Into the heart of a teen sensation

He may have been forced to wear a celebrity shirt now, but deep inside nothing has changed in Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. And this seems a greater achievement than all that he's done in international cricket, writes Nirmal Shekar after spending several hours with the young man in Bombay. This article was published in The Sportstar on April 25, 1992.

BOMBAY. It's an island in the middle of the sub-continent, a world away from India really, isolated in its urban arrogance, by its commercial pre-eminence. It's a world where nine-tenths of human life is an argument.

As we drive up to the city centre, we are witness to a hundred arguments along the way. But, right now, it is the turn of a BEST driver and a cabbie; the pair is jostling for road space in the dense traffic. In our car, the teenaged driver beside me seems totally absorbed in the rhythm belted out by Dire Straits on the car stereo as he gently eases the car into the fast lane to leave the arguing parties behind. It is almost as if the boy instinctively knows that he has the right of way. It is almost as if the steering is an extension of his hands as he coaxes the Maruti down the far right lane. A little way down the road, the teenager points to a playground (the Shivaji Park) and tells his companion; this writer; that he used to "practice there". Right now, it looks as if half the cricket playing population of the metropolis is crammed into the playfield. There are several dozen sets of stumps and, on a rough estimate, there must be three dozen teams arguing for space on the gravelly red pitches. Another form of argument here.

Yet, when this young man played there, he had the right of space. Other competitors instantly turned spectators. Fast forward another quarter of an hour. Past the lovely stretch of the Marine Drive, we reach the Gateway of India. There is a long queue for parking space. The young man had missed the far end of the queue and had gone right up to the gate. "You have to go behind and join the queue," the havildar tells me. I turn to my companion, resigned. Another argument for space here. Then the havildar spots the man in the driver's seat and his dentures almost pop out in that moment of sheer excitement. Other cars are pushed aside, a special space is created and our car is accommodated. Indeed, in a city where time and space are at a huge premium, where nine-tenths of life is an argument, all arguments cease when Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar arrives. In a city where every activity is a rat race, a very lucky few take no part in the race. They don't have to. In a city where arriving in time is vital for survival, for success, where the rush is for the 7.50 Fast to the city centre, Tendulkar caught the pre-dawn 4.30 train to arrive well ahead, before his time, so to say, to leave the rat race behind. In a city where the early bird catches the worm, nobody in the history of the game can be said to have arrived before Tendulkar did. And this, to be sure, is a city whose name can well substitute New York's in the fabled Frank Sinatra number "New York, New York. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere."

In a city of arguments, there can be no argument about this. Whether it is Dalal Street or Bollywood or Politics, if you can make it in Bombay, you can make it anywhere. And Tendulkar, as we know, made it into the man's cricket world in Bombay when only 14.

He is the boy who's brought boys' dreams to life. He is the cricketer they would all like to be. He's not only a bigger star than any Indian sportsman has been in a decade and more but he has become something of a national symbol, a galvanic mixture of boyish innocence and extraordinary natural skills in a game that is a national passion, a way of life in this country. Every time he performs his best on a cricket field, the connoisseur is sure that it is a manifestation of genius, a glorious sporting, reality that occurs only rarely. Some work to win, some slog to win, yet others struggle desperately to win. Tendulkar was born to win. And the winner's touch is evident not merely on the field of cricket. This much was clear after spending several hours, spread over two days, with the young man last week in Bombay.

Whether he is gently easing the car through peak hour traffic or posing for photographs with an overawed havildar at the Gateway, whether he is waving to his friends in his middleclass neighbourhod or playing host to sportswriters, he is a clean winner. There is a sweetness about him that is very compelling and this is not entirely because of his boyish good looks and sparkling eyes. it might well have a lot to do with his culturally-rich middle-class upbringing. Nothing he has achieved, nothing that has been said or written about him, not even the fact that he is indeed the greatest teenaged cricketing phenomenon of his times, has affected his basic attitudes to life, to neighbours, to friends, and even to strangers. Celebrity may have changed a hundred things for him, but at the very core, it has largely left the young man remarkably unspoilt, and still wonderfully pleasant. For someone to whom it won't be enough if the day had 72 hours, the demands made by The Sportstar could well have stretched patience. Yet, Tentiulkar was the very essence of charm and grace through the several hours he spent with us.

At home, his family struck you as the type who'd readily open their doors with smiles to everyone, looking forward to chatting over tea. And, remarkably, the stardom achieved by the youngest of the Tendulkars has done little to change the family's attitudes when it comes to hospitality. Yet, very soon, one would imagine, there will come a time when they'd need security staff to keep prying strangers off their doors.

