Sachin talks cricket, we listen!

Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar, in an exclusive chat with Sportstar, talks about how Test cricket should survive, India's tour of Australia, India A cricket, school cricket and more.

Sachin Tendulkar... very clear in thought and action.   -  Jignesh Mistry

It was the inaugural Sportstar Trophy, in 1987. Playing for the Dattu Phadkar XI, Sachin Tendulkar, a 15-year-old schoolboy from Shradashram Vidya Mandir, scored 330 runs in three matches. His reward was a cricket kit. Sachin went on to score 34,347 runs in Tests and ODIs put together, winning every possible award and accolade in the world of cricket. Thirty-one years later, as Sportstar meets Sachin — on the day he made his Test debut in Pakistan in 1989 — to pick his brains again, Sachin fondly talks about that “grey kit bag.”

Sachin, from a very young age, for very long, held the Indian batting together, conjuring knocks of epic proportions. He kept his whites white, staying far away from the politics and muck that vitiated the game in the late 90s. He just scored his runs, said the right words and ensured the faithful stayed loyal to Indian cricket when all else conspired to eradicate the public’s faith in the game. His stature, even post his teary-eyed retirement on November 16, 2013, is intact and he shows the same childlike enthusiasm when talking about cricket.

You have toured Australia on five occasions and have scored more than 1800 runs there. You must have sweet memories of Down Under.

Absolutely! The (first) Australian trip was one of the defining tours of my life. Of course, the first hundred came in England, but in that era, if you scored runs in England and in Australia, you were said to have arrived. So, scoring runs in England and Australia was really important; well, scoring runs everywhere is important, but in particular I would say Australia, given the bowling strength that they had. During the phase I played, the bowlers that I encountered, they ruled world cricket in those days. To be able to go there and express yourself and do it the way you want, I was quite pleased about that.

Your have scored centuries at Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide…the missing one is Brisbane...

I have played just two Test matches in Brisbane (1991 and 2003).

Dattu Phadkar XI won the inaugural The Sportstar Trophy for junior boys (under-17) in Bombay on October 21, 1987. The captain of the Phadkar XI, Sachin Tendulkar, receives the ‘Player of the Tournament’ award from National selector Raj Singh Dungarpur. Sachin still remembers that kit bag.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

What does Australia demand of a young cricketer touring that country? In England it is swing, in Australia it could be bounce…

It’s the hardness of the surface, pace and bounce. Things have changed dramatically, though. When I played there in the 1990s, there were not many high scoring games in Perth. Sometimes 500 would be scored in both innings put together. But if you see in the last decade or so, Perth has been a happy hunting ground for the batters. They score there in hundreds. Last time England played Australia, close to 1,300 runs were scored in just three innings.

The surfaces, I find, have changed, because they are looking for more drop-in pitches. I remember watching one of the games, Australia was bowling and on day one the ball went two bounces to the ’keeper. All I am trying to say is that the Australian pitches are becoming more like the ones in the subcontinent.

All over the world, pitches these days almost behave the same way...

More or less I would say so. In South Africa (when India played there in January 2018), the pitches that they provided for the first Test in Cape Town and the third Test at The Wanderers, were kind of South African pitches. There was a lot of lateral movement, there was uneven bounce at The Wanderers and one or two matches in England where there was lateral movement off the pitch. But, otherwise, in other parts of the world, they are in reasonably good condition for the batters to go out and exploit those conditions.

But when you played in Australia, the five venues were quite distinct from one another...

The character was completely different. There were no big stands as such; now you go inside the stadiums and all look the same. Over a period of time all pitches change the way they play. They must find ways to retain the true character of that pitch. Even if they want to use drop-in pitches, they should ensure that the character of the pitch is similar to how the original pitch had played.

India used to play a lot of practice games when you toured. There were games even between Test matches. Do you think that’s the correct approach to a Test series?

