(This interview was done on 25 March, 2012 after Sachin achieved the milestone of becoming the first person to score a hundred centuries in Tests and ODIs)
There are few occasions when Sachin Tendulkar literally lets his guard down. It doesn't ever happen on the cricket field but then there are a few times when he invites the media in and let's them ask him all they want to. When he got the 100th ton, it represented a huge landmark for him and all those associated with him. To mark that special moment, he gave the media a free-wheeling interview that spoke about everything one might have ever wanted him to say.
What do personal records mean in a team game?
When you contribute towards the team, trying to achieve the team’s cause, that is when the records are created. No one first looks to create records and then looks to achieve the team’s cause. Before any game, the team has a goal and while chasing that goal if certain records are set, it becomes a landmark and big news, but in our team meetings we never discuss records. We discuss how to win the match and what’s the best way to do it. Along the way if somebody is able to break records and do something special then we always feel good about it.
This is your 23rd year in international cricket. What has the last year taught you that your first 22 years didn’t?
To stay patient on 99 hundreds. (smiles). Yes, this year was a difficult one. When I was on 99 hundreds during the World Cup, no body spoke about it. The focus was on the World cup. We won the world cup and then everybody started thinking what’s next and started questioning where can we focus. The focus was on the 100th hundred. My focus wasn’t on it. My focus was as always to score a big hundred whenever I went out and contribute and that is what I have done in the past. As the time went by there was so much hype created that naturally the focus, even though I didn’t want it, I felt it was somewhere there in the subconscious. Though I kept telling myself that above all I just need to enjoy playing cricket and be myself. But when you get atleast 100 reminders daily it becomes difficult not to think about it. You are forcibly made to think about it.
That was getting tougher and tougher as days wore on. I felt like telling everyone, let’s just talk cricket and not talk about the hundreth hundred. I went through the same pre-match preparations, but sometimes there are no reasons for failure and disappointment. I felt in Australia I was batting the best I have in the last 22 years. I was really pleased with the way I was moving and timing the ball and the bat-swing. But somehow at the crunch moment you need luck to be at your side and I felt luck wasn’t on my side on those occasions. I got close to scoring hundreds, but when the time came, things just didn’t happen. Sometimes things happen in your life which you can’t explain.
You look at solutions and put question marks and ask why is this happening, but you just don’t find answers. Then eventually you look at scernarios when you haven’t batted well and still ended up scoring big runs. What could be the reason? Luck. Sometimes you just get beaten by that much (gestures). How do you describe that? It has to be luck. In Mumbai, had I been beaten by Ravi Rampul, instead of edging it to Sammy at slip, I would have still been batting on 94. The next ball if it’s a two-paced pitch, I would leave alone. Sometimes, it’s important to get that wake-up call. Last season, that wake-up call didn’t happen much and it just taught me to have patience and focus on my job and the results will take care of themselves. I just focused on my pre-match preparation and not think too much. When you start a building, you don’t think of the tenth floor. You start at the ground floor first. My preparations weren’t affected. I didn’t use any shortcuts so that again was a reminder that I had not relaxed. In fact, if anything, I just kept pushing harder and harder. Sometimes there are disappointments and I always use disappointments and setbacks to work harder and try and take whatever positive out of that. That is something that I have learnt and may be it was a reminder after 22 years.
Sometimes do you also think that a sportsperson’s life is cruel as people can easily forget what you have done over 22 years and focus on just the landmark?
I remember my coach (Ramakant Achrekar) telling me that this game can be cruel at times and not to worry as everyone goes through rough patches. When you are doing well, you don’t worry and you don’t question whay are these things happening to my game. Even a bad phase will pass by and nothing will be permanent. You will overcome all these obstacles. In my school days I learnt a lot and those things help. Above all, the most important things is to respect the game.
Can you talk us through the experiences of your first hundred and the 100th ton?
I remember during my first hundred, I went in to bat when the team was 118 for 4 and I went into bat when the senior players had all got out and the only thing that I had in my mind was I should stay not out. I managed to string a good partnership with Manoj Prabhakar and I had to be careful in my shot selection that day. At the same time I was prepared to put the bad balls away. I was there with an open mind. I remember when I was batting on 87 or 88, I ducked into a bouncer from Angus Fraser and the ball hit the back of the bat and flew to fine leg. I was glad it didn’t go to the keeper or lob to nay other fielder. The hundred that I missed in New Zealand was on my mind and I didn’t want to miss my first hundred. After the hundred, Madhav Mantri, who was our manager at that time came and told me I had to address a press conference. I was confused as I hadn’t attended a press conference and was very scared. He told me not to worry and he would be there with me. I didn’t look back after that and it’s been a fantastic journey.