The first thing you note in the drawing room, upon first arriving, is that the receiver is off the hook. It remained that way for well over two hours as Tendulkar spoke to The Sportstar. As we were leaving, the teenager put it back on and within a fraction of a second, it was ringing.

"You know how it is in reservations," says older brother Ajit, a reservations assistant with Air India. "When I come back home, it is reservations time again. It never stops ringing." When he spoke to The Sportstar, the teen phenom's 19th birthday (April 24) was still a few days away. But for someone so young, his clarity of thought was at once striking.

He is obviously not a loquacious person but he expresses his views clearly, succinctly.

His respect for people, his family elders, his coach and especially the ubiquitous Mr. Gavaskar, is as genuine as it is extraordinary. And, by nature, he strikes you as one who'd always be willing to oblige his friends, wellwishers and the professionals he is constantly associated with.

For The Sportstar photographer V. V. Krishnan. who flew in from New Delhi to shoot this week's cover picture as well as the ones that are part of this feature, Tendulkar posed readily.

Question: So much has been said about you being the first "outsider" to sign for Yorkshire in the English county championship. How do you feel about it? Is it one of the highlights of your career so far?

Answer: I feel great. It is a great honour as well. Yorkshire is a great county and its team has always been very strong. I really did not expect them to approach me. Tony Lewis (the former England captain) had talked to me vaguely about playing for Glamorgan. Nothing was mentioned in concrete terms. When it came to Yorkshire, I had my doubts. In my mind I was thinking about the tour of South Africa and I was worried about my mental fitness. Physically I knew I could take it, I was confident about it. But I was scared about my mental readiness for the season in England and then immediately the South African tour in October.

Q: Finally, what really influenced your decision to sign up?

A: I felt it was a honour in the first place and that it was going to be a good experience for me. I spoke to Mr. Gavaskar on this. He was sure in his mind that I would benefit from the experience and so did a few other well-wishers. Gavaskar said that I would get to learn a lot of things that would help me later in my career.

 

Q: The physical and mental demands of county cricket apart, have you thought about the question of loneliness? Although you have been a very busy cricketer the last three years, you have never had to live alone for long spells. I mean, when you went out on long tours, you had your Indian colleagues with you. Surely, living and playing in Yorkshire for a full season is going to be different.....

A: Well, I have to find out for myself what it is going to be like. I have not experienced it so far. But I am sure the cricket is going to be exciting and I am looking forward to it. It is going to be a great experience for me.

Q: You are already a very experienced tourist, with four tours; to Pakistan, New Zealand, England and Australia; behind you. Have you ever felt homesick on any of these tours?

A: Actually the first time I really felt homesick was towards the end of this Australian tour. But still I was never fed up of the cricket in Australia. I always felt good in the middle. Really, I was never tired of playing cricket in Australia.

Q: Talking of homesickness, loneliness and everything else you have to face on strenuous tours, did you really have an idea what you were getting into when you first made the Indian team? Or, has it all been a big surprise for you?

A: At 15 or 16 when I first started playing bigtime cricket, I did not really expect it to be like this. But I think it is all part of the game. You have to take it all in your stride.

Q: By now you should have some idea of the demands, physical and mental, that fullflight international cricket makes on a top player, season after season.....

A: Yes, sometimes it is tough. But again, it is part of the game. There are bound to be ups and downs and you have to accept this. For me it happens sometimes in practice, not so much in matches. There are times when you just want to relax and not go out and practice. But I guess you just have to apply yourself and keep playing.

Q: Given the kind of toll that the regular schedule of official matches takes on the mind and body, what is your view of the exhibition games? Why do you go out and play so many of these unofficial matches you can as well use the time to rest your limbs?

A: Actually, I am happy that I am helping some of the senior players. It's a good thing for those who do not play the game anymore. As a cricketer you have to do these things. Helping out each other is part of the game.

Q: You were exposed to international cricket pretty early in your life. Most guys your age are still competing in age-group tournaments. Teenagers on the international stage, in Test cricket at least, don't happen too often. But in a game like tennis you see so many of them making it to the top in their teens and before long everybody talks about burnout. Have you ever thought about burnout?

A: I have not really thought about it. Right now I think I have to play as much cricket as I can. When I retire I shouldn't find myself thinking that I should have perhaps played this match or that. If I had played that I would have made one more century and things like that. Just now I should play as many matches as possible.

Q: Do your parents interfere and advice you when your playing schedule gets a little rough?

