It was another hundred from India's batting pride and a jewel in the international cricketing firmament. When Sachin Tendulkar stepped on the field at The Oval to a play yet another Test match for India, it was for the 100th time that he was doing so. "It's a score I always wanted to reach. I am quite happy about it. I know the number is 100, but I am going to treat it like any other Test match, be as focussed as I have always been," Tendulkar told Sportstar during the course of a 90-minute interview at the Derbyshire County Cricket Ground before The Oval Test.
The 29-year-old became only the fourth Indian cricketer in the 100 club, the previous three being Kapil Dev (131 Tests), Sunil Gavaskar (125) and Dilip Vengsarkar (116).
Thirteen years in international cricket from age 16 to 29. A young man like you could have done so many other things in life?
As a kid I always loved playing sports like tennis and cricket. When I was 10, India won the World Cup and that really was a major step towards playing serious cricket. After that my brother, Ajit, took charge of me and has guided me throughout. All this happened only because of him. He devoted his life to my cricket activities. He even forgot about himself. Wherever and whenever I needed him he was there for my cricket. He is the man behind my cricketing success.
I was so much into cricket that I did not miss anything else. There were times when I felt like going out for a movie with friends, but I could not do that often, because I used the time for practice, even with a rubber ball, when it was raining heavily. I used to be looking forward to 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I really used to enjoy playing cricket for three or four hours. I thought my energy was channelised in the right direction at that time.
Changing schools when I was in Standard VII was a major step, because I was going to play cricket as well as study, which is difficult. I started playing for my school and scored runs. It was then that I realised that if I kept doing the same thing I would end up somewhere where I would be a happy man.
You must have been driven by a terrific ambition to play for Bombay and thereafter India?
It may sound funny, but I always had a strong feeling when I was 11-years-old that I was going to play for the country. I knew that and wanted to achieve that and not only play for India, but also achieve something, which people would remember. The ambition was very strong and every time Ajit and I chatted about the game I used to ask him, what's the next step now that I have scored a century in the Giles Shield and Harris Shield (both inter-school tournaments). I used to ask him when I would reach where I wanted to. So I remember those days. I spent four years with my uncle and aunt because the school and ground were nearer their house. Every evening my parents would visit me.
I used to play so much cricket that I did not have energy to do anything else, except spend time with my parents in the evening. My uncle and aunt did not have children, so I was like their son. Their support was something special.
Do you look back at those formative years in the mid 80s?
I remember more or less each and every school game. It's always been my life, playing cricket. I remember the way we played, enjoyed and finished a match. I seriously do not have any regrets at all that I was not able to do any other thing when I was very young.
You have come through the ranks, played inter-school cricket, age group for Bombay and thereafter the Ranji, Duleep and Irani Cups before playing for India. Should one come through the ranks before aspiring to play for India?
It's a little hard for me to comment about if this or that's the right way to come up in cricket and what the youngsters should do. It's not all about how many runs one has scored. It's important to analyse how the youngster has scored the runs. One should not go by the figures in the scoresheet alone. If one can analyse if a youngster is potentially good enough to handle Test class bowling or not, he should be picked accordingly.
One has to play all these games. It helped me to play with top class players. I was practising with Vengsarkar, Manjrekar and Shastri. Raju Kulkarni used to bowl in the nets. I played with Indian players like Chandrakant Pandit and many others who had played at the first class level for a long time like Shishir Hattangadi and Alan Sippy.
I think Kiran Mokashi (Bombay off-spinner) also helped me a lot, which I will never forget. After the net was over he used to say, "Pad up Sachin, I will bowl at you again". Kiran made a special effort. I have a very high regard for him. So all these factors contributed to my early rise in cricket, but as I said before, one should analyse a player's game and not merely go by scores. Playing for a team like Mumbai was indeed a great advantage because I got to play with international cricketers. And I was only 14 then.
1989, West Indies. Did you think you were ready for that tour?
I really didn't know, but at that particular stage, I was really very keen and wanted to go. But I did
not know what would have been expected of me. I was only 15 then. I thought it was a blessing in disguise that I was not picked for the tour. Probably I was very young. And before I went to Pakistan I got another six months to play for Bombay. I am not saying that I would have had a bad tour or a decent tour of the West Indies, but so many things coincided around that time. I had to appear for my class 10 examinations. Maybe whatever decision was taken with regard to my cricket was just about the right thing that happened.
Then the famous quote from Chairman Raj Singh Dungarpur that your selection for the tour of Pakistan "went like a shot."
Yes, there were speculations that I might be chosen for the West Indies tour, but I was not too sure. But after six months, I scored a hundred against a good bowling attack. Delhi had Madan Lal, Sanjeev Sharma, Atul Wassan and Maninder Singh. So I knew I had scored runs in an important game and probably stood a good chance of being picked for the tour of Pakistan.