Yeah, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it isn’t, because when you are scoring runs, you would like to get on with the next Test. If you need some match practice, then it’s good to have a match in-between, but it depends on how many Test matches you are playing in that series.

Is it better to get a few games to start with?

I think it all boils down to what frame of mind you are in. If you are not scoring runs then, you would of course need more practice matches, but if you are scoring runs, one practice game is also enough. Eventually it boils down to physical adjustments as well as mental adjustments, understanding what shots to play at what time. You cannot play all the shots at all times. That's where the mental adjustments come in, where you strategise things and then their execution. There is nothing written in black and white because everyday you are asked different questions by the bowlers and the pitch plays differently. So you need to assess those conditions, have that flexibility to go out and play.

The ICC (in June-July 2018) has made it mandatory that visiting teams must get at least one practice game before the start of a series and the pitch conditions must be similar to the one that’s likely to be used in Test matches. Do you think it’s a right step?

I think this is a good idea. Since you have travelled, you get time to settle down and then at times jet lag also plays a big role. The players have to recover before the first game, so afterwards you are fighting only the opposition and not jet leg and various other issues. To get a track which is similar to the track you will play in a Test match will allow you to prepare better. That includes day-night Test matches as well.

Where do Test matches stand today?

I feel today’s generation is used to a fast game. You’ll see a 15-year-old kid watching highlights of the IPL or Twenty20 matches or ODIs, where the batsmen are hitting sixes and fours. How many of them would actually watch a spell where only four runs have been scored in four overs? How many would watch a backfoot defence or solid frontfoot defence? They want to see action. The game is moving at a rapid pace where suddenly the batter is in the attacking mode virtually right through. In the ODIs, totals of around 320 are not safe any longer. So, you are going at six-plus runs an over, which is like hitting a boundary an over. And then comes a Test match on a dead surface, where the batter knows that it would be hard for a bowler to dismiss him, unless he plays a foolish shot. The bowler feels that he cannot do much on a dead surface and he needs to be patient, bowling around the off stump corridor and just bowling dot balls. As a consequence, the crowd, which is used to a lot of action, suddenly finds that the game has slowed down.

Sachin acknowledges the cheers after reaching his hundred in Perth on his first tour of Australia in 1991-92. It was a stupendous knock on a very fast Perth wicket. The wickets there have slowed down now, says the maestro.   -  V. V. Krishnan

 

What is the solution?

If Test cricket has to survive, has to stay alive, you got to have bowler-friendly tracks. When action happens, it happens from the bowler’s end. But in Test matches, no batter is going to go out and bash like a Twenty20 match. To make Test cricket more exciting, it has to be the format where the batters are tested; ODI and Twenty20 are tilted in the batsmen’s favour and the bowlers are tested with field restrictions and various things. So here is one format, where bowler-friendly pitches have to be created. It doesn’t have to go on for five days. Earlier it went beyond five days. But these days, you have to give the kind of surfaces which will excite people.

With all due respect, how many in the subcontinent want to go and watch the opening spell of a particular bowler? Very few would turn up. Whereas in South Africa, they want to watch Dale Steyn’s first spell. In England they want to watch Jimmy Anderson’s first spell and in Australia they want to watch Mitchell Starc’s first spell or Glenn McGrath’s.

I am not saying that we have to play on green tops, we could play on turning tracks also. It all depends on how the home team wants to play. We have also encountered green tops in a number of tours. The opposition kept green tops because they felt that it was the kind of pitch that suited their strength. So when we went out we never got rank turners. It could be either way, green top or a turner and more in favour of the bowler so that things keep moving. There is some action every over. The ball has to beat the bat at least once an over, and only someone who is really playing well can go out and score runs.

How would you view the current Australian team?

The Australian team is not settled. It doesn’t require me to say that, everyone says so. Its batting relied heavily on David Warner and Steve Smith and so that is fragile right now. Its bowling attack is decent, but it will have to think on how to dismiss a strong Indian batting line-up to stay in the game. India has a golden opportunity (to win a Test series in Australia).