A: No, not really. I take most of the decisions regarding playing matches myself. But on most other things, my brother Ajit advises me. I discuss things with him. And he's done everything for me.

Q: Whose advice do you value most?

A: My family, of course. I don't have to mention it. And my coach, Mr. Achrekar as well. Then, Mr. Gavaskar helps me whenever I am in difficulty.

Q: Talking of Gavaskar, when he came on the Test scene, he may have had a few problems with his celebrity status. Yet, in his time in the early 70s, the media attention was nowhere as much as it is now. Do you feel uncomfortable with all the media attention on you? Has it led to a kind of invasion of privacy that you could have done without?

A: Anything too much is not really good. But I also realise that there is another side to all this. It has become a little difficult for me now to spend my private life. But I have got used to this.

Q: In your locality at least, can you walk down the road on any given day without being mobbed?

A: Not outside my colony. But in my colony everybody understands my need for privacy and nobody bothers me. In fact I even go down and play some cricket with the kids down there when I find the time. It is no problem.

Q: What you have achieved In the last three years in international cricket is every kid's dream in this country. You are young, famous, handsome and you have the world at your feet, so to say. But to you, personally, what is being Sachin like? Is it a dream or does it sometimes take on shades of a nightmare?

A: To me the best thing is I haven't realised what it is yet. It has not really sunk in yet. Maybe a few years down the line I'll be able to look back and understand but right now I don't know what it is.

Q: Did you ever imagine three years ago when you made the team that at 18 or 19, so much of the national team's fortunes would come to depend on you, as it happened in Australia recently? I am not saying that the other team members did not contribute but it seemed to me that you had to shoulder a heavy responsibility out there. Maybe you had imagined that at 24 or 25 you would become a key figure on whom the team would depend. Has it happened a little too early?

A: It's okay. I don't mind it at all. I am happy I am becoming one of the main batsmen. A little pressure has to be there. Otherwise one tends to relax too much. Sometimes you don't really perform well because you are mentally more relaxed. For me at least a little bit of pressure is good.

Q: There are some who suggest that you are not old enough yet to feel the pressure...

A: Pressure is pressure. I guess it is the same at any age.



Q: But what is pressure really? We talk about it in general terms without actually experiencing it out in the middle. What is it like to go out there with your team five or six down for 20 or 30 and with someone like McDermott or Ambrose firing on all cylinders?

A: I really enjoy such situations. I enjoy batting in (adverse) situations. I think it is the right opportunity for one to really prove himself. It is bound to happen that the bowler will relax after some time. You just have to hang in there. The first 45 minutes are very important. It is a real challenge for the batsman and I enjoy it.

Q: There are times when senior players playing ahead of you in the batting order would come back and possibly pass a few remarks on the, bowlers when the bowlers are on top. Do you allow such judgments to bother you or scare you?

A: Not much. Not really.

Q: But what do you do to keep the pressure of the job off your mind? Recently, in Madras, the former Aussie captain Greg Chappell said that he had this habit of talking nonstop in the dressing room when awaiting his turn to bat. This, he said, kept the pressure off. He said he would never really watch the match all the time...

A: I always watch the match closely. It helps you to work out what the bowler is doing. You can actually plan your own strategy to counter him if you study the bowler carefully. That is what I do.

Q: As a youngster just making a big name have you often found the dressing room advice of senior players valuable?

A: Well, not much (meaning, there has not been much advice coming forth). But all of them have kept on encouraging me all the time.

Q: Are the other Indian players comfortable in your company. There are times when you find ; in all areas of activity, not merely cricket ; that a player who is extraordinarily tal- ented and very young becomes a kind of a target. Have you ever found a tinge of jealousy in the attitudes of any of your colleagues?

A: I haven't found anything like that till now. And even if it should happen, I won't take it seriously.

Q: When Gavaskar first hit the world stage and then started playing one day cricket, he seemed to have a little trouble adapting to the short because there wasn't enough one day cricket when he first came on. You have made the international stage at a time when the one day game is the better half. Surely, there were no problems in adapting for you. Which do you prefer One-Day cricket or Tests?

A: My natural game is to play my strokes. Yes, I did not have any problems in adapting. I certainly enjoy the one-day game. It is a fast game and it is more thrilling. But Test cricket is different. Obviously it is very important and it has its own plus points.

 

Q: How difficult was it for you in the early days of your Test career to live with comparisons to Gavaskar and Vivian Richards?

