'Your thought process changes'
Despite his best efforts, Sachin Tendulkar couldn't make the tour of the Caribbean. The recovery from shoulder surgery has taken slightly longer than expected and Tendulkar now hopes to be in fighting trim for the start of the new season in August. Before going away to work on the latest phase of his rehabilitation, he spoke to Cricinfo Magazine about the realities of aging, combating injury and coming back with desire for the game undimmed.
The last two seasons have seen gremlins creep into the machine. A tennis elbow problem and the shoulder tear haven't helped - "It's not like a fracture where you know it'll heal in four weeks," he says - and doubt, the performer's greatest enemy, has crept in. "It's not easy to forget the injuries," he says. "There are times when you spend some time in the middle and the body complains. That's when you need to hold back a bit and take it easy for a couple of practice sessions."
A rigorous training regime wasn't enough to convince the physicians, or himself, that he was ready for the West Indies. Such disappointments have recently become commonplace, and Tendulkar is the first to admit so: "Your thought process changes. When you have a fit body, you think differently, but when you're not 100% fit, or you've just overcome an injury, then your mind works differently. Thinking is everything in this game. It's hard to express what it's like, but there have been sleepless nights, there have been days full of frustration where you just want to get back in action but the body doesn't cooperate even if your mind is ready to go out there and do it. You have to be sharp enough to pick up those signals."
On the matter of thinking, he has the right man by his side. "Greg Chappell was a top cricketer, one of the best to have played this game," he says, when asked whether the coach has helped him through the lean times. "He understands the game very well. It's important to have someone around who's played a lot of cricket at the highest level. Technically, to a certain extent, one can progress, but mentally you can get better each time you go out into the middle. That's where Greg chips in. It's the thinking of someone who's played and seen this game for over 40 years now. He understands the highs and the lows and he himself has experienced it."
Tendulkar smiles when asked how the ravages of time have changed both the man and his game. "I've never understood that aspect of the criticism," he says quietly. "Change is part of our lives, and as you get older, you try to reach your destination in safer ways. "Let me give you a small example. Earlier when I used to hit the ball in the air and get out, people used to say, `Why can't you play all along the ground? It's simple. You don't need to hit the ball in the air.' Now, when I play all along the ground, people say: `Why don't you hit the ball in the air nowadays?' Basically, people are not satisfied with what one does."
He insists, however, that when body and mind are in perfect sync, he's still capable of innings like the 114 in Perth [January 1992] that evoked so much awe all those years ago. "See the innings I played against Pakistan at the  World Cup, and also Lahore [third one-day international, February 2006]. At Lahore, the first few overs, when the ball was doing a lot, I had to occasionally hold myself back - wait for an opportunity, or sometimes create chances. You're obviously working on the bowler's mind when you counter-attack. I have played a few innings like that."
|It's hard to express what it's like, but there have been sleepless nights, there have been days full of frustration where you just want to get back in action but the body doesn't cooperate even if your mind is ready to go out there and do it|
Before injury ruled him out of the one-day series against England, he had played his part in India's remarkable revival in the one-day game, and he has nothing but praise for the new faces, and the established ones that have taken their game to another level. "It's a good blend," he says. "It has worked wonderfully and the balance is just about right. "The newer crop is talented, and they're match-winners. Even the bowlers - Munaf [Patel] has done well; Sreesanth has been quite consistent; and Irfan's been around now for three years. He's been delivering quite consistently with both bat and ball. When the batting hasn't been up to expectations, the bowlers have made it a point to bowl some wonderful spells, and vice versa. We've got players who are fit and raring to go, with brilliant attitudes. With Chappell around, it's a perfect combination."
And though he refuses to look too far ahead, nothing would please him more than World-Cup redemption after the disasters that were the 2003 final and the 1996 semi-final. "In retrospect, you feel that we could have done things differently," he says. "But at that moment, you go out there to do what you feel is the right thing to do then.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on myself thinking about the next World Cup. It would be a dream come true if we can pull it off, but there are plenty of steps on the ladder and we can't get carried away by emotion."
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo