Virender Sehwag on Sachin Tendulkar November 15, 2009

'Tendulkar controls the game'

What are the things that set the great man apart from mere mortals? The ability to read the game acutely, pick the ball early, dedication, discipline and more

The first time Virender Sehwag met Sachin Tendulkar was in March 2001, at a practice session ahead of the first ODI of the home series against Australia. For Sehwag, Tendulkar was the man who had inspired him to skip exams in school and allowed him to dream of cricket as a career. Sehwag was shy then, and didn't speak to his hero. He got 58 off 51 balls and picked up three wickets. Tendulkar later walked up to him and said, "You've got talent. Continue playing the same way and I'm sure you will make your name." That ability to motivate youngsters is one of the traits, Sehwag says, that makes Tendulkar special. Here he tells Cricinfo about 10 things that make Tendulkar stand out.

He never comes late to any practice session, never comes late to the team bus, never comes late to any meeting - he is always five minutes ahead of time. If you are disciplined, it shows you are organised. And then he is ready for anything on the cricket field.

Mental strength
I've learned a lot of things from him as far as mental strength goes - on how to tacke a situation, how to tackle a ball or bowler. If you are not tough mentally, you can't score the number of runs and centuries he has in the last two decades. He is a very good self-motivator.

He always said to me: whatever the situation or whichever the bowler you face, always believe in yourself. There was this occasion in South Africa, early in my career, when I was not scoring runs fluently, so he suggested I try a few mental techniques that had worked for him. One of the things he said was: Always tell yourself you are better than others. You have some talent and that is why you are playing for India, so believe in yourself.

Picking the ball early
He can pick the ball earlier than other batsmen and that is a mark of a great batsman. He is virtually ready for the ball before it is bowled. Only great players can have two shots for one ball, like Tendulkar does, and a big reason is that he picks the ball very early.

Soft hands
I've never seen him play strokes with hard hands. He always tries to play with soft hands, always tries to meet the ball with the centre of the bat. That is timing. I have never been able to play consistently with soft hands.

One reason he can convert his fifties into hundreds is planning: which bowler he should go after, which bowler he should respect, in which situation he should play aggressively, in which situation he should defend. It is because he has spent hours thinking about all of it, planning what to do. He knows what a bowler will do in different situations and he is ready for it.

In my debut Test he scored 155 and he knew exactly what to do every ball. We had already lost four wickets (68 for 4) when I walked in, and he warned me about the short ball. He told me that the South African fast bowlers would bowl short-of-length balls regularly, but he knew how to counter that. If they bowled short of a length, he cut them over slips; when they bowled outside off stump, he cut them; and when they tried to bowl short into his body, he pulled with ease. Luckily his advice had its effect on me, and I made my maiden hundred!

This is one area where he is really fast. And that is because he is such a good reader of the game. After playing just one or two overs he can tell you how the pitch will behave, what kind of bounce it has, which length is a good one for the batsman, what shots to play and what not to.

A good example was in the Centurion ODI of the 2006-07 series. India were batting first. Shaun Pollock bowled the first over and fired in a few short-of-length balls, against which I tried to play the back-foot punch. Tendulkar cautioned me immediately and said that shot was not a good option. A couple of overs later I went for it again and was caught behind, against Pollock.

Making bowlers bowl to his strengths
He will leave a lot of balls and give the bowler a false sense of security, but the moment it is pitched up to the stumps or closer to them, Tendulkar will easily score runs.

If the bowler is bowling outside off stump Tendulkar can disturb his line by going across outside off stump and playing to midwicket. He puts doubts in the bowler's mind, so that he begins to wonder if he has bowled the wrong line and tries to bowl a little outside off stump - which Tendulkar can comfortably play through covers.

Only great players can have two shots for one ball, like Tendulkar does, and a big reason is that he picks the ball very early

In Sydney in 2004, in the first innings he didn't play a single cover drive, and remained undefeated on 241. He decided to play the straight drive and flicks, so he made the bowlers pitch to his strengths. It is not easy. In the Test before that, in Melbourne, he had got out trying to flick. After that when we had a chat he said he was getting out playing the cover drive and the next game he would avoid the cover drive. I thought he was joking because nobody cannot not play the cover drive - doesn't matter if you are connecting or not. I realised he was serious in Sydney when he was on about 180-odd and he had missed plenty of opportunities to play a cover drive. I was stunned.

Ability to bat in different gears
This is one aspect of batting I have always discussed with Tendulkar: how he controls his game; the way he can change gears after scoring a half-century. Suddenly he scores 10-12 runs an over, or maybe a quick 30 runs in five overs, and then again slows down and paces his innings.

He has maintained that it all depends on the team's position. If you are in a good position you tend to play faster. He also pointed out that the batsman must always think about what can happen if he gets out and the consequences for the team. The best example is the knock of 175. I was confident he would pull it off for India and he almost did.

Building on an innings
I learned from Tendulkar how to get big hundreds. He told me early on that once you get a hundred you are satisfied for yourself. But it is also the best time to convert that into a bigger score for the team because then the team will be in a good position.

If you look at my centuries they have always been big. A good instance of this was in Multan in 2004, when he told me I had given away a good position in Melbourne (195) the previous year and the team lost, and I needed to keep that in mind against Pakistan. In Multan, in the first hundred of the triple century I had hit a few sixes. He walked up to me after I reached the century and said he would slap me if I hit any further sixes. I said why. He said that if I tried hitting a six and got out the team would lose the control over the game, and I needed to bat through the day. So I didn't hit a single six till I reached 295. By then India were 500-plus and I told him I was going to hit a six!

This is the most important aspect of his success. In his life cricket comes first. When he is on tour he is thinking about nothing but cricket, and when he is not on tour he dedicates quality time to his family. That shows his dedication to the game and to his family. He has found the right balance.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo