`The 35th had to happen'



A SOURCE of joy to millions, Sachin Tendulkar himself found a very special reason to rejoice. As described by the Master himself, his maiden Test century and his 35th century are "special," without discounting any of his three-figure scores in the intervening period. Looking back at this on-going journey that started 17 seasons ago, records, rewards and recognition have followed this little genius all the way.

Bouncing back from injuries that threatened to alter the longevity of his illustrious career, Tendulkar scaled a new high, and that too the most awaited one for the past year. By overtaking his "hero" Sunil Gavaskar's long-standing record of 34 Test hundreds, he has only reinforced the belief that he held forth in his early days in international cricket. He has attained greatness that only a few promise and fewer still achieve.

What makes Tendulkar the "Cricketing God" is his down-to-earth demeanour through the highs and lows of his career. Modesty and humility remain his biggest inheritance from a family of strong values. He weighs his words carefully and is known to underplay his achievements. This quality truly makes him an icon of more than just the youth of this country.

As Tendulkar takes a look at the journey so far and shares his thoughts with the readers of The Sportstar, many of his other qualities come to the fore. For someone who has let his performance do the talking for more than a decade and a half, Tendulkar shows that he is no longer uncomfortable with the words.

Excerpts of the interview.

Question: What does Test century number 35 mean to you?

Answer: Honestly, it is just the number that makes the difference. It is the number that makes you think differently. I know the 35th is good. But then, so was the 34th, and the 33rd, and the 32nd. The 34th Test century was also an achievement. It depends on the individual to assess what these numbers mean. I don't have to worry about what x, y or z is going to think about the 34th or the 35th. They are all Test centuries and all mean a lot to me.

What is perfection for you and how much more can you improve?

See, beyond a point you can't improve. You just go out there and do what you feel is right. One can't be running after perfection always. You make certain technical adjustments up to a point. There are times when you think you are perfect and yet end up without many runs against your name. It is not just about perfection always. It is also about your will and desire to perform and ultimately it is the performance that counts. You are good only when you score. It is very important to be determined. To me that is perfection.

So there is room for improvement in your case too?

Maybe. It is a tricky question. As I said you can't improve after a certain point. It is like a cup full of tea. You can't add any more because it would then spill. But you can change the temperature to suit your need. As a human, as a player you are always changing. It is good to look in terms of improving but then all this can happen only to a certain point.

Having scored your 35th century do you feel relieved now?

It is to some extent a big mental relief. I know that people were more anxious than me. It was as if nothing mattered more than my 35th Test century. I can understand how they must have felt but I must confess that my wife (Anjali) played a huge role in ensuring that I remained focussed. She kept telling me not to think much about the century and how it would happen. Of course, my family helped me immensely in preparing me for this moment. What matters is that I must enjoy my batting and not worry about landmarks and records.

How was it the day before the match?

I also visualised scoring a century in the match. That is the way I have always prepared myself for a match. It was no different here. But like I said it was a case of others being more worried than myself.

You have hardly been seen getting so emotional on the field?

I know. I have always tried to keep my emotions under check. But there are times when you just can't keep them under control. This was one occasion when I wouldn't have been honest had I not expressed my emotions. I am as human as anyone else.

How would you like to remember this century?

I dedicate this century to my father. I wish he were alive. I know he must have watched it from up there. I owe everything to him. He was the greatest influence on me and this century would have made him very happy. I learnt so much from my father. This one was for him, and my team.

How do you feel beating Sunil Gavaskar's record?

Mr. Gavaskar has been my hero. I grew up hearing tales about him. He will be my hero forever. It doesn't matter if I have more centuries than him. Like many others, I have valued his observations and gained from the batting tips he gave me. I will remain indebted to him for his timely advice at various points in my career.

What were your thoughts when you were one run short of the landmark?

On 99, my thoughts were the same as in the past when I was on 99. I was focussed. I was aware I was just one run short of a landmark but I was not anxious to get there. I was not going to spoil my hard work by making a mistake in trying to hurry to get that century. I was in a zone really and all I thought about was how to face the next ball. The moment I got my bat to that ball I knew this was it. There was no fielder there and I just could not control my emotions as I ran the single. It was unlike me I know but I guess it was the relief of meeting the expectations of the people that forced my emotions out.

Your hundred had mixed shades. The first 50 runs and the next 50 were crafted quite differently. Did you hurry towards the target?

It was never in my mind to complete my century on that particular day. I had to wait for the right deliveries to hit. It was only the first day of the match and there was no reason for me to innovate. I was not going to change my game because the ball was not coming on to the bat. But once they changed the ball I thought it could be the opening I was looking for. The changed ball was hard and came on nicely. I decided to play my shots because I got my timing right. I am happy it worked because it was nice to get over it and finish the job.

What have you taken home from this match?

Some fond memories of the century, the victory and some souvenirs. The bat, shoes, gloves, clothes. All my cricket kit and clothing really and all the good wishes of the people who prayed and cheered for me. I cannot forget the support I got from my coach (Ramakant Achrekar), brother (Ajit), mother, wife, kids, uncle and aunt with whom I stayed for four years.

How does it feel to be called the best player in the world?

I don't really think on those lines. I am happy to be counted among the top players of the world. It is a wonderful feeling to know that you belong up there but essentially I am happy only when I know that I have done a good job for my team and the country.

How much do you value your first Test century?

The hundred at Old Trafford was very satisfying. I was just 17 and the conditions were challenging. We had to draw the match and I was so happy that we could do it. That I contributed to that draw is secondary, but that century will always remain special to me.

Which century would you personally pick as your best?

The one at Perth (1991-92) will always remain the best. There was a lot to do against quality bowling. It was all the more tough because of the bounce and speed that the bowlers managed to get on that pitch. I had heard a lot about the pitch at Perth and it was obviously a great feeling to be among the runs that counted so much.

How do you handle pressure?

It will always be there when you play for the country and millions expect you to do well. To tell you the truth, I am still trying to deal with these pressures. But I must also tell you that I leave this pressure behind once I step onto the field. Cricket is all about handling pressure and I have lived with it all through my career. I have learnt to keep calm and go about my job to the best of my abilities. Why worry and increase the pressure. I always look to try and control these things. It is a matter of adjustment because it (pressure) makes you become a better player.

Does it rankle that you are yet to hit a triple century?

Not at all. I have never worried on this score. It certainly would be nice to cross that mark but I am not going to lose my sleep over it. I know one thing — certain things come when they have to. Like the 35th Test century.

What would you like to share with your fans?

I would like to express my gratitude for all their support. I value the fact that millions of cricket lovers have stood by me during my difficult times. I can never forget the messages they sent me, wishing me speedy recovery from injuries at various stages in my career. These positive vibes from the people have been very, very important in developing my cricket career. It has made a huge difference to my attitude towards life too. It is nice feeling to know that people appreciate your work and I value their support. It has encouraged me to achieve greater goals.

What role do you see for yourself from here?

It will not change just because I have scored my 35th century. As a senior cricketer I am expected to contribute on and off the field. I am expected to share my experience with the youngsters and I have always done that happily. It is a great feeling to know that your views matter. Interacting with the juniors is always nice because it helps your game too. It is not necessary that only they learn from me. I also learn from them.

What next?

Difficult for me to hazard a guess because who can say what will happen. Every time I take guard I hope to hit a century. But things don't work always in your favour. But I can assure you that my focus will only grow from here. I will be as committed and sincere as I have always been.

What are you proud of? My discipline.