In hindsight and after playing cricket for India for 13 years, would you say you were lucky to play cricket in Mumbai?
I don't know what the opportunities are for a schoolboy in the rest of the country. I consider I was lucky because Achrekar sir coached me and he knew the importance of match practice. One may practice for days and days in the nets, but he realised the importance of match practice. I was playing three to four matches a week and that helped me develop my temperament. I grasped the importance of it because I played so many games.
There were days when I used to play a match in the morning at No. 4 for a team, and on the same day, bat for another team at No. 4 in the afternoon. I was practising very hard in the nets as well, but my coach thought match practice was important for me, Achrekar's nets were crucial to my development.
Well, sir made extra effort to mould my career. If I did not turn up for the nets he would come to my house and pick me up. Probably he realised that I should not miss one or two days of practice and playing matches. Not many coaches do what sir did for me.
Parents soon realised that their sons could play for India at the age of 15 or 16 after you were picked.
Well, players like Maninder Singh and Siva played at 17 or thereabouts. But I think everyone is made differently. That's how it's always going to be. For me everything went in the right direction. I scored runs in the right games and at the right time and the people concerned were around me to watch me those days. I made big runs in the school games and that had an impact on the selectors. In virtually every game I scored runs. School cricket is very important.
Your first Test was against a pack of great pacemen in Imran Khan, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Aaqib Javed?
That's the reason I was not bothered when I was not picked for the West Indies tour. I felt totally out
of place in my first Test match innings at Karachi. I had not faced that kind of fast bowling. They were really hostile. I did not know what was happening. I spent some time, scored 15 and I thought that's going to be my last Test match. I did not know whether I would be able to handle that kind of fast bowling. I was worried and hoped that I would get another chance.
Fortunately, I was picked to play the second Test. And there I decided, come what may, I am going to spend time in the middle. Ravi (Shastri) and Sanjay (Manjrekar) told me to look to stay in the middle and not bother about the runs. I decided, may be I would have been hit 20 times, to stay in the middle and not let the opportunity slip by easily. After batting for a while, I relaxed and realised that this was how it's going to be in international cricket and I could handle it. I made 59 at Faisalabad and realised that I was good enough to handle it.
You were known as a hundreds man. But it was only in the 14th Test match innings that you got your first Test hundred – against England at Manchester.
I thought it came at the right time when India needed runs to save the game. It kept us alive in that series. We had to play out 60 or 70 overs to save that game. The first century is always going to be memorable. It gave me the confidence. Eddie Hemmings dropped a catch when I was on 14, but thereafter I played pretty well. Angus Fraser was the bowler whom I drove for the hundred.
You came close to the magic figure when you made 88 against New Zealand at Wellington and John Wright took the catch to dismiss you...
I was disappointed and in tears too. I cried while crossing the boundary line and cried for another five to 10 minutes in the dressing room. I was upset that I missed a golden opportunity to score my first century.
Then the hundreds in quick frequency in Australia – 148 at Sydney and 114 at Perth?
It was a very important stage of my cricketing life. Australia was something special. Once you score runs in England and Australia people in the world come to know about you, about what you have done. After the first two games, I hung in there with Ravi (he scored a double) and was mentally prepared to make a big effort. Australia had McDermott, Hughes, Whitney, Reid and Warne. I would regard the Perth effort as a better one because the pitch had life in it. The team made 240 or 250 runs. To score a century at Perth is always something special for any batsman.
By the time you were 20, you had scored four hundreds abroad, the fourth being 111 against South Africa at Johannesburg.
I had got used to pace after the first Test innings in Pakistan. I was thrilled making runs against South Africa. Their standard of playing was very high. The wickets there are similar to the ones in Australia. They had some big names and I was determined to come good. It was the beginning of their return to international cricket and they were trying hard as well. It was a terrific tour.
What about Chennai? Four hundreds in five Tests – 165 against England, 155 and 126 against Australia and 136 against Pakistan.
Well, it's been a lucky ground for me. Probably the atmosphere there makes me feel very comfortable. Well, I enjoy playing in Chennai. I was in tears after the match against Pakistan (1999). I was very disappointed. It was probably the biggest disappointment. We came close to winning that Test match, but we simply could not finish it off. That really hurt me a lot, much more than people can imagine.
My back problem started around lunch time that day. It was quite hot then, but I continued playing. Then I also had an attack of cramps in each and every part of my body and I could not move at all. It kept getting worse. Then I decided to play shots and connected them too. I mistimed one shot and that cost us the game. It hurt me the most because we came close to winning from nowhere. We were in a terrible position and nobody thought that we would come back. We were 2 for 4 down or something like that in the second innings. From there we got so close to the target. It was very disappointing.
