Enjoyed every on-field moment: Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar talks to celebrated writer Mike Coward in a special interview that occupies pride of place at the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame at Bowral in NSW, Australia
People look and marvel, you’ve played longer now than Bradman - over 20 years he played and of course he had the war years in between, and your workload is extraordinary, have you got special mental powers?
I’ve basically enjoyed every moment on the field; I’m not really going around counting the number of fields that I’ve played. It’s been thorough pleasure, being out there and representing your country, I’ve enjoyed every moment and that’s why it’s lasted so long and I’m glad that the passion and the desire to do well is still there. I mean, 20 years has gone by but I don’t feel it, I don’t feel it, probably still young at heart and I still want to jump around in the middle and I still want to do various things on the cricket field.
It’s an extraordinary career that you’ve had. You’ve played all the great grounds, you’ve seen all the great grounds, have you got one that stands out - your favourite ground?
In India it has to be, without any doubt, Chennai. I’ve always enjoyed playing on that ground and I’ve had special matches there. Outside India, it has to be Sydney.
It’s a hard one to ask, but is there one cricketer above all others that you admire?
I grew up watching Sunil Gavaskar and Vivian Richards so without any doubt, these two players, for me, because they have always been my heroes, one for his solid technique and solid defence and concentration, grit and the other one for effortless hitting just demoralising all the bowlers across the world - it was fantastic to watch both of them.
Approach to fitness, training and diet… it has changed enormously through your career over 21 years, have you always paid a lot of attention to the physical aspects of it and to diet as well?
I’ve had my own ways of training because I feel, for a batsman, it’s important that you run well between the wickets and if you can manage to do those shuttles in specific, given time and your recovery is good then I think, for a batsman, that kind of fitness is more than enough, because at no stage are you going to run 140 metres or five kilometres at a stretch. Cricket is all about sprinting it’s all explosive work and if I can manage that and recover quickly to play the next ball then I think I’m fit enough to be there on the field the entire day. So my workouts have always been more of shuttle work than long distance running, I’ve never really enjoyed long distance running, but shuttles, I don’t mind doing that and diet, it is difficult I am fond of food. I love eating, whatever I see I want to eat that and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s Thai cuisine, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian or continental or whatever, roast chicken, anything and everything I enjoy. That has been a big problem to deal with because to be in good shape you have to try and stay away from the things that are not good for a sportsman. I make an effort but it’s difficult.
It’s interesting, communications with family over the years and the importance of it because you spend so much time on the road, it’s interesting talking to players back in the 40’s and 50’s and now of course, things are so dramatically different. How important is it for you to make contact when you are away and how do you do it?
Initially, it was difficult, especially when Arjun was born. It was difficult because for the first almost five years of his life, he didn’t speak to me on the phone at all because he couldn’t take the pain of his father leaving his place and going for two months away from him and where he was not going to see me at all. It was a bit difficult for him to handle and I spoke to a lot of guys and that’s a protective mechanism, he just wants to switch off from everything and then when I got back home he would be around me for two or three days. It would be difficult to tell him that you’ve got to go to school because he just wanted to spend time with me so it was difficult to deal with that. But now he obviously realises what I’ve been doing for so many years and he respects that, things are different, things are easier, but those five years in between not being able to speak to my son, I could speak to my daughter because she understood, but my son it was a little difficult for him to understand. But with the rest of the family members, it was absolutely fine. I speak to my brother on virtually a daily basis and we talk a lot about cricket and also what I should be doing the next year or what was happening the last match, why did I do certain things or whatever or only to get better every day and I’ve followed this process since my school days.
The challenging moments, you’ve had many, is there one, perhaps the one you’ve already mentioned that was the most challenging moment you’ve had in a match or seems so?
