When Sachin Tendulkar settles down for a brief chat on what he has been renowned for, his thoughts about the game flow as exquisitely as his straight drives with a willow in his hands. The master batsman discusses the possible impact that India’s series win in Australia will have down the years and how the 1996 World Cup has indirectly played a part in the recent exploits of the team.
Ishant Sharma is set to play his 100th Test during the series. How have you seen him evolve over the last decade and a half?
The first time I had a look at Ishant was even before he had played for India. He looked promising as a youngster. You could spot his talent. He stood apart. I felt here’s one guy who can play for India for a long time and he has not disappointed us.
From being a raw youngster with the licence to go all out to playing support role later on to evolve as a complete package over the last few years in Test cricket, do you think Ishant doesn’t really get his due from the fans?
I think people value his contribution. His transition has been exceptional. How many fast bowlers play 100 Test matches for the country? Very few. Only two Indians have done it so far. And that’s a reflection of discipline, commitment and hard work. I am sure people understand that. One doesn’t end up playing 100 Test matches just like that. You require all these factors to combine together, and to deliver over a long period of time takes a lot of effort. He has put in that much hard work and he deserves all the accolades.
India has tried many opening combinations in Test matches over the last two years. Over the last month or so, we have seen Shubman Gill emerge as a reliable option. Do you think it’s time for Gill to be persisted with along with Rohit Sharma at the top?
I think players tend to respond differently whenever there is stability in the team, so I feel that stability, that confidence, has to be shown in every player. I’ll not single out Rohit and Shubman, but it applies to everyone. When you show faith and confidence in players, they end up coming in handy in crunch situations. In Test matches, there are always these key sessions or passages of play to be seen off. That is when the confidence you show in them actually helps to get the best out of them.
At a time when Test cricket is struggling to find takers, do you think the series win in Australia will give young kids a reason to aspire to be a Test specialist?
Hundred percent. I think good-quality cricket — irrespective of the format — leads to greater interest. For Test cricket, it eventually boils down to the surfaces that you play on. The Brisbane pitch challenged batters. It was a good surface. Our batters played well, but it was a good surface to bowl on. It had bounce and pace, so there was a little bit of movement. Then there were cracks that developed during extreme heat. When the youngsters are watching our players overcoming all these challenges, they are motivated even more.
You always need heroes in life. You need role models to achieve greater heights. And without any doubt, the series win in Australia must have inspired a generation of youngsters to pick up a cricket bat that evening and focus on playing the longest format.
How ironic is it that when Test cricket is at its peak of popularity, we are not going to have Ranji Trophy for the first time this season?
Yeah...not being able to have more domestic cricket is due to unprecedented circumstances. Everyone wanted cricket to happen, including the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), everyone was trying, but these are unprecedented times. There are challenges which are beyond something everyone had prepared for. With time, we are coping with it, and hopefully in times to come, things will look different. We hope that we are able to overcome this challenge sooner than later and cricket will be back again in a safe environment. The pandemic has taught us to not take anything for granted, so this is what one needs to take care of, especially hygiene, in future.
We have been witnessing a strong India bench of late, something that was a rarity until now. What has led to this revolution over the last few years?
I always believe you get better with more matches you play. The more the matches you play, better is the match temperament. I remember as a kid, (Tendulkar’s first coach Ramakant) Achrekar sir made me play lots of matches besides practice. He said: “However you practise, the match practice will eventually reflect on the field.” Only when you start playing matches, you figure out where the gaps are and how to score runs or how to rotate strike or which bowler to attack or how to face the next ball after hitting a boundary. Those are real-time experiences. So only when you’ve experienced it yourself, that’s when you’ll learn. That is what has happened with increased number of games at every level.
Looking back, I think the 1996 World Cup that was played in India had a huge role to play. That World Cup changed everything, including the inflow of money into the game, through sponsors, broadcasters, et cetera. From thereon, the infrastructure got a huge boost and post that, we saw talent emerging from various states. That was a result of the BCCI setting up good infrastructure, and everything changed.
Everything changed, including the conditions of grounds, appointment of trainers, physiotherapists, nutritionists. Because the ground conditions changed, diving on the field came instinctively. For those whose childhood was spent on outfields that were remotely green, you had to remind yourself to dive.
That fraction of a second between an instinctive reaction and a conscious one is the difference between stopping the ball and letting it slip. The best part is we are not satisfied with all these improvements. We want to get better and better in every aspect. So all these things have contributed to India having a strong bench strength.
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