Marathon man

(If I had not become a cricketer) maybe, I would have become a tennis player. Maybe, I would have won a Grand Slam.’-S. SUBRAMANIUM (If I had not become a cricketer) maybe, I would have become a tennis player. Maybe, I would have won a Grand Slam.’

Sachin Tendulkar has been on the road for 20 years, but still loves to carry on. “There is nothing like playing cricket. I like to play matches all season,” he says in a chat with Vijay Lokapally.

It was a journey that began on a humble note with an innings of 15 in his debut Test in Karachi in November 1989. And today, Sachin Tendulkar is ranked among the all-time greats of the game, having amassed 12,773 runs in 159 Tests and 17,178 runs from 436 ODIs (up to the India-Australia match in Guwahati on November 8, 2009). He continues to grow and promises much more. The legend gets up close with Sportstar.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: Have you ever had the fear of losing your place in the Indian team?

Answer: Honestly, I have never had this fear. I have never had this feeling that I could lose my place in the team, not even when I was playing junior cricket.

Don’t you get tired of playing so much cricket?

Why should I? There is nothing like playing cricket. I like to play matches all season. Of course — I have said this earlier too — we must have time to unwind, spend time with the family, recharge our energies and come back and play and with the same passion.

Have you ever experienced days when nothing worked for you?

Yes, quite a few. It is human. You go through such things many times in your life — you are dying to get something, but you don’t. It happens to everyone. It is part and parcel of life. Every time the team does not win, it is a bad day.

Which are the good days?

Every time the team wins. Individual delight fades before a team’s celebration. There are many innings where, even before a ball has been bowled, it so happens that you know you would click. You connect the ball as you want to and hit it where you want to. It is a great feeling when things work your way.

How has your journey been?

A family man... Sachin Tendulkar with his wife Anjali and son Arjun (below).-PTI

I have enjoyed every moment of it. The passion to play remains. Getting injured can be a part of your sporting career, but I am grateful to God that I have managed to stay fit most of the time. I take pride in having played with some wonderful cricketers. Playing for India has been a great privilege indeed.

How do you control your emotions on the field?

See, emotions can vary from individual to individual. I may express disappointment, but the other person may not. We must aim to do our best. The reactions can vary. It is up to individuals to learn the lessons. There are times when I feel very sad after a loss, but what can you do? Can you just stay put in your room just because you have lost? You have to plan for the next match and look to come back. That is the motivation for most players.

What is your mantra for staying fresh and not losing interest in the game?

‘Enjoy on the field’ is my mantra. I go out and work as hard as I can on my game and try to get better. I never stop thinking about my responsibilities towards the team. I try to get better and perform better. The rest follows automatically. There can be no compromise on training. To me, effort and performance are important.

How do you look at the expectations of the people? They seem to grow each time you walk to the crease…

To me these expectations are a good sign. It is good if people have expectations from me because it only reflects their belief in me. I also want to do something. I try my best. I have my own reading and the experience to back me, and nothing pleases me more than meeting the expectations of the people. Of course, it is not possible to achieve that in every match.

S. SUBRAMANIUM

Do you set goals for yourself before a match or a series?

Yes, I do. I set goals before a season, before a match and even before an innings. I try to the best of my abilities to achieve them. I keep myself focused and also remain realistic.

How meaningful are these practice sessions since you have been playing so much of cricket in the last few years? Is it true that these sessions often lack seriousness?

Let me tell you that every player is serious when it comes to training. It is a misconception that they are not serious, and it is very wrong to say that they don’t concentrate during training. They do train hard; every player wants to do well. They all come for practice with an aim and eventually work hard to achieve success. They also know they cannot afford to relax because it can affect their performance.

How do you approach your batting?

I have a simple philosophy. I look at the ball and I never think of anything else. I know what I have to do. I have my priorities clear once the contest begins. I only focus on the ball when I have a bat in my hand.

How do we protect the youngsters from burnout and also from distractions that can come with money and fame at a very young age?

That’s a tricky question. I think it depends on the individual. As far as I am concerned, money and fame are part of professional cricket today but self discipline is the most valuable aspect. You can’t leave this (grooming) to a third person. Here, family guidance is important but the individual must also know how to exercise control. Only then he will get his focus right. You can’t blame someone else if you lose your balance. I can only guide a person, but ultimately it is all in his hands. In my case, my family ensured that I did not lose my balance, but then I also knew what was right and wrong.

But there are cases of players giving more importance to tournaments like the Indian Premier League and Champions League and looking to play more and more T20 tournaments. How to counter this?

If you are a cricketer for the last 15 years you will know that you started playing because you loved the sport, you had a passion for it and you cared about every match. Just because there is money to be earned, it does not necessarily diminish your passion for the game. They are two different aspects. I would request the youngsters to stay humble. This is the basic rule for stars or superstars. I keep telling the young ones that they must remember the great deeds of our past cricketers. After all, they were the ones who showed us the way.

How does a batsman develop his concentration? What was your approach?

Personally, nothing special. I have always tried to keep my mind simple. I have always told myself to remain positive. I watch the ball very closely, right up to the point of release. It is important to control your breathing. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t do anything special to improve my concentration.

I know you can recall every dismissal of yours and also the shot with which you got each of your centuries. How do you manage to remember all of them?

Not just I. I think most batsmen would remember their dismissals. Most bowlers would also remember how they got good batsmen out. I can speak for myself — yes, I can recall all of them.

What about your equipment? Do you preserve your cricket gear?

I do. I have each and every bat with which I have hit an international hundred. I have all the India caps that I have worn. I have every single trophy that I have won. I have kept them all carefully. I have had to work hard and make sacrifices to win them.

Have you ever had dreams of being an achiever in any field other than cricket? Say, a surgeon pulling off a miracle on the operation table, a general winning a battle and so on?

No. To tell you the truth, I have always looked at myself only as a cricketer. As a kid, I always wanted to play for India and ultimately achieved my dream. I do dream of making constant progress as a cricketer so that I can try and win more and more matches for India.

What if you had not played cricket for India?

In that case, maybe, I would have become a tennis player. Maybe, I would have won a Grand Slam (laughs).

Do you advise youngsters on your own or do you prefer to be approached?

I always go and tell individuals what I feel. I also remind them that it does not necessarily mean what I say has to be right. They can work on it and can get better. I tell them this is only my assessment but ultimately they have to decide. I can only share my experience with them.

What was the turning point of your career?

It came very early in my career. My second Test match, in Faisalabad. I was disappointed with my first Test because I thought I did not achieve what I had set out to do. I had got a chance (in Karachi) and thought I squandered it (bowled for 15 by Waqar Younis). And then, I got this one. I just decided to stay there. I told myself come what may I had to contribute. This knock (59 in the first innings) gave me immense confidence. I thought I belonged here (Test level). After the first Test, I was not sure if I belonged here. I was tense; my footwork was static and my grip shaky. I asked myself, ‘what have I done?’ And then this opportunity changed my life. I was so happy to have got that chance.

What is it that you don’t like in today’s cricket?

Nothing in particular, nothing as of now. But there are certain things we need to address. Like calling a no-ball. Umpires tend to miss the no-ball and sometimes it becomes crucial. Now, there are no great skills involved in picking a no-ball. But the effort is irritating for the umpire. He has to look below for over-stepping and then look ahead for an edge, lbw, bat-pad, wide… It is certainly not an easy job. We can certainly eliminate the human errors. I think laser technology can help in deciding all line decisions.

Where does the umpire’s skill lie?

In judging a leg-before appeal. There you need to monitor and bring in greater consistency. It is not 100% possible to get all lbw decisions correct but definitely we can come closer to getting a fair result when it comes to picking a no-ball. The third umpire has helped a lot in getting closer to perfection with regard to line decisions. Why not make it as perfect as possible by giving him the job of deciding a no-ball. It will ease the pressure on the field umpire.

Are you worried about Test cricket losing its popularity?

Test cricket is the ultimate cricket, and you have to keep it going. I had made an appeal to the BCCI in this regard. On the weekends of a Test match, why can’t we attract young cricket followers to the venue? We can keep a section free for 5000 young cricketers. We can bring promising cricketers from schools and colleges to fill this section. We can go a step further — we can organise a banner competition on each day of the Test match. The group that makes the best banner gets to meet the Indian team. Kids will come with banners and I know the youngsters today are very bright. This banner can be their ticket to meet the players and a huge motivation for the youngsters to come to the venue. There will be creativity in their banners and will make things lively. And this should only be for a Test match, not one-dayers or T20. I am confident the youngsters would help in reviving Test cricket if the administrators think it is dying in terms of spectator interest.

Why restrict this idea to Test matches?

The memory of a day at a Test match stays. I still remember my first day at a Test match (at the Wankhede Stadium) in 1983 (India-West Indies). I can never forget that day.

Any more suggestions?

Yes. I feel strongly about junior cricket. I have an idea that could be experimented all over India. We must have inter-school matches for the age group 14-15 and ensure that every kid gets to play.