Sachin’s son Arjun is a budding left-arm pace bowler with an intense interest in the game. Sachin is very clear that no favours should be shown to Arjun just because he is his son.   -  Vivek Bendre

 

While other sports are expanding, cricket is contracting in terms of participating nations. The World Cup, for instance, only has 10 teams. Going forward, should more nations be welcomed into the fold, and how feasible is it considering spreading the game has been the ICC's motive?

Without any doubt we should have more countries playing cricket. Maybe one way to expand is to get the A teams or even for that matter the B teams to play more. If India A is playing South Africa A, maybe India B or India C could go and play against Hong Kong or someone else and prepare them. For example, Afghanistan is into Test cricket. A couple of years ago these teams should have played four-day matches with Afghanistan, all the teams. Maybe India A or B should have toured them or they could have come here, or gone to Australia to play their B team, or to England or New Zealand, all these places. Afghanistan should have played four-day cricket non-stop 15 to 20 months to understand how it’s played. It had not experienced that and suddenly because of its good performance against the B teams, it was given Test status. It played its first Test against us in our backyard, Bengaluru. That was a difficult task against the No. 1 team in the world. It was an acid test for Afghanistan and it should have been better prepared. This is where the ICC needs to have a better programme where all these teams can travel more and play more.

All T20I matches will be official from January 2019. Do you think the ICC has made the correct call to expand cricket the T20 way?

We will have more international cricketers for sure. I am not sure of the standard of play, but the quantity of players will increase. Somewhere you need to make a start and the ICC is making an effort and why not? From January 2019, the ICC is starting this and in 2030 we could be talking something else as many nations would have had 12 years of international cricket behind them. Maybe we would have generated some interest in those countries.

There are many fans in South Africa who come to the stadium with the primary intention of watching Dale Steyn’s opening spell in a Test match, says Sachin. Jimmy Anderson and Mitchell Starc too enjoy such a following in their respective nations.   -  AFP

 

With at least 30 players involved with the senior and the A teams, the Ranji Trophy is missing out on the top performers. Is that a cause for concern?

We played a lot of domestic cricket, but in those days India A tours didn’t happen as much. The advantage here is if someone gets injured on the Australian tour, someone else is ready to replace him. I know the conditions are not exactly similar, but they are competing at a higher level compared to domestic cricket. In an India A versus New Zealand A game, the standard of cricket is surely higher than Ranji Trophy. You have identified the guys who are the likely replacements if there’s an injury. So these guys are playing together at a higher level and they are prepared. So you can’t have everything, you can’t have guys ready also to go out and deliver. For some reason if they have to go out to Australia they have to deliver. You don’t expect them to go there first and then get prepared.

We benefited from this during the England tour when Prithvi Shaw and Hanuma Vihari — the duo had India A exposure — were drafted into the Test side ahead of the final two matches.

Exactly, and I am happy with this arrangement. It’s not something to be worried about.

With Rahul Dravid acting as a mentor to the U-19 and India A sides, there’s an expanded pool of cricketers ready to represent India at the highest level. What do you think about this change?

Things change. When I started my career, we didn’t have a uniform, forget about India A tours, the physios, the dieticians, the trainers. We were all wearing different tops, we had to get our own trousers, that’s how we operated. But things changed and it will change further in the next 10 years, perhaps more dramatically. As long as we are heading in the right direction it is perfect. That is the only thing that will be a constant.

Many of Sachin’s on-field friendships continue off-field to this day. A recent caller at Sachin’s house in Mumbai was the West Indian legend Brian Lara.   -  Special Arrangement

 

You have made your first attempt at coaching in partnership with the Middlesex Cricket Club. How did this come about?

This is something which we were thinking of. I ended up practising at Lord’s, made some friends there and we just got talking and thought it would be nice if we did something together. We met for some dinners here and there and slowly we started planning and it took us eight to 10 months to build this programme. We wanted to create a programme that would outlast all of us. The bigger vision is to have clubs like the Cricket Club of India or the Bombay Gymkhana where you support all other sports — tennis, badminton, squash, billiards and more. Also have a proper cricket academy and other academies too. We want to build these clubs across the globe, but for the moment the focus is on cricket.

