1,894 international runs in a calendar year, nine one- day centuries, Man of the Match in all the finals, Shane Warne tamed in Test match cricket, Brian Lara overtaken comprehensively, comparisons with Sir Don Bradman. Can 1999— can any year in this millennium or the next— get any better for Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar?
Sachin is loath to reveal his personal goals. But in a moment of rare candour just before the team left for New Zealand, the Master Blaster told Harsha Bhogle "My target is the World Cup" when asked if in 1999, he had the same kind of year as 1998, he would have achieved his target.
How does the brain behind the most recognised face on Indian television— the key to the 1999 World Cup campaign— tick? Sachin Tendulkar spoke to Amrit Mathur over two long sessions to provide some answers in this, his most detailed "cricket interview" yet
Do you set yourself short- term goals in the quest for long-term goals— like Sunil Gavaskar’s Test hundreds (34) or Allan Border’s Test runs (11,174)— and go about achieving them year by year?
No, I don’t like to have goals in front of me. Because if you think about specific targets your game is affected, you start thinking of these things more. Better to just play normally and let things happen. If they have to happen, they will happen. You can’t will them to happen. Records can become a burden, ultimately it is a matter of destiny... I’ve been playing international cricket for 10 years, there is still a long way to go. If my form and fitness remain, then let’s see.
On the whole, your feats in the last 10 seasons must give you a very heady feeling of accomplishment?
Let me put it this way: I am OK, I have no complaints.
With the World Cup just six months away, are you finding it difficult to keep your motivation going against weaker opponents like, say, New Zealand?
No, it has never been the case. I always feel motivated to play for the country, regardless of the opponent. There is no question of relaxing or not concentrating enough because it takes just one ball to get out, just a minor lapse of concentration to lose one’s wicket. Over a period of time, it could even affect your form. That’s why, regardless of the opposition or the stage of the match, I try and remain focused and do my best.
Has it always been this way?
Yes. When I started playing I did not think of anything long-term. I just found myself in a Test match with a very difficult Wasim Akram against me. It was a tough situation. I was 16, totally nervous and did not know what was happening. My feet were not moving, my mind was almost blank, I thought the whole thing too competitive. That is why when I see a youngester beginning a Test career I tell him that nervousness is normal, don’t let it trouble you too much. It will pass after a while.
Will the meeting with Don Bradman rank as a high point you will cherish for all time to come?
Oh, of course! It’s an honour to be praised by someone like him. Sir Don is of the opinion that (Sir Gary) Sobers was the greatest- ever cricketer, and for someone like him to say good words about me is a thrilling feeling... I am told that even Sir Gary had some very kind words to say about me on TV the other day.
How do you handle the enormous burden of expectation that the praise of peers and the hopes of your countrymen bring?
I realise that people expect me to do well all the time. That’s to be expected because everybody follows cricket closely in India and they all want us to win. So I try to do the best I can, but I don’t think of it too much in the sense I don’t let it weigh on my mind or let it bother me. If that happens it would only add to the pressure and perhaps affect my performance. What is most important to me is that I try and live up to my own expectations and perform to my potential. If I can do justice to that I think I would have done a good job. There is this feeling within me of doing well, of performing consistently and if I can achieve these standards then I think things will be all right.
With just one first- class double hundred, does the burden of not having scored a Test 200 weigh heavily on you?
I’ve tried very hard but somehow it hasn’t happened. Maybe I haven’t stayed long enough at the crease, maybe my concentration is not there after a stage. I should try and achieve this soon.
But having been successful all the time, does the fear of failure scare you?
No. As I said, I don’t think of it. It’s better to be positive and concentrate on what needs to be done. That way the pressure is kept to the minimum. Cricket is a game of confidence and if doubts creep in, it affects your game. Against the West Indies, I made three zeroes and it was terrible. I was very concerned, I felt low and depressed actually. When I went in the fourth time I only wanted to score a single and get off the mark. But later my form returned and I was the man of the series. When runs are not coming you must stick to your natural game and maintain your confidence.
That’s Sachin on the rare bad day. But are there days, when after one look at the wicket you get the feeling ‘This is it, I’ll get a hundred’?
At times you get the feeling that runs will come on a nice surface but you still have to go out there and make the runs. The runs don’t come on their own, it does not happen easily. The wicket may suit you but it is not so simple.
