'I am madly in love with the sport'
Sachin Tendulkar's 100th international hundred has created bigger ripples in cricketing waters than all his previous centuries. Adding colour to the excitement surrounding the milestone, Tendulkar invited editors from across India to his hometown, Mumbai. The evening was about "celebrating hundred hundreds", as the banner behind him declared.
What was meant to be an informal chat turned out to be an engrossing hour-long tête-à-tête, during which Tendulkar, to borrow a cricketing phrase, never took his eye off the ball. It was a consummate performance. Even his biggest fan, his wife, Anjali, who is rarely present at press conferences, sat quietly in a corner, listening intently to her husband's every word.
What do personal records mean in a team game?
When you contribute towards the team, trying to achieve the team's cause, that is when the records are created. No one first looks to create records and then looks to achieve the team's cause. Before any game, the team has a goal and while chasing that goal if certain records are set, it becomes a landmark and big news. But in our team meetings we never discuss records. We discuss how to win the match and what's the best way to do it. Along the way if somebody is able to break records and do something special, then we always feel good about it.
This is your 23rd year in international cricket. What has the last year taught you that your first 22 years did not?
To stay patient on 99 hundreds (smiles). Yes, this year was a difficult one. When I was on 99 hundreds during the World Cup, nobody spoke about it. The focus was on the World Cup. We won the World Cup and then everybody started thinking what's next and started questioning 'where can we focus [now]'. The focus was then on the hundredth hundred. My focus was not on it. My focus was as always to score a big hundred whenever I went out and contribute [to the team's cause], and that is what I have done in the past. As time went by there was so much hype created that naturally the focus [shifted], even though I did not want it [that way]. I felt it [the milestone] was there somewhere in my subconscious, though I kept telling myself that above all I just need to enjoy playing cricket and be myself. But when you get at least 100 reminders daily, it becomes difficult not to think about it. You are forcibly made to think about it.
That was getting tougher and tougher as the days wore on. I felt like telling everyone 'let's just talk cricket and not talk about the 100th hundred'. I went through the same pre-match preparations, but sometimes there are no reasons for failure and disappointment. I felt in Australia I was batting the best I have in the last 22 years. I was really pleased with the way I was moving and timing the ball, and the bat-swing. But somehow, at the crunch moment, you need luck to be on your side and I felt luck was not on my side on those occasions. I got close to scoring hundreds, but when the time came, things just didn't happen. Sometimes things happen in your life which you can't explain.
You look at solutions and raise questions, and ask why is this happening. But you just don't find the answers. Then, eventually, you look at scenarios when you haven't batted well and still ended up scoring big runs. What could be the reason? Luck. Sometimes you just get beaten by that much (gestures to indicate a little bit). How do you describe that? It has to be luck. In Mumbai, had I not been beaten by Ravi Rampaul and edged to [Darren] Sammy in the slips, I would have still been batting on 94. The next ball, if it's a two-paced pitch, I would leave it alone. Sometimes, it's important to get that wake-up call. Last season, that wake-up call didn't happen much and it just taught me to have patience and focus on my job, and the results will take care of themselves. I just focussed on my pre-match preparation and did not think too much. When you start a building, you don't think of the tenth floor. You start at the ground floor first. My preparations were not affected. I did not use any shortcuts - that again was a reminder that I had not relaxed. In fact, if anything, I just kept pushing harder and harder. Sometimes there are disappointments and I always use disappointments and setbacks to work harder, and try and take whatever positive [I can] out of it. That is something that I have learnt and, maybe, it [the wait for the landmark ton] was a reminder [of these things] after 22 years.
Sometimes, do you think that a sportsperson's life is cruel - people can easily forget what you have done over 22 years and focus on just the landmark?
I remember my coach [Ramakant Achrekar] telling me that this game can be cruel at times and not to worry as everyone goes through rough patches. When you are doing well, you don't worry and you don't question 'why are these things happening to my game'. Even a bad phase will pass by and nothing will be permanent. You will overcome all these obstacles. During my school days I learnt a lot, and those things help. Above all, the most important thing is to respect the game.
