In the early hours of Saturday morning, word spread that Sachin Tendulkar was going to address the Indian press around noon at the team hotel in Dhaka. Several journalists began to wonder why. He had already spoken, at a longer than usual press conference, on Friday night about the 100th hundred and the defeat to Bangladesh. Was there going to be a major announcement?
There was not, but he was even more candid as he spoke to around a dozen print journalists in a small, tightly guarded hall at the hotel. A photojournalist first presented him with a cake, with "Tons of love for you Master" written on it, and then fumbled with nervousness trying to fix in candles reading 100 X 100. Looking relaxed in a casual T-shirt, Tendulkar waited patiently, before blowing out the candles and taking a bite of the cake, and then taking questions.
Even as the reporters vied with each other to get their say in a rare interaction with the biggest name in Indian cricket, Tendulkar stayed calm and answered eloquently. Over the past year, even as India tumbled to new lows in England and Australia, Tendulkar stayed away from the media, not fronting up a single press conference. His was an influential voice, and he had not wanted to increase the already relentless, and sometimes perspective-less, coverage of the latest of his many landmarks.
"This anticipation and disappointment when I didn't get (the 100th hundred) was way greater than anything else. I don't know how to explain to you. I wish there was someone to guide me about how to deal with this," he said, sounding helpless, as if he was faced with a new and intractable problem.
Tendulkar, though, has been in the centre of the media spotlight longer than his current vice-captain has been alive. As long ago as 1988, some were asking whether he was the greatest schoolboy cricketer ever , and his coach was upset about the distractions faced by the 15-year-old Tendulkar.
It showed that even for someone who had almost casually shouldered the impossible demands of his fans for over two decades, and already owned most of the batting records worth owning, the expectations and media pressure can weigh heavy. "I have to admit I was relieved. This is now out of the way and I can start a new chapter. It was possibly the toughest phase of my life. There was so much hype and attention about the 100th hundred. I thought I possibly batted the best in my life, got close in a couple of games but I couldn't achieve it."
An instance of particular disappointment? "In Delhi (where he made a second-innings 76 against West Indies), I went in to bat in the second innings, it was a critical phase and we won that game but people were only talking about how I missed my hundred."
As the brouhaha over the pending milestone increased, and the team slid from its No. 1 Test ranking, Tendulkar said the support of his family and friends kept him going, especially that of his brother and mentor Ajit. "I talk a lot about cricket with my brother. He has guided me throughout and this is something I want to dedicate to him. We have lived our dream together. Whenever I went in to bat I knew that mentally he was always there with me."
Aside from the hundredth hundred, when asked, he duly produced a list of favourites. Perth 1992, Chennai 2008, Manchester 1990, Chennai 1999, Sydney 2004 were his favourite Test innings, a comical bit of running with Anil Kumble that miraculously didn't end up in a run-out against Bangladesh in 2004 counted as his funniest on-field incident. The only question he hedged on was when asked to pick a hypothetical best bowling attack. "You need one ball to get out," he joked, "I can name at least 25 different bowlers."
The promised 15 minutes with Tendulkar was stretched to 20, at which point the media manager firmly brought an end to the interaction. Those hoping to get Tendulkar's views on the defeats in England and Australia, or even Sunday's key match against Pakistan, were disappointed. Before being ushered out, several of the journalists, even those that had recently questioned Tendulkar's place in the team, lined up for autographs.