How do you adjust to a bad track?
It is a great challenge to cope with a track where the ball is doing things, turning a lot or bouncing inconsistently. A batsman must be able to play in these conditions. My game of playing on the rise, and attacking needs a hard surface where the ball comes on nicely like say in Perth, but even on a bad track I’d like to attack and play my normal game, within the demands of the game and the situation. The point is why just wait for the unplayable ball to come. You have to take chances, force the bowler to try something else, keep him on the backfoot. Let him also do some thinking and adjust his bowling; otherwise he stays on top and dictates terms. But specially made wickets for bowlers are not good for the game, the track should be equal for a good contest.
But given a choice when would you like to go in— 2 down for 10 or 170 for 2?
Certainly 10 for 2 because that situation is more challenging. The bowlers are on top and I would try and counter- attack and retrieve the initiative. The other situation means you have remained padded up in the dressing room for long waiting for your turn, the bowling is not too strong, it is an easy situation.
How do you weather tough and tight spells?
You can’t do much in these situations except survive and play out those seven or eight overs. The key is survival. You know the bowler will bowl only a certain number of overs before he gets tired. So you decide to do nothing extra and somehow just play out the spell.
In the West Indies in ’97, (Curtly) Ambrose was bowling a good spell and I could not read him. I would just go forward in a predetermined manner and defend or let the ball hit my thigh pad. So I told Rahul (Dravid) I was unable to make much of Ambrose. We decided to rotate the strike so that the bowler could not attack one batsmen and he had to adjust all the time, bowl a different line.... In this your body language is important, your bearing can convey everything tothe bowler so you should not show your fear to the bowler.
How do you react when beaten by a bowler?
It is like this— you will get beaten occasionally, the bowler will surprise you with a good ball or the wicket might do something extra. But the important thing is to realise that you have survived, see what has gone wrong but at the same time not let it worry you. What has happened is gone, that ball is over. You must just remark your guard and tackle the next ball, not think too much of what happened earlier.
Pakistan will soon be here. In your mind, do you go through your mistakes in the past against Akram or Waqar Younis?
Yes, definitely. I remember my mistakes, and the idea is not to repeat those mistakes.
Do you actually remember your dismissals?
I remember each and every Test dismissal. I can tell you how I got out in any Test, any innings. I can tell you the bowler, mode of dismissal from my first Test innings onwards. I clearly remember how I get out. Every time.
Every dismissal in 10 years ?
Do you also watch your videos and those of bowlers to pre-pare yourself?
Not always, but I do see some of my innings and learn a lot from that. It is easy to realise what you are doing wrong.
What is your normal schedule before an important game?
I don’t have a set schedule. Usually I have a net because it’s nice to have the feeling of the ball hitting the middle before you actually go out. It gives confidence and prepares you for the match. Apart from that, I don’t have a routine apart from getting good rest the night before so that one feels strong and fresh in the morning.
I also visualise what is likely to happen in the match in a situation and what I should do in those situations. Having been on the circuit for so long, one knows the bowlers, their strengths and their methods. So you prepare according to what you are likely to be up against. Very often I go through this while looking at the wicket.
And on the morning of the match?
Again, nothing special. We are at the ground early, then every-one goes through the routine physical training, stretching and fielding. Once this is over I like to knock for a while, hit a few balls, that’s it.
Have you missed a match through injury?
Not Tests, but in New Zealand I had a thigh muscle problem and as the next game was only three days away I missed a one- day game... Sir Don Bradman said that in 20 years he came off the field only once, when his thumb was broken. That is really remarkable.
Do you watch the match once ‘play’ is called, or do you prefer not to?
Yes, I watch closely to get an idea about what the bowler and wicket are doing. That way you have a better idea of what is happening. But if the wait, till I get in, becomes long— and that happens mostly in Test matches since I open in the one- dayers— I keep moving around, watching now and then. There are some players who prefer not to look at all but it helps me to see how things are from the pavilion itself.
Do you feel nervous?
