An SMS to treasure, and a walk in Adelaide
What is the most unique aspect about your relationship with Tendullkar?
Longevity. And the respect and trust he has in me. In fact the morning after the Kolkata Test we exchanged some SMS-es on a particular issue. In his last response, which it will not be proper to divulge, he ended by writing: "That's why people respect you for your ethics."
This confidence has obviously come through our long-standing relationship, which started from his debut Test in 1989 in Karachi. I was there at Old Trafford when he scored his first Test hundred. I covered his 100th Test match at The Oval in 2002. And now I would be there in Mumbai covering his 200th and final Test. There is probably only one other journalist who has covered these landmark Tests and that is remarkable.
Considering you have interviewed many famous cricketers in your 30-odd years as a sports journalist, how difficult was Tendulkar as a subject?
The problem initially was he was too shy. He still is. Initially the impression I got was he would give rather predictable answers, not open up. He would not want to say too much. But in the more recent interactions he is more forthcoming. He has become a much better speaker and is much more open to express an opinion on a few things, which he was extremely reluctant to do in the earlier phase of his career.
Did you ever annoy him?
In December 2012, his decision to quit ODIs caught everyone by surprise. I sent him messages and for the first time he did not respond. Next day one of the English dailies proclaimed they had an exclusive with him after his retirement. Subsequently I was told the interview was done in advance and had been retained to be run once he quit. When I sent him a message saying I was disappointed at him for not responding, while a rival paper had an interview. In his response he seemed annoyed. "You are also becoming one of them (journalists). I haven't done any interview," he wrote back.
What was the biggest thrill of interviewing Tendulkar?
Talking to the greatest cricketer of our generation and often spending more than an hour in his company, to have that kind of access, to have his respect and trust.
On November 15, 2010, India were playing a Test match in Hyderabad. I was not covering that match, but I had sent him a message earlier to make him aware about his completing 21 years in international cricket on that particular day. To my surprise Sachin phoned me late in the evening to speak for a little while.
What would be your most abiding memory of speaking with Tendulkar?
His calmness and the way he tries to oblige people is admirable. On the 2011-12 tour of Australia, during the Adelaide Test, Ravi Shastri had invited Sachin for dinner. On his way out we ran into each other in the hotel lobby. He told me he did not know where Ravi stayed, so I told him I would take him. It was just a five-minute walk across from the Intercontinental Hotel in Adelaide.
As he crossed the street a group of Indians rushed to him, asking him for his time, his autograph, asking for two, three photographs. As he obliged, he also had an eye on the time as he was getting late.
Also, he was under pressure considering India were not doing well and he was yet to record his 100th century. But he fulfilled the wishes of all the fans even as he kept telling them he was late for dinner.
Never ever has he given the impression that he is the Sachin Tendulkar. Most of the present generation [of cricketers] need to learn from him. He has been India's finest ambassador.
Lokendra Pratap Sahi is a senior editor at the Kolkata Telegraph. He was speaking to Nagraj Gollapudi