Let me explain: a kid trains for one year and the expectations of his parents grow. It is sheer passion that pushes the kid to a cricket academy. And then he gets selected to the team, but does not figure in the playing XI and his team loses the first match. The kid returns home and there is nothing for him or his parents to cheer about. And then he waits another year for his next opportunity. So, we must see that all 15 players of a team get to play. When a kid leaves his home in the morning, he is sure of playing the match and goes with that positive mindset. We have to encourage them to play. They will thus have more passion to play. Some can bat, some can bowl. They can take turns to field. It will be fair to every kid wanting to make it big. He should not suffer just because his team gets knocked out. Maybe if he gets to play he can alter the course of the match.

How do you view our domestic cricket?

It will not be fair on my part to comment on domestic cricket because I have hardly been playing any matches, barring a couple of Ranji matches. I am not in the best position to comment. But I keep myself informed and try and follow if someone tells me there is a good player coming up.

How much has batting evolved from the time you began?

It certainly has become more creative with the introduction of T20 and power play. The batsmen are prepared to take more chances. You have new shots like the scoop shot and the switch hit. It is good for the audience. There were creative batsmen earlier also and ten years down the line you may have more creative batsmen with even more different shots. The pitches have also improved all over the world. This is my opinion. The bowlers might differ on this.

You had recently suggested that 50-50 matches be split into four sections of 25 overs each. What prompted you to come up with this idea?

It is essentially to make them (50-overs-a-side matches) interesting and reduce the domination of the toss. Especially in Sri Lanka, the toss proves too crucial in a one-dayer because it is tough to chase since the pitch becomes slower in the second half of the match. That is not good for the game or the audience. It is so different in a place like Lahore where you can even look to chase a target of 300 because there is less swing and the ball comes straight. Then, the dew factor also makes it difficult for the bowling side in a one-dayer.

How important is education in a sportsman’s life?

Sportsman or not, education is important. Not everyone can be a successful sportsman, but most become successful through sound education. It is very, very important. There can’t be any compromise in this regard. You have to concentrate on education for a secure future. What if you suffer an injury and can’t play?

Do you pamper your kids?

I do pamper them like any father would, but not to the extent where I would spoil them. I will not tolerate nonsense. I will just not tolerate indiscipline or bad behaviour. I know they are still kids but then they should know how to behave and show respect. If they expect something from me, I also expect good manners from them. I am only expecting effort and not just good result. I don’t expect A-plus always. I don’t pressurise my children. I just tell them to give their hundred per cent. That’s what I insist upon. There is time to play, and there is time to study. I like naughty kids. I was naughty myself. After all, if they don’t make mischief then who would? My kids are taken care of well by Anjali. She is the one who works with them. We don’t punish the kids.

How important is the time you spend with your family?

It is special. I always look forward to it. It is great to be with them. I know where ‘Aai’ (mother) would be sitting, where ‘bhau’ (brother) would be sitting. And the kids — I have come to take them for granted; take for granted their affection for me. Each time I am away from my family, I realise the importance of my family members. I miss them so much on tours. When I come home, I know someone will be there waiting for me. I treasure every moment that I spend with them. At home, anyone can express his opinion frankly. You can say what you want, do what you want, but the respect is there, the affection is there. I love my family, my home.

Have you ever been tempted to join some fans and mob someone? Mostly, you are the one who is mobbed?

Not anyone in particular. I am by nature a shy person. So I don’t think I will have the courage to do that. But I would love to meet some of our freedom fighters, specially our unsung heroes. I have hundreds of questions to ask them on their experiences and the courageous decisions they took. Honestly, what they have done for us can’t be matched. And one more person I would have loved to meet is Michael Jackson. I grew up listening to him. In fact, I had booked tickets for the first day first show of his London concert. But I was not destined to meet him.

You have been working a lot for the underprivileged people. How do you view the situation in India?

I will continue to do as much as I can. ‘The joy of giving’ is a fantastic concept. We have so many needy people in the country. Believe me, even a donation of Rs. 5 can make a difference. We must give whatever we can to help the needy. Last year, my daughter (Sara) decided not to accept gifts on her birthday. She told her friends to bring cash and they all organised a party for the underprivileged kids. My family was extremely proud of her gesture.

What aspects of our society affect you emotionally?

I am moved by people’s sufferings. I wish I could change so many things in our society. What can I tell people? Actually it is for every individual to understand how he wants to contribute to the nation. It is our country; we have to care for our country. If you are a conscious citizen, I don’t think you will wait for somebody to come up with an appeal to make you understand your responsibilities. It has to come from within.

What are you proud of? My integrity, my self-pride. Any regrets in life?

None. I am thankful to God. I am very happy with the way I have lived my life and with whatever has come my way. I have absolutely no regrets, no complaints. I feel very humble with whatever I have. In fact, I have got more than what I expected.