In a fascinating one hour of cricket addabaazi, Sachin Tendulkar reminisces about his 20 years in international cricket.
When I reached the gate of the Four Point Sheraton Hotel at about 10 am on Tuesday, 10 November, it looked to me to be anything but a hotel. Z-category security, commandos with sniffer dogs, hordes of policemen, the hotel had been converted into a fortress ahead of the seventh one-day international between India and Australia before it was declared washed out due to a cyclonic formation in Mumbai. To my relief, Sachin Tendulkar, always true to his word, had left instructions at the gate that I should be allowed in to do what turned out to be a fascinating one hour of cricket addabaazi on his completing 20 years in international cricket.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Q You started out as a prodigy in November 1989, one expected to take the cricket world by storm and soon become the best batsman in world cricket. Twenty years down, you continue to rule. How’s it possible?
A I don’t know if I rule world cricket but I can tell you that I certainly enjoy what I do. Twenty years is a long time and I feel extremely privileged to have been able to do something for the country. It has been a tremendous opportunity to be able to serve India and I have tried to do so to the best of my ability for each of these years.
Q When you debuted, the very foundation of our democracy was under threat. Political instability and secessionist movements… Yet every time you stepped out to bat, you made us feel Indian.
A I am proud to be an Indian and I always wanted the world to know that I am Indian and that I play for India. The tricolour on my helmet or the tricolour on my jersey has always motivated me. Each time I hear the national anthem I get goose bumps. It is a feeling I can’t express in words. The fact that people from across the country like me is my biggest strength. That I have been able to give them some joy has been one of the most satisfying aspects of my career.
Q When 1.2 billion people pray for you, expect you to perform miracles every time, it must be pressure that we can’t even come to terms with.
A Pressure is there in all walks of life, not only for cricketers but also for doctors, engineers, scientists, for any sportsman. There are pressures at different levels. We all have to deal with them and we all learn to deal with them. We can’t be masters but we are learning. Mistakes are committed, and it does not matter if you know that you have given your best. I feel success and failure is a package. If I don’t give 100 per cent, I would not be able to sleep that night. You can’t run away from the pressures of life. When I am facing the ball, I’m not thinking what one billion people are thinking. I look at the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and then try and work around that. When I’m batting, I don’t think the same way everyday. Sometimes your thinking is good, your body is moving and sometimes it is not. I try to analyse the conditions as quickly as possible. It eventually matters how you out-think the opposition. Like playing chess.
Q Sialkot 1989. You got hit on the nose by a Waqar delivery. We saw you bleed on field but you carried on.
A Yes, we were 38-4 at the time, we were in trouble. We had played brilliantly in the series and it was a critical moment in the match. I got hit on my nose but it wasn’t the first time. My coach Ramakant Achrekar made us practise twice a day on uneven tracks and I had taken many blows before that. I had to continue to show them that I wasn’t prepared to back off and that I was man enough. In cricket, if you get hit, you either get scared or you get tougher. In my case it made me tougher. I batted on and we managed to save the game and the series.
Q If I remember right, Sidhu was at the other end and I remember him telling me that he thought you had to be taken to hospital. Just then you raised your hand and said ‘mein khelega’. Does that sum up Sachin and his attitude?
A It was a huge moment for me. I just could not leave the field. It was an opportunity I had been given and I just did not want to let it go. I had to stand there and show the world what I was made of. Thankfully, it worked for me.
Q In the series that followed in New Zealand, you got 88 in the Auckland Test. Had you scored that hundred, you would have been the youngest ever centurion in world cricket. Is it true that you cried after being dismissed?
A Yes, and I am now grateful in hindsight that there weren’t as many cameras then, for otherwise they would have caught me with tears in my eyes. I was unbeaten on 80 overnight and hit two boundaries in the morning before getting caught by John Wright. I later told John when he took over as India’s coach that you shouldn’t have taken that catch!
Q You did finally get your first hundred in your ninth Test in England and it was a match-saving innings. Do you have fond memories?
A Again it was a hundred that kept us alive in the series. We were in a difficult position and it was an innings that helped us save the game, making the innings really satisfying. It was a difficult wicket but I followed my natural instincts. If the balls were there to be hit, I hit. I did not hold back and played freely.
Q It was the hundred at Perth in 1992 that really made the world take notice, isn’t it?
A That Australia tour was extremely important. In the third Test, the ball was turning a bit and I got a hundred. Perth had pace and bounce and I once again got a hundred. To score hundreds on two very different kinds of tracks was deeply satisfying. To be able to do well in Australia has always been special.
Q Is it true that if the opposition bowlers and fielders needle you or try to rile you, you inevitably play well and it motivates you more?
A To some extent. If the opposition tries to needle, you get pumped up. You feel the extra urge to do well, put them in their place. There are many such instances. For example in 1992 at Perth, I had played a ball defensively and it was a stroke that had no chance of yielding me a single. So I was about to pick the ball up and throw it back to the Australians. Allan Border was fielding at slip and shouted at me, “Don’t you dare touch the ball.” Since then, I have never touched the ball. I realised this is how international cricket is played and it motivated me to give my best and get a hundred.
