December 21, 2010

Frozen at 18

Tendulkar has stayed on top for so long because his mind remains young and cricket remains an obsession for him

There was a moment during the New Zealand series when Sachin Tendulkar chased a ball in the outfield. Watching him, it struck me that nothing had changed at all with him. He was still going earnestly after the ball, with the same speed and enthusiasm that he would have displayed 20 years or more ago. When you see ageing cricketers on the field, you don't see quite the same enthusiasm and agility as they had before. You can tell a veteran in the field from a distance.

Tendulkar seems to be frozen in time. It got me thinking: what is it about this guy that he can still look an integral part of a young cricketing outfit at the age of 37 and after 21 years in international cricket? People might say that he has kept himself physically fit and kept his interest in the game alive, but I know for a fact that Tendulkar was never a fitness fanatic.

I played alongside him until 1996, during his fundamental years and he didn't spend a lot of time in the gym. In fact, the Mumbai boys always prided themselves on this: it was more the culture of cricketers from north India, particularly Delhi, to hit the gym; we just batted and fielded. The senior Mumbai players, like Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri, helped instill in us the belief that cricketers should be on the field not in the gym. Tendulkar was very much a product of that culture. I am sure he spends a little more time in the gym now than he did earlier, and watches his diet, but I'd guess that's about it.

The key to his game is his enthusiasm for it. He is like an evergreen film hero, and that is possible only because of the mind. A young mind will find ways to keep the body young. His body may be 37 years old but his mind is still 18, the time when he established himself in international cricket.

In fact that is Tendulkar's nature: he's child-like. He still gets excited by things that excited him when he was 18. Most of us change as we grow old; our ways of relaxing, our choices of reading, the movies we watch, and even the friends we keep, change. Not so with Tendulkar. He still has the same friends with whom he enjoyed spending time back then. They crack the same kinds of jokes. That same masti (enjoyment) continues. That is the real secret to Tendulkar's longevity - his heart and mind are still those of a teenage boy. And teenage boys love to play sport, don't they?

Tendulkar still has the same friends with whom he enjoyed spending time back then. They crack the same kind of jokes we used to during the early years of junior cricket. That same masti continues

Chandrakant Pandit, the director of the Mumbai Cricket Association's academy, says that when Tendulkar comes to practise there, boyish squeals of delight can be heard. In the early years, during the last few minutes of his batting session, Tendulkar would challenge the net bowlers: last four balls, 15 to win. Pandit tells me Tendulkar does that even today. He also still argues with the net bowlers about whether his shot was a four and whether he was dismissed or not. Most ageing batsmen I know tend to have almost sombre net sessions and leave. Not Tendulkar, it seems, from what we hear.

Everyone knows Tendulkar is a very private person. He opens up only around his close friends, in a secure environment. Once he steps out into the public domain, even if there are only a couple of people around, he is aware of them and is immediately on red alert. When he is out on the cricket field, in the public domain, be it a Ranji game or an exhibition match, he is aware he's being watched. And once that is the case, he wants to come out looking nothing but the best. That's innate to his nature and has been right through his career. I have never seen him go out and play silly or casual cricket, whatever the game. You cannot say the same about too many other great cricketers.

"I don't like getting out," he said somewhere after the 50th Test hundred. That's true with him for all cricket, all the time. He will bat with the same intent against Bangladesh on a flat track as he would against Australia in Brisbane. Or for that matter against Tamil Nadu in the odd Ranji game for Mumbai as in a benefit match for an ex-cricketer. Once Tendulkar is in the public view, he is not willing to look any less than what he is: a great performer and a competitor.

His sprinting after the ball on the field comes from the same mindset. People are watching. It may not be the most significant moment of the day but people are watching me. I cannot be seen not excelling. And that is the attitude when it comes to his fielding, bowling, and of course his batting.

I think these are the two fundamental reasons - the child-like enthusiasm and a fierce desire to look his best every time he is on stage - why he is able to have had the kind of run he has had. That he is still able to bring the same value and more to this Indian Test team that he did as an 18-year-old is truly remarkable, apart from being rare.

There is another factor that I would like to explain with the example of Imran Khan. As he grew older, Imran changed from being a fast-bowling allrounder to a leader of Pakistan cricket. Cricket to him had become more than just batting and bowling. Because he was educated at Oxford, and studied political science, politics held great interest for him. Towards the end of his career, the cancer hospital became his obsession. And now it is about trying to effect a social change in Pakistan.