There have been many challenging moments in my career and I would say the most challenging was to deal with my injuries and especially the tennis elbow injury. It was tough because I could not, though I was mentally, wanting to go out and do various things on the field, physically the body was just not co-operating and I tried a lot of things. I wanted to play a four-Test match series against Australia in 2004-05 in India and I ended up missing the first two Tests where even in the morning of the Test match I was making the final effort to play by taking a couple of injections, but somehow it didn’t work and because it was towards the start of the season it was a little difficult to rest for two-three months and then come back I didn’t want to miss any matches and I played that season. Then I got operated on after that and recovery took almost four to four-and-a-half months and in those months a lot went through my mind, I thought I might not be able to hold a cricket bat again because I tried lifting a Continued on page 26 bat after three, three-and-a-half months and I hit a few balls and I had these 10-year-old boys stopping the ball at a 15 yard circle and I said, “this doesn't look good” and I actually got worried after that. I thought that this is the end of my career. I’ve had sleepless nights because of that, so I think that time was the toughest phase of my life to deal with and my family had a huge role to play here, especially my wife. She showed me the positive side of life where in 2004-05 by then I’d already completed 15 years and she told me that many guys don’t last for 15 months and here you’ve been able to play for 15 years so you should be thankful to the Almighty for allowing you to play for 15 years without major injury and this is the first major injury that you are dealing with so not everything is lost, you will recover. That made a huge difference, it just changed the way I thought.
I’ve got a fair idea of what your answer to this one will be, which cricketer would you have most liked to have batted with and why?
I think I have to say three names here, the two names obviously are my heroes, Gavaskar and Richards and the third one definitely would be Sir Don. I’ve batted with Brian Lara and I’ve batted with some great players from my team but definitely Sir Don.
Your most memorable moment — there’s been so many, either as a player or as an observer, is there one that rides above all others?
I think the most memorable moment has to be the first time I wore the India cap, the first time I walked on the field as an international player, playing for India was my dream and I always felt that there can be nothing bigger than playing for India for me in life and I wanted to achieve that somehow, so that has to be the most memorable moment of my life.
The spirit of the game has become a big issue and it is enshrined now in the laws of the game. What does the spirit mean to you?
I think everyone wants to win, no-one wants to lose and both the teams go out to win, but there is only one team that can win. As long as it’s played in the right spirit and it has to be competitive. There might be a couple of words exchanged here and there, as long as we are within the boundary lines I think that is fine, but I think the problem starts when you cross the line and sometimes I think the players fail to realise that. Aggression has to be within and if you control aggression then it always brings you success, but the problem starts when you lose control, trying to be aggressive you sort of lose control over yourself and then there is a heavy price to be paid for that.
And how optimistic are you for the future of the game. It’s going through a spectacular stage of evolution at the moment isn't it?
Yes, I mean the introduction of T20, it has been really big and IPL, the whole world has taken notice of that and then this has gone beyond the cricketing world, I mean China and places like that you’ve had people discussing cricket which is good for cricket. You need more and more audience and one has been able to achieve that, as a cricketer I am extremely proud of that, but to me I think Test cricket will always be No 1. That is where the real challenges lie, the true test of one’s character is tested there. Cricket to me is about learning to change the pace of the game and that can only be achieved in Test cricket and to a certain extent, maybe in one-day cricket and when somebody is bowling well, maybe a couple of balls here and there you need to just see the bowler through, but in Test cricket sometimes there are spells and sometimes the guys bowl well in patches so maybe for an hour, hour and a half you are just looking to survive. So to me, Tests will always be No 1, but T20 is also good, I mean it is exciting. People come and enjoy cricket one-day cricket is in between, you know there is some sort of pace you have to live with, you have to keep the scoreboard ticking and you have no option in one-day cricket. T20 you obviously go beyond that, you have to look to hit big shots right from ball 1, but the whole package I would say, people sometimes tend to get carried away if somebody has done well in T20 then they talk about his inclusion in Test cricket, which I feel is unfair. That is not the right platform to judge if somebody is good enough to play Test cricket, I think to play Test cricket you need to judge one’s ability from first-class cricket - the longer version of the game and I’ve heard that ICC is actually making an effort to make Test cricket a day/night but I don’t know, we’ve not been successful retaining the colour of the ball so that will definitely be the major obstacle which one has to cross that hurdle first and then think about day/night Test matches. To me, I think that day Test matches is the best option.
It’s interesting to explore the makeup of the Indian cricketer. I think people would say from back in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a passiveness even a submissiveness about the Indian cricketer and now the modern Indian cricketer, more combative, perhaps more aggressive, reflecting a new more proud India, is there some truth in that observation?