The 155 not out against Australia (1998) was an important innings. They had taken the lead in the first innings and I still remember making a statement in the dressing room. From day one the ball was turning and turning big and Shane Warne bowled well. I said that anyone who scores 70 or 80 odd runs in the second innings would be contributing very heavily towards India's victory. I said, "Let's do it". The idea behind this was that just one batsman had to score the big runs with the others scoring around him. We made 400 odd in that innings. Then we got the wickets and polished them off. Sidhu too batted very well in that innings. He attacked them from the word go. He really went after them from the first ball. He set the tone for us. The 126 was also an important effort. It came at the right time. It's probably one of the best matches I have played.
Colombo is another venue where you have scored runs aplenty?
Khettarama was flat, but the other two had a bit of life in them. I am quite happy that I have been able to score hundred in most of the places including New Zealand and West Indies. I have missed many centuries in the West Indies. In fact, five. So it was on my mind.
You have 22 of your 30 centuries in the first innings. Is it that the powers of concentration are always high in the first innings? It's also reflected in the aggregate. 6000 plus in the first and 2000 in the second.
There have been times when I have not batted in the second innings in India. The spinners have dominated in the last decade. I have never followed my statistics that closely to realise that I have scored so many runs in the first innings. I have always tried hard whenever I have gone out to bat for India.
The first double century came very late; the first one was for Mumbai against Australia at the Brabourne Stadium.
I have tried very hard to score a double century many times. Somehow I managed to get out. I have tried every thing, blocking, playing shots and playing my normal game. I was quite relieved when I scored the first one against New Zealand.
What about the last 200 plus against Tamil Nadu. You really celebrated it.
I was very excited when we qualified for the final of the Ranji Trophy. It was a big game and we were chasing a big first innings total. Someone told me that the last 43 runs were scored by me with the last two batsmen making no run at all. All the fielders were on the line, so that was a special double. When we had a big target to score, I told coach Ashok Mankad that we would do it. Against Australia, we just decided to play positive cricket.
Have you thought of scoring a triple hundred?
I think it has to go step by step. I have tried to score as many runs as possible. It's just that I need to keep trying. I have scored that in school matches and I am very keen to do it for India. It's always going to be a gradual process towards getting to 300 runs.
What about your duels with Warne, Craig McMillan, Ashley Giles and Andrew Flintoff?
It's always going to be like that. People first started comparing me with Inzamam, then with Kambli, Brian Lara, Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh. Then they started talking about my battles with Glenn McGrath, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Shane Warne, That's part and parcel of our cricket. It excites people. The public creates it all. It has not put any pressure on me. It's a nice and healthy competition.
You must have developed strokes, adjusted technique to handle certain bowlers?
I have been playing this (paddle sweep/hit) shot in recent times. Because I suspected that bowlers might start bowling in that region, 1 practised this shot and it has worked well for me. I have always been working on my batting for 13 years.
Have all of us seen a different Tendulkar in the last three years... would you say that you have been more cautious? But you still get your hundred under four hours.
Time may have changed my game a little bit here and there. It's like one's health; it's not the same every morning. You don't get your backswing right everyday, not everyday are your feet moving well. Sometimes the wicket may not allow one to play the big shots. It's a team sport, not an individual sport, where I go out and do whatever I like. Because it is a team sport, I go out to do what the team wants me to do.
It's just that on occasions I am required to hang around and not play shots. I have got to be selective. The role of a batsman keeps changing. At Nottingham in the second innings I played shots because I realised that if India got the runs that evening, the pressure would be upon England the next day. I think I am better at analysing the game now, having played for so many years. This happens only with experience. Whatever is happening is happening for good.
How would you recall your stint as India captain?
I thought we came close to winning so many times, but we could not cross the final hurdle. That's been disappointing. At this point of time it is not on my mind, it's just playing and enjoying it.
The Indian dressing room. It's a special place for a select few, is it not?
It's been lovely. It's a great feeling to be there with the team. I have been wanting to do this in life
and for 13 years I have been doing this from the age of 16. So it has become a routine life and I am really enjoying each and every moment of it. Yes, it is something very special. It's great to have a support system with Wright, Leipus and Roux around. It's a great thing to have happened to Indian cricket. We need these professionals. They have done a good job. One was not familiar with training methods. It's been introduced now. I think the team is very fit now.
What about the fresh crop of players in Yuvraj, Sehwag, Kaif and Dinesh Mongia?
They are very talented. They are very special talents, I would like to say. They have the capacity to win matches for India. We have to make sure that they are not put under pressure at any stage and are protected.
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