked away from the crease’ even before being given out. “The only thing left now is to demolish your own records,” he told the newly-commissioned officer.
The air chief was frank about his admiration of the cricketer’s batting style. “Especially that drive with his elbow up. Fantastic!” said Naik.
He also explained how the much-admired Tendulkar came to join up. People had asked him, “What has he done for the air force?” he said. And then the air chief listed the qualities of the cricketer that made him a perfect match for the IAF.
“Karmanne vadhikarastu maphaleshu kadachan,” said Naik, quoting the verse from the Gita, that teaches, ‘Thy right is to the action only, not to the fruits thereof’. “No shoo-shaa“, he said, approving Tendulkar’s habitual low-key demeanour.
“He’s been donning the Indian colors for a long time. The IAF blues bring with it added responsibility,” said the air chief, including a mention of efforts to encourage recruitment and improve the morale of IAF personnel.
The freshly-minted Group Captain, addressing the IAF brasshats as his ‘senior colleagues’, said he was relieved about being asked to speak for only three minutes. He remembered watching the Tom Cruise-starring air-action movie Top Gun as a teenager and then getting a ride in an Aermacchi Impala aircraft in South Africa in 1996, saying he was ‘really scared’ at the time, especially after being given the ejection seat-routine, which, if done wrong, could have given the batsman ‘broken elbows’.
Who would he play for in a match between the IAF and the Indian cricket team? “Tricky one. I wouldn’t mind batting twice. I can give up fielding and bat for both sides,” said Tendulkar, who was later so mobbed by IAF personnel and families that IAF police had to link arms and form chains around him, even as the air chief took him around.
He doesn’t know if his joining the service will boost recruitment, saying, “Only the air chief could say on recruitment.” Naik, on his part said, “Youth today already admire him. Maybe they will also change their attitude towards the IAF,” while pointing out, “Removing deficiencies in the IAF is my job.”
He still has to get his wings though. Air Chief Marshal Naik said the batsman would be flying an IAF Sukhoi-30 MKI after which the IAF would pin the wings on to Tendulkar’s uniform. The batsman is the 22nd person to be granted an honorary commission by the IAF.