Well, I think that the first half of my career, we didn’t have as much success away from India, but then we started, from 2000 onwards I felt we started touring well. We went to South Africa, we beat South Africa. We went to West Indies and we beat West Indies, we went to Australia, we beat Australia, so wherever we went we were able to win Test matches and that is something that helps the teams progress because if you are doing well in Test matches, the standard of playing naturally gets better and we were able to do that. We went to Pakistan and we were able to beat Pakistan twice in Pakistan. So that changed the approach and because of that, the youngsters getting in the side, in the early stages of their career, got the taste of victory away from India and how big and how important it is, so we all understood the importance of that and we started believing that away from India you can go and have the opposition in trouble.
I think people from all round the world look at you with great admiration — how you manage your fame, particularly in this country where you are really a living god in the eyes of so many. How do you manage that?
I keep things simple, I’m not an outgoing person as such, I like to spend time with my family and then whatever the commercial commitments are and other than that I like to spend the time home and with my close friends. So as far as I’m concerned, I keep things simple and this is how my life has been. Yes, I mean there are certain things which I cannot do, but I’ve not been able to do those things for the last 20 years so I don’t miss them.
Captaincy probably provided you with one of your greatest challenges, you set just high standards for everything you do, was it a disappointment that you couldn't stay longer in the leadership, did you feel suited to it or not suited to it?
I became captain for Mumbai in 1992-1993 and that was when I was literally 20 years old and we won the championship as well at that time, so I don't think captaincy was a big hurdle because I'd had success captaining Mumbai. But for India we were close to beating West indies in West Indies, South Africa in South Africa but somehow we were not able to cross the final hurdle. In Barbados, we needed 120 runs in the fourth innings to win and we couldn't score those 120 runs which was a huge disappointment and then in South Africa in Johannesburg we needed three wickets in 25 or 30 overs to win that Test match and it was rained off so we came close to it and these are the moments when you are able to pull off a victory, it gives a new dimension to your side, now the team starts thinking differently and obviously it was a big challenge to play Australia in Australia, not many sides have gone there and beaten them and they definitely had the upper hand throughout the series, it was a difficult series for us and the batters didn't have a pleasant time there. So all these factors taken into consideration, yes it was difficult, I have to admit that.
What did you expect of yourself as a captain, did you make big demands of yourself?
Well, I obviously had high expectations of my teammates and high standards set by our expectations actually, because I felt there were some brilliant players in that team and there were a few players, who didn’t have a good time away from India. So if I have to compare today’s team to a team that was 10 years ago or maybe 13-14 years ago, today we have more match-winners in the team without any doubt.
I know you don’t like to dwell on it, but have you had any thoughts about after cricket?
Well, as of now nothing. All my energy is spent thinking about cricket, playing cricket, preparing myself for various matches, it is the post-match recovery or the pre-match preparation that takes up a lot of time, not only physical demands but also mentally you’ve got to be there. I don’t want to divide my energy. The thought process should be channelled in one direction it should not go in various directions at this moment and that one direction is cricket right now. There is time for a lot of other things to happen in life and when the time demands I’ll think of it. Right now
I know you've always felt uncomfortable about it, the famous line of Sir Donald to his wife “come down and have a look at this boy, he reminds me of me.” What has it meant to you?
Well, all I can say is I’m very happy and extremely delighted that Sir Don himself actually had to say this about my batting style and when I got to know about this, I think it was 1994-95 that’s when I actually heard about this. I clearly remember we were playing a tournament in Sharjah and somebody told me this is what Sir Don had to say about you. I didn’t know how to react to that. After that, obviously the greatest moment came when I got the opportunity to wish him on his 90th birthday and then spend about an hour with him. It was fantastic and I was so excited. At the same time, I didn’t know how to react to that because I went there and I just stood in front of him like a schoolboy and whatever he said I just grasped. I was with Warnie and we were discussing, driving all the way to Sir Don’s house — what would be your question, I’m thinking of asking this question and we were discussing. It was fantastic experience.
Worth a visit
The Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame is situated on St Jude Street, Bowral NSW 2576.