Of course, everybody is before a match and before going in. It’s a good thing because it charges you, gets you more focused and helps in concentration. But the nervousness is there only till you go in; once in the middle I just think about the bowler and the bowling, nothing else. I remember my first Test. There I was in the middle, all of 16 years old, absolutely blank and very nervous, butterflies flying around in formations in my stomach! I really didn’t know what was happening. Akram was bowling very fast. I think he bowled four bouncers in a row. It was very tough and I thought I was not going to ever play Test cricket again. At times I was beaten by pace, the ball went past my bat before I had completed my shot. I made 15, then a half- century in the next match. After that Test I don’t remember being troubled by pace as such.
Is there a particular kind of bowler who is a problem?
I don’t know why, but I hate facing an irregular bowler. It affects my concentration. Otherwise I don’t have any difficulty with any kind of bowling.
But at the beginning of an innings do you tell your-self not to cut or pull to cut out risks?
Not really, because I prefer to keep an open mind and play according to the conditions. Sometimes you have to be more careful, otherwise it is best to play your natural game and not complicate things.
Even in one- dayers?
I think of myself as an attacking player who likes to take on the bowlers. While doing this you have to take chances, especially in one-dayers where it is not enough to play according to the merits of the ball. In fact, in one- dayers, very often your success depends on ‘not’ treating the ball on its merit.
Have you struggled for runs in a Test, against any bowler?
Yes, I remember a Test in South Africa on the previous tour when in a full session till lunch I made just 11 runs in two hours and even in that there was a square cut for 4 off Allan Donald. The South Africans kept bowling outside off stump. I had to leave the ball and there were no scoring opportunities. That must be my slowest stay at the wicket.
Do you count your runs while batting?
I used to earlier. Now I only look at the scoreboard to see how I’m doing.
Against lesser opposition does batting get too easy?
Sometimes you feel on top. Depending on the situation and the wicket, you feel it is possible to hit the bowler where you want and score freely. Maybe in such matches after a while you enjoy yourself. Some time ago, while playing Gujarat, I wanted a good knock, so initially I concentrated hard and played carefully but after a stage I could attack and in the end made 176 in about three hours. Depending on the match and the position your approach is different.
Most batsmen use the normal back and across movement while facing fast bowlers. You don’t. Why is that?
That’s because I am trying to get on to the front foot at the first opportunity so that I can play through the line and hit on the up. But if the ball is short, then I get into line by moving across the crease or by getting my body behind the ball. If there is a chance then I am ready for the cut. Actually this back and across movement depends on the wicket, its bounce and pace and the kind of bowling. If the bowlers are not really quick, if I am playing against Sri Lanka, then there is no need for that. I prefer to get forward, even in England where the ball is supposed to seam. My game is centred around that.
Have you ever been dismissed first ball?
Twice. First, Danny Morrison got me in New Zealand, caught behind—I was defending, the ball took the outside edge. It was a very good delivery. Then, in ’96. Hampshire had a slow left-arm medium pacer (K.D. James) who sort of lobbed the ball. I played forward and off bat/pad the ball went to short leg for a very comfortable catch. He got four of us—Sanjay (Manjrekar), Rahul and Vikram Rathore. In the dressing room we were not even angry, we just sort of laughed at our dismissals.
Your bottom-handed grip is quite unusual, how did you work that out?
I started with that grip right from the beginning. It came naturally to me and I think it suited my style of batting. I like to attack the bowling to dominate and play shots and for that the grip is correct. In cricket there are more shots with the right hand near the bottom of the handle. Initially the coach tried to change this but he too realised that this grip was working for me and he let me play with my natural style. I think from the beginning, my batting, in terms of technique or style, has not changed, except for some adjustments. I have always played the same way.
Is there any shot which you find difficult to play?
Not particularly. But the thing is that I like to attack. So there is always a chance that I will make a mistake and get out. To that extent the bowler does have a fair chance of dismissing me.
On being dismissed are you in a bad mood, wanting to be left alone?
No, I’m all right. Sometimes I get angry but otherwise I’m OK. Some players like to be left alone, they sit and think about what has happened but I have no special habits.
On getting out do you feel at times you have let the team down?
Yes, one is very disappointed and there is the feeling of letting the team down, specially when it’s a bad or careless shot. In December ’97 in Sharjah I got out at 91 when we needed only 18 to win against England. It was a dreadful shot. I came down the track to Matthew Fleming. As I stepped out I realised the ball wasn’t there but even as I tried to check my shot the ball went underneath my bat and I was yorked. It was a bad shot which perhaps cost us the match. Because after I was dismissed, we lost by three runs.