A: I thought it was funny. In those years I was getting my runs in schools .cricket while Mr. Gavaskar got them in Tests. After 125 Tests and 10,000 runs you should compare. I think it is a tremendous achievement,10,000 runs.

Q: Have you thought about captaincy, about leading India someday? Do you think it is tougher to lead an Indian team than, say, an Australian team or an English team?

A: Captaincy is certainly a tough job. But if one knows how to handle it, it may not be that difficult. About the India-Australia-England comparison, well I have not experienced it and I cannot say anything about it.

Q: You certainly must have watched a bit of Imran Khan's captaincy. What is your view of the way he led Pakistan to victory in the World Cup?

A: Imran is obviously a very good captain. One should know how to get the best out of everybody and Imran did that. I would give him a very high rating as a captain.

Q: Looking back at your own successes in Australia, would you say it was the high point of your career so far?

A: I would say that, yes. My natural game is to play my strokes and the Australian wickets suited my game. They are a batsman's paradise. I got adjusted to them rather quickly and I enjoyed batting there. Whatever the kind of bowling, I felt very comfortable. Mentally I was well prepared and after playing a while I became really confident.

Q: Do you think you are technically sounder now after the Australian experience?

A: Yeah, I think I am technically sounder. I am a better player now than I was before the Australian tour.

Q: Was it a good feeling when hard competitors such as Merv Hughes and Dean Jones ran up to congratulate you during the Sydney Test? The Australian public too wanned up to you pretty quickly, one would have thought.

A: Yes, I was very happy. When I was a kid I used to watch Dean Jones on TV. It was nice of them to have done that. I also enjoyed the crowds in Australia. They were good.

Q: You have already played in 16 Tests and quite a few one-day internationals. And you are not yet 19 (the interview was done a few days before his 19th birthday). Do you feel like a veteran already?

A: I am very lucky to get the opportunities I have got. And at such a young age. I should try and make the most of it. Sometimes you find players attempting to work things out at 25. I guess I am lucky. But no, I don't feel like a veteran. That urge to play is more now than when I started. My appetite for the game is more and I think it will only keep increasing.

Q: When you were nine or 10 and international cricket was a long, long way, what were your dreams?

A: No question there. My dream was to play for India. I used to watch all those matches on TV and tell my brothers "One day I will play for India."

Q: Then, from the sensational deeds of schools cricket and on to first class cricket, what was your first experience in Ranji trophy like? What about the debut match can you readily recall?

A: I still see all my colony friends up in the North Stands (during the match between Bombay and Gujarat in 1988). I was in the pavilion. There were a few of my school friends also. It was all so wonderful.

Q: What was the first Test experience in Pakistan like?

A: When I went in (at Karachi, 16 years and 205 days old), India was in a bad position and I did not play my natural game. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis went all out and I was terribly nervous. I never knew what was happening. It was, I would say, a nightmare.

Q: Well, one must say you picked up rather well from that nightmare of a start...

A: After that I thought it was going to be my only Test. The only one I would play in my life. The level was so high and everything seemed strange to me. But three days later there was the second Test and I tried to hang on as long as possible. After 20 or 30 min- utes, I got adjusted and went on to get 50-odd.

Q: Then again, after the slightly uncertain phase in New Zealand, when you failed by a few runs to break Mushtaq Mohamrnad's record as the youngest Test century maker, the first Test hundred in England must have given you great pleasure...

A: It certainly did. India was in a bad position (at Manchester) and Prabhakar and I helped save that match and keep the series alive.

Q: Now you are going back to England as a pro and it is going to be a non-stop schedule. Given the weather there, each month is going to be different from the other...

A: Yes, I've never played in very cold conditions. But I have to get used to it. I can learn a lot there.

Q: I am sure the time in England will give you opportunities to try out a few things with your bowling. There will be plenty of movement to be had there. Again, sometimes your bowling looks so innocuous to a lay watcher. Yet, the best of batsmen have had problems with it. Are you going to be able to concentrate a little more on your bowling?

A: Well, I like to bowl, really. And in England I may get a few chances to bowl. Here, sometimes, in practice, I work a little on my bowling.

Q: Looking back at your career so far, do you think it has been a great advantage for you to have grown up and played all your early cricket in Bombay, in such a cricket-rich environment?

A: Yes, certainly. I had chances to play with senior players like Dilip (Vengsarkar), Ravi (Shastri) and be with players like Mr. Gavaskar. My attitude towards the game changed because of this. I became more and more positive and this reflected in my cricket too. I think the surrounding is very important when you are starting in the game.

From The Sportstar archives, dated 25/04/1992

  Dugout videos