You spoke about the pressure of the 100 hundreds and how, subconsciously, it got to you. Do worry about the younger players in the team, about how they would cope with, maybe not something similar, but an achievement?
I think that is an important factor to focus and not think about the external factors, which sometimes weigh you down. There will be phases in their careers where the going gets tough, but that is a time that whatever you had practised over the years, and I am not taking about practising in the nets but off the field, helps. My advice would be to keep your eye on the ball and not what XYZ is talking. Sometimes it feels good when people are talking good things about you, but when you get into it, it does feel bad when people do criticise you. So there has to be a balance between reading good things and reading bad things, and you've got to maintain that balance and balance your emotions in the way you celebrate and the way you respond to disappointments. If the balance is there, then in those tough phases you will be able to deal with it, but if there is imbalance that is when the problem starts. It is up to an individual, and there is no particular formula to it: that if you do this or that, it is going to work. There are guys who get motivated by certain things and it is important to know yourself, as to what works for you and follow that.
Can you talk us through the experiences of your first hundred and the 100th ton?
I remember during my first hundred, I went in to bat when the team was 118 for 4 [109 for 4] and I went into bat when the senior players had all got out and the only thing that I had in my mind was I should stay not out. I managed to string together a good partnership with Manoj Prabhakar and I had to be careful in my shot selection that day. At the same time I was prepared to put the bad balls away. I was there with an open mind. I remember when I was batting on 87 or 88, I ducked into a bouncer from Angus Fraser and the ball hit the back of the bat and flew to fine leg. I was glad it did not go to the wicketkeeper or lob to any fielder. The hundred that I missed in New Zealand was on my mind and I did not want to miss my first hundred. After the hundred, Madhav Mantri, who was our manager at that time came and told me I had to address a press conference. I was confused as I had not attended a press conference and was very scared. He told me not to worry, that he would be there with me. I did not look back after that and it's been a fantastic journey.
The 100th hundred, I started off really well and then I felt the ball was coming off the track a bit slower than I would have liked. And during my partnership with Virat [Kohli], we both kept discussing what would be a good target and we both thought 275 to 280 would be a good total, as that wicket was not like the one on which the earlier game [India-Sri Lanka] had been played. We were constantly keeping an eye on the run rate that we were maintaining and it became critical to have wickets in hand. I was patient and just focussed on building partnerships. At the same time there were spells during which they really bowled well. I remember Mashrafe Mortaza bowled a maiden to me in the [batting] Powerplay. I had connected three good shots in that over and all three went to the fielder. And I told Virat and thought to myself, on a good day, those are three boundaries. That is what this game teaches you: sometimes you can edge between slips for a four and when you are batting well, three potential boundaries could get stopped. It is an unbelievable game. You just have to remain a student and learn so many things. When I got to my hundred, the reaction was I looked at the bat and looked upwards towards God and said 'it's been a tough time for me'. Why? Where did I lack in my commitment? Finally it had happened and I was really thrilled and I looked at the dressing room and I pointed my bat to the players, and also to the Indian flag that I have on my helmet. This is what I have done for the nation and everyone has been part of it.
Can you describe the pressure of the last year and the passion that you've played with for the last 23 years?
Hundred hundreds was not my purpose. To win the World Cup was. I don't regularly follow what people are saying about me. Because I feel I should have a clear mind while making decisions and hence I should not be thinking about what XYZ are saying. I am not in the Indian team to prove people wrong. I play this game because I love playing this game. Nobody forced me into it and it is my choice. There are going to be opinions. Whatever I do and whatever number of years I play, there are going to be opinions. But they may not be always correct. I take notice of something that is said that can make me a better player and not of someone who is passing his judgment by watching TV. That person does not know what is happening with my mind or what is happening with my body. I am the one who knows about it. Only I know whether I am motivated enough or passionate enough to be a part of the game. I kept telling myself I need to enjoy the game. If I am not enjoying the challenges associated with the game, then it does not work.