The 100th hundred of course I started off really well and then I felt the ball was coming off the track a bit slower than I would have liked. And during my partnership with Virat we both kept discussing what would be a good target and we both thought 275-280 would be a good total as that wicket wasn’t like the one on which the earlier game had been played. We were constantly keeping an eye on the run rate that we were maintaining and it became critical to have wickets in hand. I was patient and just focused on building partnerships. At the same time there were spells during which they really bowled well. I remember Mashrafe mortaza bowled a maiden to me in the powerplay. I had connected three good shots in that over and all three went to the fielder. And I told Virat and thought to myself, on a good day, those are three boundaries. That is what this game teaches you. Sometimes you can edge between slips for a four and when you are batting well, three potential boundaries could get stopped. It’s an unbelievable game. You just have to remain a student and learn so many things. When I go to my hundred, the reaction was when I looked at the bat and looked upwards toward God and said, “It’s been a tough time for me”. Why? Where did I lack in my commitment? Finally it had happened and I was really thrilled and I looked at the dressing room and I pointed my bat to the players and also to the Indian flag that I have on my helmet. This is what I have done for the nation and everyone has been part of it.
Can you describe the pressure of the last one year and the passion that you’ve played with for the last 23 years?
100 hundreds wasn’t my purpose. To win the World Cup was. I don’t regularly follow what people are saying about me. Because I feel I should have a clear mind whikle making those decisions and hence I shouldn’t be thinking about what x, y, z are talking. I’m not in the Indian team to prove people wrong. I play this game, because I love playing this game. Nobody forced me into it and it’s my choice. There are going to be opinions.Whatever I do and whatever number of years that I play, there are going to be opinions. But they may not be always correct. I take notice of something that is said that can make me a better player and not of someone who is passing his judgment by watching tv. That person doesn’t know what’s happening with my mind or what’s happening with my body. I’m the one who knows about it. Only I know whether I’m motivated enough or passionate enough to be a part of the game. I kept telling myself I need to enjoy the game. If I’m not enjoying the challenges associated with the game, then it doesn’t work. That was one thing on mind, but people do read newspapers, people around you read newspapers. My friends don’t discuss these things and the same holds true for my family. They also understand that to perform to the best of my ability I need a clear mind. My mind cannot be occupied with all these thoughts. There’s an unwritten rule that no one discusses what’s happening (in the media). But when you meet people in a flight, reception of a hotel or room service, they tell you in a good way that we are praying for you to score a hundred today. How do you escape that? You have no choice, but to appreciate and acknowledge every little effort that they have made. After my hundreth century, my wife, anlai told me that many of my friends had gone walking to Siddhivinayak before the tour. A couple of senior citizens had also prayed for me at a dargah. People do it because they want me to achieve the goal. (100 hundreds). As much as I value and appreciate that, it stays in your mind. Thankfully as he told all this after I had scored my hundred.
Sachin, you got 15474 runs. The chunk between 13000 and 14000 was your fastest, you were 37 then. You are talking of an age where athletes actually fight their age, fitness and all sort of issues. Can you describe the challenges of reinventing yourself?
It is about enjoyment, it is about feeling motivated enough, it is about the desire to deliver and how passionate I feel about the game. I am madly in love with the sport. At this stage, I enjoy every little moment. I know it is a different body from what it was 20 years ago and that is never to be going be the same, not only for me but all of us. But possibly what a 17-year-old mind could not do, a 37-year-old mind could do, so somewhere it balances out. It depends on how you see it, whether you see the glass half empty or half full, I see the glass as half full. That has helped me. I always looked at the positive side. I have not been much vocal but the aggression need not always be vocal but the aggression can be within. If you look in the bowler’s mind he will know whether you are aggressive enough or not. Sometimes it can be your body language, maybe in the way you just leave the ball. And then the way you respond to the bowler, the eye to eye contact, that conveys lot of things. I believe in that.
