Waiting to shoulder responsibility again

THE INJURED SHOULDER, operated upon in March, is taking longer than expected to heal, according to Tendulkar himself.-V. GANESAN

SACHIN TENDULKAR is unfazed by suggestions that his best days are behind him. "I have no time for people who make statements and keep changing them. I don't bother about these things. My job is to stay focussed and concentrate on my game," he tells S. DINAKAR.

Sachin Tendulkar believes there is a lot more gas left in the tank. Injuries and form fluctuations have not quelled his spirit. The ace batsman eyes the future with optimism.

His race against time to regain fitness from an injury to his right shoulder before the Test series in the West Indies, that saw him journeying to the Chennai-based MRF Pace Foundation, ended in disappointment. The maestro finally opted out of the Caribbean campaign.

The injured shoulder, operated upon in March, is taking longer than expected to heal, according to Tendulkar himself. And he is in no mood to risk aggravating the injury.

Tendulkar, 33, has indicated that his international comeback — he last played for India in the Mumbai Test against England — could well begin with the ODI tri-series in Sri Lanka in August.

His determination in place, Tendulkar was a picture of concentration and discipline as he went through fitness routines at the MRF Pace Foundation under the eyes of former India physio Andrew Leipus and trainer Ramji Srinivasan.

Presently recuperating in London, and seeking expert advice from his surgeon Dr. Andrew Wallace, Tendulkar is keen to resume what he knows best — batting in the middle. Sportstar caught up with him in Chennai, where he was forthright in his views. As in his batting, there were no half measures in his words.

The last couple of years have been difficult for the man used to conquering peaks. And his career has alternated between light and shade. Injuries have cast a cloud over his future. If the tennis elbow proved a major roadblock for the maestro, the shoulder injury is no minor irritant.

And the runs have been drying up in Test cricket for the Mumbaikar. The Test series against Pakistan and England proved unproductive for Tendulkar.

But he remains unfazed by suggestions that his best days are behind him. "I have no time for people who make statements and keep changing them. I don't bother about these things. My job is to stay focussed and concentrate on my game."

Talk to him about the various batsmen in contemporary cricket and the inevitable comparisons and here's his reply — "Personally, I don't like comparisons. But for the last 17 years, several names have come and gone. But one name has remained constant. I do not want to talk about myself, but... I began in 1989."

His first innings failure in the Mumbai Test, where India succumbed to England, saw him booed out of the stadium by a section of the home crowd. He recalls the incident. "I don't respect people who don't respect the game. There were only about 30 people in a crowd of 30,000 who resorted to these things. And I think it was blown out of proportion by the media."

In the bumpy ride that international cricket certainly is, a cricketer's strength of mind is often put to the most severe of tests. Says Tendulkar, "There will be ups and downs. One needs to accept them. Obviously, I would like to succeed all the time, but there are times when it does not happen. I would like to look at it differently. I have had more reasons to cheer about than worry over the last 17 years. You need to be mentally tough to overcome tough situations."

He has set himself no time frame for continuing in the game. "I just want to carry on playing as long as I am enjoying it. As long as I am fit. As long as I can contribute."

Probe him about the change in his approach to batting in Tests — some feel the freshness and freedom of his earlier style are missing — and he responds: "As you spend more time in the game, you start looking at things differently. You see more options. Before I had one or two areas to score, now I have more. Batsmen evolve with time and age. I do not play as many lofted shots."

There have been whispers too that his reflexes may have slowed down against genuine quick bowling. Tendulkar snaps back: "I don't have to respond to these baseless, meaningless talks. My bat will do the talking."

THE TEAM, UNDER THE Chappell-Dravid combine, is heading in the right direction, says Tendulkar.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

He admits that a succession of injuries may have prevented him from settling into an ideal batting rhythm. "It had been difficult. You get into a rhythm and there is another lay off. But I suppose injuries are a part of a cricketer's career. When you are in your 30s, the injuries take a longer time to heal than when you are in your 20s. I do not want to rush back into cricket."

Tendulkar maintains his motivational levels are intact. "I still have the hunger and the desire. Otherwise I would not be around."

For the man, who revels on the big stage, World Cup 2007 is a definite goal. "It would be nice to have a World Cup triumph in your career. Last time around, people wrote us off after our performance in New Zealand but we entered the World Cup final. I am certain we can mount a serious challenge this time also."

He sees plenty of promise and potential in the present Indian side. "I think we are coming together well as a team. We have had some good performances. The youngsters have performed under pressure. The seniors have pulled their weight. We need to peak at the right time."

Despite super celebrity status, he remains a modest man who has not forgotten his roots. "I have always been like this. I like to lead my life the simple way. Cricket has given so much to me and you give something back to the game, something back to the people who love you. Cricket has taught me a lot about life. I have learnt that one should always keep his feet on the ground."

The game has also impressed on him much about collective effort. He stresses on `team effort.' "It is a team game. Even earlier when people used to tell me that India won whenever I made runs and lost whenever I failed, I did not like what they said. There were others who were performing along with me. Probably it was not as obvious as it is now. But contributions were always coming in from the others."

He is clear in his views on the player burn-out issue caused by excessive cricket. "The workload for each cricketer is different. It is different for a paceman, a senior cricketer, and a youngster. A player should be allowed to take a break when he is mentally and physically jaded. But ultimately, the captain, the coach, and the selectors know best.'

It is important for cricketers to be good role models, he says. "Test century number 35 became so important because Sunil Gavaskar made 34 hundreds. When I was young, I looked up to people like Gavaskar, Vivian Richards and our present coach Greg Chappell. Similarly, the next generation will look at players like myself, Ponting, Dravid and Lara."

The team, under the Chappell-Dravid combine, is heading in the right direction, says Tendulkar. "The atmosphere in the side is good. The spirit is definitely there."

As Tendulkar seeks to recapture the magic of old, his message to the fans is: "Support the team."