That was one thing on mind, but people do read newspapers, people around you read newspapers. My friends do not discuss these things and the same holds true for my family. They also understand that to perform to the best of my ability I need a clear mind. My mind cannot be occupied with all these thoughts. There's an unwritten rule that no one discusses what is happening [in the media with me]. But when you meet people on a flight, in the reception of a hotel or through room service, they tell you in a good way that 'we are praying for you to score a hundred today'. How do you escape that? You have no choice but to appreciate and acknowledge every little effort that they have made. After my 100th century, my wife, Anjali, told me that many of my friends had gone walking to Siddhivinayak temple [a famous place of worship in central Mumbai] before the tour. A couple of senior citizens had also prayed for me at a dargah [a Sufi shrine]. People do it because they want me to achieve the goal. As much as I value and appreciate that, it stays in [and plays on] your mind. Thankfully, she told me all this after I had scored my hundred.
Sachin, you have scored 15470 runs [in Tests]. The chunk between 13000 and 14000 was your fastest. You were 37 then, an age at which athletes actually fight their age, fitness and all sort of issues. Can you describe the challenges of reinventing yourself?
It is about enjoyment. It is about feeling motivated enough. It is about the desire to deliver and how passionate I feel about the game. I am madly in love with the sport. At this stage, I enjoy every little moment. I know [mine] is a different body from what it was 20 years ago and that is never to be going be the same. But, possibly, what a 17-year-old mind could not do, a 37-year-old mind could do. So somewhere it balances out. It depends on how you see it, whether you see the glass half empty or half full: I see the glass as half full. That has helped me. I always looked at the positive side. I have not been very vocal [on the field], but the aggression need not always be vocal, the aggression can be within. If you look into the bowler's mind, he will know whether you are aggressive enough or not. Sometimes it can be your body language, maybe in the way you just leave the ball. And then the way you respond to the bowler, the eye-to-eye contact, that conveys lot of things. I believe in that.
Also when you are doing well, when you are putting in a lot of hard work and you see the results, it helps. It helps to push your training sessions, on-field net sessions and off-field gym sessions, and take that to a new level. I have done that. I remember two years ago when we went to New Zealand the first two games were Twenty20 matches. I was not part of the squad, but I requested the BCCI that I go with the team and practise there because I felt if I can be there, I can get acclimatised and practise. While I was not part of the squad, the whole team was practising in the nets, I was working whole time with the bowling machine. For the number of hours the whole team had practised, I had batted alongside on the bowling machine and I enjoyed it. I must have hit close to 800 or 900, or 1000 balls maybe, and that was just one session. I did a few sessions like that and I enjoyed it.
You do not worry about opinions but there is a point of view out there that believes that it is silly to combine Test and ODI hundreds, and so the pressure should not have been put on you in the first place. Do you believe that there is such a category - a hundred international hundreds? And have you been disturbed by India's form overseas in Test cricket? While the whole of India is celebrating what you have achieved, it has been one of India's worst performances overseas in Test cricket since you started playing.
I don't know … people are fascinated by this number game. So how does one keep that aside?
I remember a long time ago, in 2003, John Wright had told me that you should be the first player to score 100 international hundreds and that was way back, during the 2003 World Cup. We used to have many chats and this was during one of the chats - this is what he had told me, just to push me. The coach's job is to give the players that high and make sure that they are in the frame of mind to deliver, and possibly John was looking to do that.
Yes, it has been a tough phase for all of us in Test cricket. That is something we need to definitely look at. I felt the conditions [in England and Australia] were different for sure - what you call the home advantage. I felt the teams played good cricket. England were wanting to get to the No. 1 spot and Australia were also looking a good side. If you look at the Australian series, in every Test there was just one partnership that changed the game; otherwise the records [of both teams] were more or less the same. Look at the Perth Test, their [Australia's] first partnership was 178 runs . The average partnership of the series was less than 20 runs and according to that the Australian team, in the first innings, instead of getting to 320 or 300 , should have got about 170. We had made 158 . So [if not for the big opening stand and keeping in mind how many runs their other wickets aggregated, they would have just got around] a 12-run lead … you think differently and the whole game changes.