Q Among the many instances that have made you truly special is the 1999 World Cup. After your dad’s demise you returned to England within days and scored a fantastic 140 against Kenya. Tell us about that phase.
A It was surely the toughest week of my life. It is the kind of loss that we can never come to terms with. When I came back to India, my mother and brother told me that I had to go back to England and play. That’s what my father would have wanted me to do. On the day of the game with Kenya, I was wearing sunglasses all morning because I could not just control my tears. That hundred meant much to me because obviously my mind was not focused on cricket and it was a very special moment. But it was tough, I can tell you that.
Q Another moment we all remember is your hundred against Pakistan at Chennai at a time when you were in serious pain…
A It was very difficult. Each time I stretched to play a shot, my back was hurting. It was a big series for me, for I was playing Pakistan the first time at home. Once the pain became unbearable, I decided to finish the game off before I was forced to leave the ground. I hit four boundaries on the trot if you remember. Trying to get the fifth I holed out to mid-off to Wasim Akram off a Saqlain doosra. The entire dressing room was in tears after that game and I couldn’t get myself to take the man of the match award after we had lost. It was a huge disappointment. The memory of this match spurred me on last year in the Test against England. Yuvraj was out in the middle with me and I told him that I had been through this nightmare and we will leave the field only after we finished the game.
Q And you dedicated the match-winning hundred to the memory of the victims of the Mumbai terror attack.
A What happened in Mumbai was most unfortunate. The stories we heard later were heart-wrenching. People who lost their dear ones can never come to terms with the tragedy. If the Indian cricket team could do anything to make them forget their pain for some hours, we would consider ourselves privileged. I, on behalf of the entire team, dedicated the hundred to the memory of the unfortunate men and women who laid down their lives for the country. It was a tough match for us. For the first three-and-a-half days, it was difficult and then Sehwag played a brilliant knock in the evening of the fourth day and set it up for us. I must thank the English team for coming back to India and playing the two Test matches at Chennai and Mohali.
Q The two knocks we absolutely must talk about are the ones at Sharjah and Centurion. Both rank very close to your best, don’t they?
A Yes they do. At Sharjah, what many did not notice was that when the storm was blowing, I had quietly moved next to Gilchrist because I thought the storm would blow me away. I had intended to embrace Gilly for protective cover! When we went to the dressing room and made our calculations, we were determined to go for it. It was one of those days when everything I wanted to do worked for me. I could hit the balls exactly where I wanted to hit them.
Centurion was one of the biggest games of my life. Someone mentioned the game to me one year before the actual match was played. I couldn’t make people understand that it was only one of the eight games we were to play in the World Cup. Pakistan played well and we had to chase down 273. The dressing room was quiet and I had my earphones on and was listening to music and wasn’t talking to anyone at the break. When the umpires walked out, I took off my earphones, put them in my handbag and walked out with Viru. The plan was not to give them early wickets. What happened in the first few overs wasn’t the planned script. After we had both hit a few shots, we went with our instincts. But you are right, it was a huge game to win.
Q What would you rate as your biggest disappointment—the 2007 World Cup or not being able to do well as captain of India?
A The 2007 World Cup. We had a great team and we were ready for the big tournament. But we did not play well. Things weren’t right with the batting order and while I will not discuss what transpired in the dressing room, I can say that things weren’t as they should have been. It remains a huge disappointment.
Q And captaincy?
A I don’t have major regrets. A captain is as good as his team and it is India I play for. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. What matters is the effort you give each time you play. The 2007 World Cup remains a much bigger disappointment.
Q You have scored 163 and 175 in ODI cricket this year. So your body has held up nicely. Can we now say that you are surely playing the 2011 World Cup?
A Yes the body has held up nicely and I will surely be playing the 2011 World Cup at home and by God’s grace can achieve what we all want to achieve.
Q That one piece of silverware that continues to be elusive. You with the World Cup at the Wankhede…what a fairy tale that will be!
A (Laughs) Yes, it will be special. Let’s hope we can do it because this is something we all want to do very desperately.
Q Anything that you would have done differently in your career?
A Not really. I have always played for the team and given it my best. That’s all I can do. Things don’t always happen the way you want them to. For example at Hyderabad (in the ODI against Australia on 5 November) I was determined not to play an aggressive shot. I knew the fielder was at short fine and I wanted to just play the ball past him for a boundary. However, the ball bounced a little more and hit the bottom edge of my bat. We had nearly won the game but had not quite won it at the same time. There are things that you just can’t change but I don’t have any real regrets.
Q It is a cliché that you are India’s best cricketer ever. Given the pressure your body has endured, one can say you could have continued for many more years had you played in the era of Sir Donald Bradman. How do you want to be remembered in India’s sporting history?
A As someone who always played for India, as one who always placed the team above everything else. Cricket is my life, and more than anything else, it is what I can do for my country on the cricket field that matters to me. When I picked up the bat at the age of six, I did not know I’d make millions from picking up a bat. It was the passion to play for India that has driven me all my life. It is this passion that continues to drive me still.