Also when you are doing well, when you are putting in a lot of hard work and you see the results, it helps. It helps to push your training sessions and also on-field net sessions and off-field gym sessions and take that to a new level. I have done that and I remember two years ago when we went to New Zealand the first two games were T20 matches. I was not part of the squad but I requested the BCCI that I will go with the team and practice there because I felt I can be there, I can get acclimatised and practice. While I was not part of the squad, the whole team was practicing in the nets, I was working whole time on the bowling machine. The number of hours the whole team had practiced, I had batted along side on the bowling machine and I enjoyed. I must have hit close to 800-900 or 1000 balls maybe and that was just one session. I did a few sessions like that and I enjoyed.
You don’t know worry about opinions but there is a point of view out there that believes that it is silly to combine Test and ODI hundreds so the pressure should not have been put on you in the first place. Do you also believe that there is such a category like a hundred hundreds? And have you also disturbed by India’s form overseas in Test cricket? While the whole of India is celebrating what you have achieved, it is one of India’s worst performances overseas in Test cricket since you started playing.
People are fascinated by this number game. So how does one keep that aside?
I remember a long time ago, in 2003, John Wright had told me that you should be the first player to score international 100 hundreds and that was way back, during the 2003 World Cup. We used to have many chats and this was one during one of the chats this is what he had told me, just to push me. The coach’s job is to give the players’ that high and make sure that they are in the frame of mind to deliver and possibly John was looking to do that.
Yes it has been a tough phase for all of us in Test cricket. That is something we need to definitely look at. I felt the conditions were different, they were different for sure. What you personally call the home advantage, I felt the teams played good cricket. England were wanting to get to No. 1 spot and Australia were also looking a good side. If you look at the Australian series, in every Test there was just one partnership which changed the game other wise the records were more or less the same. In the Pert Test match, their first partnership was 178 runs, if you give them the average partnership of the series which was less than 20 runs, then Australian team in the first innings instead of getting to 320 or 330 they would have had a score of 170 and we were 158. So 12 runs lead, you think differently and the whole game changes.
Similar thing happened in Sydney and then in Melbourne, where they were 24 for four and then there was a partnership in the second innings. So if you see in all the matches, these partnerships have hurt us. Obviously we were not able to put up a big score on the board but the surfaces were slightly different. So if you remove that one partnership from every match, more or less the scores are the same. And that is going to happen. If we win then there would have been a big partnership from our team, but that didn’t happen.
After every hundred you look up to the skies and thank god. Have you always been god fearing right from childhood and has this belief strengthened over the years?
Yes, right from the day I started playing cricket, there was this Ganpati Mandir at Shivaji Park and during our breaks whenever I got thirsty, I would go there and drink the water from the tap there. I used to always feel that it is a kind of blessing and it is a kind of positive energy going through my body and it is going to give me strength to go out and perform. Right from that time, right from day one, it has been there and I feel that’s the way I have been brought up. Not just while playing cricket but before that I used to watch my father at home and see my mother as well, they pray and that is the way I have been brought up.
People have spoken so much about 100 hundreds. How do you personally compare this record to all the other milestones in cricket? Do you believe any other player can break this record?
I don’t like comparisons. I think getting to 800 wickets is a great thing, absolutely fabulous. All the other players who have done well and have been successful at international level, they have made huge sacrifices. There has been lot of discipline, commitment and dedication in their life to serve the nation. I respect all of them and I also respect the guys who have not been successful because to play for your nation you still have to go through the rigours and without that it doesn’t happen. I don’t like to compare and I respect every individual, who has achieved something.
About breaking the record of 100 hundreds, I don’t know. All the records are meant to be broken. If somebody breaks it, then he must be an Indian.
What keeps you going in One-Day Internationals especially after winning the World Cup last year?
It is the passion for the game and as long as I feel the passion, as long as I feel the desire is there, as long as I feel that I can go out and deliver then I should be playing. But the day I feel I cannot do it, I cannot motivate myself even though I am performing I cannot motivate myself then it is time to re-look at my decisions. There might be phases where I am not performing well but I am motivated enough and passionate enough then I need not worry.
Looking back at the Australian series, India lost the Test series and you so much desperate to win the ODI tri-series. Also the 100th hundred, it was something that you wanted to get out of the way to continue with the cricket. In a scenario like that, there was the rotation policy and for someone who was not ever dropped or even asked to rest, were you disappointed or were you included in that decision?
It was discussed between the senior players, the captain and the management. It was clear that we wanted all the guys to play because in a tournament like that when there are no long breaks between the games, then you also need to look at injuries. I am not saying that the players were injured but then there are some borderline cases which you need to look up and that is what we were looking to do. It was not a question of dropping someone but it was a question of taking care of those borderline cases.
You spoke about the pressure of the 100 hundreds and subconsciously how it got to you. Do worry about the younger players in the team about how they would cope with, not something similar, but an achievement?
I think that is an important factor to focus and not think about the external factor which sometimes weigh you down. There will be phases in their careers where the going is going to get tough, but that is a time that whatever you had practiced over the years and I am not taking about practicing in the nets, but outside the field helps. My advice would be to keep an eye on the ball and not what XYZ is talking. Sometimes it feels good when people are talking good things about you, but when you get into it does feel bad when people do criticise you. So there has to be a balance between reading good things and reading bad things equally, and you got to maintain that balance and balance in your emotions about the way you celebrate and the way you respond to disappointments. If the balance is there, then in those tough phases you will be able to deal with it but if there is imbalance that is when the problem starts. It is upto an individual, and there is no particular formula to it that if you do this or that, it is going to work. There are guys who get motivated by certain things and it is important to know yourself, as to what works for an individual and follow that.
You are a national icon and that is a tough job because the expectation of an entire nation is on you. How does it affect your personal life and your family? Sometimes you must be thinking of going to a lonely island and just disappearing…
I do that. There are sometimes complaints that I don’t respond to various things and I should be reacting more to spend quality time with my family. Anjali has been for a long with me, right from the start of my international career and she understands the pressures and demands of an international sportspersons. I think without her support things would have been different. If my family didn’t understand what the demands were, then to manage all these things would have been really difficult. My family has played a huge role in where I am at the moment. Right from the start that was the unwritten law that I only play cricket, I don’t think of anything else, everything else will be looked after by my family. So I only focussed on the game and nothing else at all, so that has allowed me to be stress free and not worry about anything happening outside the field of cricket. So it has been just the cricket field and my family, because the rest of things have been managed by my family. From 1995 and onwards when I signed for WorldTel with Mark Mascarenhas that was a big moment for me. We went on to become good friends but unfortunately Mark passed away in 2002 when England was playing in India. That was a huge blow not because I lost my manager, but because I lost my friend who understood I operated, how my family operated and never pressurised me to do ads whenever a series was going on, because in cricket time it was only cricket. I remember clearly him telling me that you only worry about scoring runs, you don’t worry about anything else, that is my problem. He gave me complete freedom and to have those kind of people around, who understand the way you think that really helps and it has continued. After that I have had Vinod, who has been with me now for 14 years now and Harish is here from WSG, and all these guys have contributed. But the family factor is the most important factor and without their understanding, it is just not possible.
You have been a bridge between the seniors and junior generations. You have been the constant. How has it been adjusting for you, not so much for them, with the new generation?
The difference has been only the choice of music. That has where the problem is. Otherwise we do the same things. I spoke about aggression, which need not be always vocal. There are youngsters who want to react to things immediately. I keep telling them don’t worry, after sometime you will have a different opinion about that. With age your thoughts change, the way you react changes. It is part of growing -- what you do when you are 17, you don’t do at 35. It is a time-consuming process. It happens to everyone.
Can you specify on the music being played in the dressing room?
I find difficult to pronounce...Pitbull and what not, I don’t know. It is because of my children how I know these names. It is good, it is fun. It is not about just me and my music. It is about what everyone is enjoying. In the dressing room you can’t have everyone happy -- you play one song, there will be four guys saying ‘kya chal raha hain’ [what is happening] there are another five guys saying brilliant. So you have to go with the flow.
There are questions about your retirement. You have not answered it completely?
I have answered. May be you guys have not understood properly. I have always said that when I decided to retire I will let you know. Where is the question of not answering?
Do you see yourself playing Test cricket in four years’ time?
I don’t know. When I started playing cricket I didn’t see myself playing for 22 years either. I don’t know what is in store. It is in God’s hands.
In future who do you think may be able to play for 20 years?
I don’t know really. 20-22 years of playing is a long time. You can literally count one hand how many guys have done in the history of cricket. It is definitely not easy. To make that prediction that somebody is going to play for 20 years, I don’t think I am good enough to answer that.