It's difficult to stay away from cricket...

I enjoy cricket as it has been my life and I am glad that cricket has not gone away from me.

A lot of cricketers have taken to other sports post-retirement. Andrew Flintoff went to boxing, Kapil Dev and Brian Lara are hooked to golf. Have you picked up any other sport?

I played a bit of golf and also badminton. But that’s for fun and in no way am I going to become a professional. It’s for my fun, my satisfaction as I enjoy playing sports be it badminton, table tennis or tennis.

Sachin being congratulated by Sunil Gavaskar, after he had equalled the latter’s tally of 34 Test centuries in the first Test against Bangladesh in Dhaka in December 2004. Sachin first met Sunil when he was 13 and was overawed by the latter’s presence.   -  V. V. Krishnan

 

Your son Arjun has done well so far. He has played for India under-19 and has picked up wickets. Are you happy with his performance?

As a father I can see he is passionate. He loves cricket and that is important and he is doing everything possible under the sun to achieve his goals, his dreams. My job or responsibility is to guide him, give him the freedom to enjoy and support him. I would expect the same from the rest to give him that space and not judge him because he happens to be my son. He should be judged just like any other kid and should be given complete freedom to go out and express himself.

Now that you have retired, has any of your on-field camaraderie blossomed into off-field friendship?

It’s there, we catch up as and when they are here. The other day, Brian Lara surprised me. I had come back after going out somewhere and was sleeping, when the security at my place said, ‘Brian Lara is here to meet you.’ I said “cannot be Brian Lara. He hasn’t messaged me, nor has he called me.” But the guard was insistent and I sent couple of more guys, who understand cricket, to check out. They said, “Yeah, it is Lara.” I told them to make him sit in the drawing room and then I joined him. These kind of surprises are always welcome.

Hanuma Vihari’s Test debut for India against England at the Oval earlier this year was easy for the batsman as he had already been exposed to a lot of international exposure by way of ‘A’ series.   -  Getty Images

 

Who were you looking up to when you started playing cricket? And how was it when you met that person for the first time?

I still remember meeting Sunil Gavaskar. That was 1987 and we were playing Zimbabwe or England at the Wankhede Stadium and I was invited to the dressing room to meet Gavaskar. And he was sitting right at the corner. That was the first time I walked into the Indian dressing room and got the opportunity to say, “Hello” to him. For a 13-year-old to be going anywhere near the dressing room was a huge thing and to walk inside and speak to Gavaskar was truly special. He asked me to continue playing the way I was doing then as he knew that I was doing well in school cricket.

Do you think we are missing out on a strong School and University cricket structure today?

I am not in a position to answer that as I am not involved in it. There was one suggestion which I had made when I retired and they implemented it in school cricket with much success. I said there should be 14-member squads because out of 14 at all times 11 would be out on the field and 11 could bat. The coach would decide who would bat. That way all children would get opportunities as school matches are knockout games. They spend 12 months to prepare for one game and if the wicket is a turning track, a fast bowler doesn’t get a game despite no fault of his. If the team gets knocked out, the players have to wait for 12 more months. So 24 months are lost and a school career is never more than 36 to 48 months. So, 50 per cent of your career is gone without playing. The parents must be thinking their children are going for practice and it would work out, but there are no opportunities.

So, I said every child should play, they should either bowl or bat and not just fill the scorebook. The standard of play gets better, No. 9, 10, 11 could also be batters. So the bowlers picking wickets have to bowl to batters and not tail-enders. And if the batsmen have to score runs they might have to face a left-arm fast bowler, or a right-arm fast bowler, or an off- spinner or left-arm spinner or leg-spinner. Among 14 you can fit in all this. The feedback from the parents was positive and I am glad things are picking up.