A similar thing happened in Sydney and then in Melbourne, where they were [about] 24 for four and then there was a partnership in the second innings. So if you see in all the matches, these partnerships have hurt us. Obviously we were not able to put up a big score on the board, but the surfaces were slightly different. So if you remove that one partnership from every match, more or less, the scores were the same. And that is going to happen. If we had won, then there would have been a big partnership from our team, but that did not happen.
After every hundred you look up to the skies and thank God. Have you always been God-fearing and has this belief strengthened over the years?
Yes, right from the day I started playing cricket, there was this Ganpati mandir [temple] at Shivaji Park and during our breaks, whenever I got thirsty, I would go there and drink the water from the tap there. I used to always feel that it is a kind of blessing and it is a kind of positive energy going through my body, and it is going to give me strength to go out and perform. Right from that time, right from day one, it has been there. That is the way I have been brought up. Not just while playing cricket, but even before that I used to watch my father at home and see my mother as well pray.
How do you compare this record to all the other milestones in cricket - like a bowler taking 800 Test wickets? Also, do you believe any other player can break this record?
I don't like comparisons. I think getting to 800 wickets is a great thing, absolutely fabulous. All the other players who have done well and have been successful at the international level, they have made huge sacrifices. There has been lot of discipline, commitment and dedication in their lives to serve their nation. I respect all of them, and even the guys who have not been successful, because to play for your nation you still have to go through the rigours and without that it doesn't happen. I don't like to compare and I respect every individual who has achieved something.
About breaking the record of hundred hundreds, I don't know. All the records are meant to be broken. If somebody breaks it, then he should be an Indian.
What keeps you going in ODIs, especially after winning the World Cup last year?
It is the passion for the game and as long as I feel the passion, as long as I feel the desire is there, as long as I feel that I can go out and deliver, I should be playing. But the day I feel I cannot do it, I cannot motivate myself even though I am performing, then it is time to look at making decisions. There might be phases where I am not performing well, but I am motivated enough and passionate enough, then I need not worry.
Looking back at the Australia tour, India lost the Test series and you were desperate to win the CB Series. Then there was your 100th hundred, something that you wanted to get out of the way to continue with the cricket. In a scenario like that there was the rotation policy: for someone who has never been dropped or even asked to rest, were you disappointed by - or were you included in taking - that decision?
It was discussed among the senior players, the captain and the management. It was clear that we wanted all the guys to play because in a tournament like that, when there are no long breaks between the games, then you also need to look at injuries. I am not saying that the players were injured, but then there are some borderline cases that you need to look after and that is what we were looking to do. It was not a question of dropping someone, it was a question of taking care of those borderline cases.
On the rotation policy, do you think certain things regarding that should not have come into the public domain?
Yes, I'm a believer of that, that certain things should not leave the dressing room. But every individual will have different opinion, every individual will react differently and he means different things. So I cannot answer for people who have spoken about it, as to what they intended to say. I don't know.
But it seemed like someone was trying to attack the senior players in the team by making certain kinds of comments …
Honestly, I can't fill in those blanks. Only that individual would know what he was trying to say. If anything is there, then, we travel in the same bus, we sit in the dressing room, we would share those things.
Did you feel bad about what was being said of the whole situation? I don't follow [what is written in the newspapers]. I was in a good space. The only time when I had no choice was with the common man, who would read the newspapers and just keep wishing me for my 100th hundred. I am glad nobody would wish me after that.
You are a national icon and that is a tough job because the expectation of an entire nation is weighing on you. How does it affect your personal life and your family? Sometimes, you must think of just going away to a lonely island and disappearing?