What about someone like Virat Kohli?
Again, that would amount to speculation on my part. It is too early.
Speaking on the rotation policy do you think certain thing should not have come in the public domain?
Yes, I’m a believer of that, that certain things should not leave the dressing room. But every individual will have different opinion, every individual will react differently and he means different things. So I can’t answer for people who have spoken about it as to what they intended to say. I don’t know.
But it seemed like someone was trying to attack the senior players in the team by making such kind of comments?
Honestly, I can’t fill in those blanks. Only that individual would know what he was trying to say. If anything is there then, we travel in the same bus, we sit in the dressing room, we would share those things.
Did you feel bad?
I don’t follow (newspapers). I was in good space. The only people where I had no choice were the common man, who would read newspapers and just keep wishing me for my hundredth hundred. I am glad nobody would wish me after that.
Not looking at your past or history. You are in a phase where there is a huge legacy that you have created and going forward, how do you look at it? I draw parallel to Roger Federer, where once he won the French Open, the whole set was completed and for you pretty much the same is with the 100 hundreds. Looking ahead how do you see yourself connecting with the brands, and as a player. And also is there something on your mind like creating like a Sachin Tendulkar foundation?
While playing cricket, I don’t think I would be able to do all those things like creating a foundation but there would be a stage in life where I can start thinking about those things. At this moment, I am honestly not thinking of that and whatever I do, I do it at my level privately and I don’t disclose all those things. But I feel when I stop playing cricket I will have more time on hand and I will look at doing those things and react to those things.
WSG look after my brands and they come to me and ask me do you think you want to associate yourself with a particular brand. They also study a particular brand and there also certain things that I have stated I will not promote and I am glad I have not promoted tobacco and alcohol. There were offers but I have stuck to my promise and whatever the offers I have said no.
Have you been approached by hospitals, doctors or other players to talk about the tennis elbow and how you can treat it?
Not really. That is something which I would all the sportsperson to stay away from… I hope they don’t get injuries. There is something about the brand itself that I had done, I was associated with CARE, they used my name and in return all I had asked for is that all the state-level sportsmen and sportswomen should be treated free of cost and they have done that. That is my only association.
As you have said winning the World Cup was your dream. Any fulfilled dream?
I don’t have any other dream now. There were two big dreams -- one was playing for India and the second was to lift the World Cup. That was my biggest dream.
After the 99th century, there were a few occasions when you got really close to the hundred mark. One knock that stood out was the Mumbai Test match, against the West Indies last year. What was going on in your mind when you actually got out then?
In the morning when I walked in, the new ball was taken. We lost a wicket in the first over itself. So obviously when they took the new ball, I told myself ‘you need to see what is happening.’ There was a bit of movement off the wicket. And I said to myself ‘you need to try and play the ball close to the body as possible. But if there are scoring opportunities, you need to put the ball away.’ And while doing so I played some really good shots and that sort of changed my mindset and I wanted to attack after that. And attack -- not carelessly attack -- but I felt wherever I expected the bowler to bowl, I felt the ball was there. I played those shots. I remember the ball before I got out, I was at the other end and [Fidel] Edwards was bowling, he had a thirdman and a sort of defensive field. I knew they wanted to keep me on 93 or something.
I guided a ball to thirdman, I picked a single and the next over when Ravi Rampaul was bowling, the ball was coming a bit slow off the wicket. I felt there was a little bit of stickiness in the wicket early in the morning and all I said that again I am not going to go out reaching for the ball and convert those length balls into half volley, I am just going to wait for the ball to come. One ball just seamed from the wicket and I said it is still moving around even though I have scored quick runs, overnight I was batting on 67 or 68, and I had scored those 24 or 25 runs quickly. I said I still need to keep watching the ball and the ball that I got out to, it bounced a bit more than I expected and it also went quicker off the wicket than what it was coming for the first six overs. By the time I realised I could see that I sort of slashed the ball and it wasn’t a pre-planned shot, I just reacted. I had decided that I am just going to react, whatever I see I am going to react with an open mind. I had reacted and then the ball was in the air and it flew to [Darren] Sami. It was a disappointment but it had happened so quickly that all of a sudden I am out and I am walking back to the pavilion and I am passing Virat. I was in that zone where I didn’t know what was happening around and I realised I had lost my wicket.