Even after 21 years of cricket at the highest level, nothing appeals to Tendulkar more than cricket. Also, by remaining a pure batting performer, rather than being a long-term captain or a leader of thoughts in Indian cricket, he has been able to devote all his energies, skills and focus to one thing and one thing only - getting runs.

Getting those fifties and hundreds. That is his single-minded obsession, and has been for the last 25 years, since the time he started off playing official cricket at 12 for his school, Shardashram Vidyamandir.

Getting runs gives him the greatest joy. The other stuff - the fast cars, new electronic gadgets, good food and friends are passions, but the obsession is just one: batting and getting those centuries for India.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 24, 2010, 16:01 GMT

    u've beaten evryone in chngng colors... people like u let india down.. feeding on other's success .....

  • Ram on December 23, 2010, 16:48 GMT

    Dear Sanjay, Indeed you have a nice writing skills. is an article in rediff where you spoke how Sachin is a 'elephant in room'. At that point in time, was Sachin frozen at 35?? When Sachin fails three times in a row would'nt you be amongst the first advising the man to retire? Keep going Sanjay. After all, you need to just write and comment but your former colleague Sachin has much harder work to do. Which is to play and give guys like you something to write. zero or century does it matter????

  • Dummy4 on December 23, 2010, 3:01 GMT

    Sorry Sanjay, you called him the 'Elephant in the room', during the ODI series in Ozland... you sound like a fair-weather friend!!

  • Dummy4 on December 22, 2010, 20:46 GMT

    in 1989, these two came to Pakistan and when we watched both Sachin and Manjrekar, they were almost at par, infact Manjrekar performed better than Sachin. At that time, we talked between friends and it was concluded that whoever between these two would concentrate more would be successful. The talent was all the same. Manjrekar for some reason faded, Sachin prospered.

  • poojan on December 22, 2010, 20:27 GMT

    "Sachin is not a team man", "Sachin has not won matches for India", "Sachin is a selfish batsman who plays for his own centuries only" and many more such statements have been heard time and again. I believe these statements can only come from people whose opinions are not valued by people around them, so they seek attention by saying something 99% of people would not say, just to stand out. Just because "team-men" like Dravid and Laxman failed to shoulder SRTs effort, he is not a team man? That is the story of his career. In cricket nobody has won matches single-handedly. It is unbelievable when people say Gibbs' 175 won SA the Johannesburg match and Sachin's failed to finish the Nagpur match for India vs Aus despite making an amazing 175. The difference was not between these two men but in quality of batsmen supporting them, the difference between Boucher,van der wath and ravindra jadeja. That has always been there, you cant blame Sachin for that.

  • Sandeep on December 22, 2010, 19:02 GMT

    @Shubhanshu Pal: Absolutely! Exact same feelings here!!! I really want to meet Sanjay personally once and talk to him about his strike rate.

  • Dummy4 on December 22, 2010, 18:26 GMT

    Good to hear all this Mr. Manjrekar......but would have been better to hear all these in 2005-06......did you remember those days??When your favourite(?) cricketer consecutively failed for his tennis-elbow problem???Now he is back again..he is making us proud,us means who debated for him with our friends..we never left his side..we worshiped him.he is gifting these innings to don't come to take part in it...sorry to be so harsh..from the next time mind your languages...

  • Dummy4 on December 22, 2010, 16:11 GMT

    Well you would need that passion in order to score 50 Test centuries over a span in excess of 20 years, wouldn't you? Despite him having, according to Mr. Manjrekar, a child-like enthusiasm for batting and the game of cricket, he still accords respect for being a consummate professional. He never gets involved in disputes or controversies, partly because his every move is shadowed, and focuses on his job on the field. That's perhaps what should be remembered about him rather than just his records and achievements.

  • Dummy4 on December 22, 2010, 15:03 GMT

    @ truth1: "Just a Murali of batting"? Whatever the opposite of damning with faint praise is, you've just done it!

  • Dummy4 on December 22, 2010, 14:43 GMT

    Sanjay Manjrekar is one of the anti-sachin group, i never saw him appreciating sachin, Sanjay always feels that he is better then Sachin, well records tell who is what? what do you say Sanjay?

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