I do that. Sometimes there are complaints that I don't respond to various things and I should be reacting more to spend quality time with my family. Anjali has been with me for a long time, right from the start of my international career, and she understands the pressures and demands of international sportspersons. I think without her support things would have been different. If my family did not understand what the demands were, then to manage all these things would have been really difficult. My family has played a huge role in [getting me to] where I am at the moment. Right from the start that was the unwritten law, that I only play cricket, I don't think of anything else, everything else will be looked after by my family. So I only focussed on the game and nothing else at all, so that has allowed me to be stress-free and not worry about anything that is happening outside the field of cricket. It has been just the cricket field and my family, because the rest of things have been managed by my family.
From 1995, when I signed for WorldTel with Mark Mascarenhas, that was a big moment for me. We went on to become good friends, but unfortunately Mark passed away in 2002 when England were playing in India. That was a huge blow, not because I lost my manager, but because I lost my friend who understood how I operated, how my family operated and never pressurised me to do ads whenever a series was going on because in cricket time it was only cricket. I clearly remember him telling me 'you only worry about scoring runs, you don't worry about anything else, that is my problem'. He gave me complete freedom and to have those kind of people around, who understand the way you think, that really helps and it has continued. After that I have had Vinod [Naidu], who has been with me now for 14 years, and Harish is here from WSG … all these guys have contributed. But the family factor is the most important factor and without their understanding, it is just not possible.
You have been a bridge between the seniors and juniors. You have been the constant. How has it been, having to adjust to the younger generation?
The difference has only been the choice of music. That has been where the problem is. Otherwise we do the same things. I spoke about aggression, which need not be always vocal. There are youngsters who want to react to things immediately. I keep telling them don't worry, after sometime you will have a different opinion about that. With age your thoughts change, the way you react changes. It is part of growing - what you did when you were 17, you do not do at 35. It happens to everyone.
Can you tell us more about the music being played in the dressing room?
I find difficult to pronounce ... Pitbull and what not. I don't know. It is because of my children I know these names. It is good fun. It is not about just me and my music. It is about what everyone is enjoying. In the dressing room you can't have everyone happy - you play one song and there will be four guys saying 'kya chal raha hain' (what is happening) and there are another five guys saying 'brilliant'. So you have to go with the flow.
There are questions about your retirement. You have not answered them completely?
I have answered them. Maybe you guys have not understood properly. I have always said that when I decided to retire, I will let you know. Where is the question of not answering?
Do you see yourself playing Test cricket in four years' time?
I don't know. When I started playing cricket, I didn't see myself playing for 22 years either. I don't know what is in store [for me]. It is in God's hands.
You are at a phase where there is a huge legacy behind you. Going forward, how would you look at it? Is there something on your mind akin to creating a Sachin Tendulkar foundation? Looking ahead, how do you see yourself connecting with brands?
While still playing cricket, I don't think I would be able to do all those things, like creating a foundation. But there will be a stage in life where I can start thinking about those things. At this moment, I am honestly not thinking of that and whatever I do, I do it privately and I don't disclose all those things. But I feel when I stop playing cricket, I will have more time on my hands and I will look at doing those things and react to those things.
WSG look after my brands and they come to me and ask me 'do you think you want to associate yourself with a particular brand'. There are certain things that I have stated I will not promote, and I am glad I have not promoted tobacco and alcohol. There were offers but I have stuck to my promise, and whatever the offers, I have said no.
Have you been approached by hospitals, doctors or other players to talk about the tennis elbow and how you can treat it?
Not really. That is something that I would want all sportspersons to stay away from - I hope they don't get injuries. I was associated with CARE hospital. They used my name and, in return, I had asked that all state-level sportsmen and sportswomen should be treated free of cost, and they have done that. That is my only association [with regards to helping sportspersons deal with injuries].
Do other cricketers ask your advice on injuries?
When I saw Praveen Kumar in South Africa last year, he had injured his elbow. Before the physio could examine it, I said apply ice and I said 'it doesn't look good I am sorry', because I knew it was tennis elbow.
You have said winning the World Cup was your dream. Any unfulfilled dreams left?
I don't have any other dream now. There were two big dreams: one was playing for India and the second was to lift the World Cup. That was my biggest dream.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo