'I've never wanted to prove anything to anyone'
You are not part of the squad that is going to Sri Lanka. Are you at a stage where you can actually pick and choose between series, looking at the kind of workload you are in for - big series coming up next, England and Australia?
No. I basically requested the BCCI that I wanted to spend some time with my family. That's the only reason I'm not going. This is school holiday time for my children. I don't get to spend much time with them. Looking at the rest of the calendar, it becomes difficult, and to match that with them bunking school to spend time with me… And after this for about next ten months they will not be able to spend enough time with me. So I made a request for a break.
After the World Cup you said you don't have any batting aspirations anymore. Don't you want to prove anything to anyone?
I never wanted to prove anything to anyone ever. Not that it is only post-World Cup, because that would send wrong signals. I never thought I am out here to prove anything to anyone, but yes, one big target was winning the World Cup. Other than that my only aim was to enjoy the game of cricket. I have grown up playing cricket. I haven't done anything else in my life from a professional point of view. Cricket has been my life, my passion. I just want that to continue.
You have pretty much ticked all the boxes - part of a World Cup-winning squad, India winning series abroad... A phase for you to now go out and just enjoy yourself and nothing else?
Yes. Even while doing that - playing cricket in various countries - I had fun, but when you win it gets even sweeter.
You take a lot of pride in playing for your nation. I have that terrific feeling and privilege of playing for India for the last 23 years and it's been a fantastic journey. I have no complaints at all. There have been ups and downs, and it makes you a better and strong person, it teaches you so many things in life around cricket, just as a person.
There has been an evolution in your batting, from an ultra-aggressive batsman to controlled aggression. Are there times when you think of possibly going back to some of your best years - 1998 etc - and telling yourself "I want to live that life all over again"? Deep down is there an internal competition there?
Yes, every season you always feel towards the start of the season: How do I approach the season? What is it that I can bring to the team? And this year it's no different. Always I want to do something special with the bat and to do something which I look back at after a few years and say, "Yes the season was a great one."
For any player who has played for 23 years, there are several impediments - injury, loss of form, lack of motivation, fatigue. What do you reckon you need, to be able to be at the top of your game? What is that you need to guard against?
In my case, lack of motivation was never a problem. I can't speak for anyone else. From a cricketer's point of view, you've got to be madly in love with cricket. Once cricket has started from your heart - for first it needs to have a solid foundation in your heart - and gradually from that solid foundation I believe you start building as you grow up, start playing more matches, play better standard of cricket; then gradually it finds its way to your brain and you start figuring out how to score runs and how to take wickets. But if cricket is not in your heart then results are not that great.
Rahul Dravid quit recently, and before that some of your contemporaries like Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly quit too, leaving you in a situation where you play with a number of youngsters. How important is it for you to invest in relationships, to get partnerships going with them?
It's important to know each other's nature, each other's personality, how they react to various situations, and it only helps when you have made an understanding in guiding each other when you are batting. You need that guidance, good communication, to build partnerships. And it is there. I have played with the current lot for some time, and there was one stage when I was already a part of the Indian team for six years when Rahul and Sourav joined me. So in every generation this process has to take place. I can say that I have played with all of them, so that understanding is very much there.
VVS Laxman and you are perhaps the last two remaining of that old school, for whom Test cricket is top priority. When you look at the current lot, who do you reckon the responsibility lies on to take your legacy forward?
To make someone like Test cricket, it has to [come from] within. There is no set formula that you have to do certain things and then you start liking Test cricket. I grew up dreaming about playing for India - that was the biggest thing I wanted to achieve: to play Test cricket for India and to do well. Every practice session I went out, I was prepared to work as hard as any of my coaches wanted me to; the only thing I wanted was an India cap. If anyone is prepared to do that, I would love to have him in my team.
Yes, maybe there are individuals around who feel, "If I don't play Test cricket I don't miss much." You need not force them into [something] they don't want to be. If someone wants to be [in Test cricket] then he will find his way, will be ready to push himself as hard as anyone to realise his dreams. I don't like to push someone to like Test cricket and make him like Test cricket forcibly. I would just keep those two individuals separate.
More than the talk about having a batting vacuum once you and Laxman eventually quit, possibly a bigger problem for India is not having a great bowling combination. You need a pack of bowlers who can consistently take 20 wickets to win you matches. Isn't that the bigger challenge for India?
Yes, to win matches outside, you need an all-round good side. You need to, for sure, pick up 20 wickets. You might not have to use 20 wickets while batting to win matches but you have to pick up 20 wickets while bowling - there is no short cut, no option. All I can say is that it just can't be good batting and bad bowling and vice versa. Also, backed by good fielding.
I remember we played a Test match in Zimbabwe in 2001-02, and we won, in Bulawayo, where not a single hundred was scored, not a single five-wicket haul was taken by any of our bowlers, so that was a clear-cut indication of good team work. So in all departments you need to make sure you have done your job.
Everybody is waiting for another debut for you - as a Member of Parliament. How are you looking at that responsibility? You have always stayed away from controversy - no distractions, only focused on your cricket. But if at all it comes to taking up a stand, be it political or otherwise, are you in a position to do that?
I look at it as an honour - it's a nomination; I have not fought an election. When your name gets nominated by the president of India… I have been nominated because of my contribution to cricket for the last 22 years, which has brought me here. I cannot ignore that all of a sudden. I am an active cricketer, I will be focused on cricket. But when the time is right I will look into all those things.
This is something new to me. It's not that I will overnight bring in a lot of changes and be involved in various things. I don't want to give that impression to anyone. I will be focused on cricket for sure.
Up next are two big-ticket series - England's and Australia's tours of India, and New Zealand's tour of India before that. With a good show at home, India realistically has a great chance of regaining the No. 1 ranking. How much does becoming No. 1 again mean to you?
We can't get that far ahead and start thinking of being No. 1 again. Yes, everyone wants to be No. 1 but there are certain steps that you need to take. You can't forget the process. First we play New Zealand, so we are going to be focusing only on New Zealand and nothing else. And then the England and Australia series. We can't jump to the month of March; that way you lose your focus.
To be focused on the present is the most important factor, and that is what not only me but the entire team would want - to achieve those results which will make us smile. Everyone is expecting that we will give our best, entertain everyone with good competitive cricket.
This interview was conducted in Herzogenaurach, Germany, at the headquarters of Adidas, where Tendulkar placed the shoes he wore during his 100th century in the Adidas walk of fame
Sai Mohapatra works with ESPN Sportscenter in India