Mastering the nets
In the last IPL, Mumbai Indians were playing Delhi Daredevils on their home turf. Irfan Pathan, one of Delhi's bowlers, was in good rhythm and getting the ball to swing in to the right-handers. So Sachin wanted me to create the left-armer's angle. He asked me to bowl from 20 yards, around the stumps, very close to the wicket with my arm coming over the wicket. As a right-arm medium-pacer, I nearly fell over in the process but he wanted to visualise Irfan's left arm while I was essentially bowling an inswinger.
One of the first times I used a bowling machine against Sachin was an eye opener. When you fire balls out of a bowling machine it lands on a particular spot. So if the ball landed on a good length on off stump Sachin would play it initially after taking his natural guard, say on middle stump. Then he would move to the off stump, leg stump, and outside the leg stump. That exercise was to create the angle that he expected the bowler to deliver at, and then to drive on the rise.
He did that a lot. If it was a normal-length ball that was right underneath his bat, he would drive. Then he moved slightly away, and further away, to create an angle to try to reach the pitch of the ball. The first time he did it, I was wondering what he was trying to do.
He had seen that in countries like Australia, bowlers pitched two or three stumps outside off stump on a driving length, and that is what this exercise was about: to help him reach out and play the angles. He wanted to cover the length quickly and the body position had to be perfect in order for him to play the ball wherever he wanted consistently.
Purely talking about nets, it has always been a team-specific tactic and a series-specific tactic. For example, to simulate the bounce in Australia he would face a rubber ball in indoor nets or smoothen the plastic sheet used to cover the wickets, and use wet rubber/tennis balls to practice on them. If he was to play on spin-friendly pitches, it was more about creating the rough about two or three feet from the crease on both the off side and leg side.
Many times he has batted on the end of the wicket in the nets where the bowlers have been naturally creating a rough. That is how he has tried to get as close to a real-time situation as possible.
If you have seen Sachin at the nets you will be amazed at the number of throwdowns he takes. Unless he ticks all the columns, he won't come out of the nets. Say, he is playing the forward drive, there are certain areas you will tick. One is you are happy with the balance, feet position, the point of impact, the bat angle where it comes from. That is the reason you see him knocking half an hour after the team's training only to make sure all these aspects have become second nature subconsciously.
This approach - to put an emphasis on repeating something till you master it - was taught to us by our coach Ramakant Achrekar. But Tendulkar has always done a lot of self analysis to improve. If you compare his batting stance when he started to his stance now, you will notice the difference. Earlier you felt he fell over a little in his stance whereas now he is more upright and balanced.
Had I been so talented I do not think I would be ticking the boxes all the time, because I would think it is second nature. In his case - because of the person he is - he borders on being a perfectionist. Unless and until everything is right he won't walk out of a net session.
And he is so focused in the nets that if you pop in a short ball when the exercise was meant to focus on the forward defensive, he will give you an earful, in a light-hearted manner but make sure you get the message.
As told to Nagraj Gollapudi