Again, in the World Cup semi-final in Calcutta in 1996, (Sanath) Jayasuriya was bowling into the rough and the ball came and hit my pad. The moment this happened I thought of a leg bye because usually the ball travels after hitting my pad so I started to leave my crease. But somehow the ball just stayed where it was, and by the time I saw it from the corner of my eye it was too late. I ran myself out. I think that was bad judgement on my part.
Are there other bad dismissals that rankle?
In England, I went too far across while playing Devon Malcolm and was bowled leg stump. In Dhaka last January, I was bowled around the legs to Shahid Afridi which was a big mistake. Normally he does not turn the ball, but this particular ball he got very good drift, the ball came in a long way and also turned after landing. Had it been a normal delivery it could even have been wide down the leg side.
Does anyone give you a sound dressing down when you make terrible mistakes?
Yes, people have told me. I also realise my mistakes and accept blame.
Have you deliberately kept a shot on hold to eliminate the risk of getting out?
No. I play all shots and there is no real glaring weakness or mistake in my batting. But there are many things which go wrong from time to time and one tries to correct them.
What flaws do you see yourself in your batting?
There are many, and while you correct one, other mistakes creep in so you have to be alert and keep working things out.
How do you iron out the flaws? Do you talk to others? Or do you sort them out by practising in the net?
I discuss a lot with my brother, Ajit. He is very critical and at the same time gives me very good advice. After he sees me commit a mistake he tells me what I am doing wrong. He understands my game so it is very helpful talking to him and getting his opinion. I also go to other people for advice.
I keep going to Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri. I have gone to Kapil ‘paaji’ and asked him.... Besides, lots of other people come and tell me things on their own. Sometimes they give me tips on batting. ‘You should bat like this, like that’. Sometimes about what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong.
How do you react?
I listen to them. And there are many times when I find they are saying the right thing.
With all the attention, and with hardly a private moment, do you miss a normal life?
I lead a normal life. I have been used to this for a long time and the way I live is pretty normal. All the attention I get through cricket is a part of my life. I understand that cricket is my life. I work hard, concentrate on my game and try and perform well. I don’t have time for anything else, cricket is full time, and anyway this is what I want to do.
But doesn’t it involve too much tension?
Yes, it does. Everyone at home gets very tense, my wife (Anjali) does. She is not at the ground but watches on television.
Can you recall exceptional innings or great spells of bowling?
(Javagal) Srinath against the South Africans at Ahmedabad was tremendous. He won us the match on what was supposed to be a spinners’ track: he was very accurate and quite unplayable. Anil Kumble has bowled many spells and made India win. I think Vinod Kambli can play amazing shots and has great touch. Before his injury, I remember a drive to midoff off the backfoot. The ball got a bit of the inside edge, but it still went for four to midwicket. He can be very destructive.
You must have received a fair share of bad decisions over the years?
Yes, that happens. In South Africa against Brett Schultz, the ball went off my right thigh but the umpire declared me caught behind. Ravi Shastri, who was the non-striker, threw the bat down. Later the umpire also realised his mistake and apologised to me in the dressing room. On our last tour to England I was again given leg before when, in a one-day match, the ball was so much down the leg side it would have hit the seventh stump. I was really striking the ball well but got a poor decision.
Are umpires too scared to give top players out unless he is more than sure, because his career depends on good reports from superstars like you.
It happens, although I’ve never given umpires bad reports on such things. But yes, sometimes players get away, umpires can be lenient to big players. In a Duleep Trophy match in Jamshedpur, the match Rashid Patel and the late Raman Lamba had that row, I thought I had Kapil ‘paaji’ out caught behind. It was a big edge but he shook his head and did not leave, and the umpire wouldn’t give him out. I just laughed and said: "Paaji, jao!"
Sledging. Do the rivals give you lip or are they too scared?
It doesn’t happen as much as it used to in the early years. In a Ranji match many years ago, Atul Wassan went round the wicket and bowled bouncers. He also had a lot to say as I was close to my century. I just kept quiet, left all the bouncers and waited for my hundred. Then after making it I let him have it.
With bat or the mouth?
How much of a tonic is victory for a team?
It’s difficult to describe the joy of victory. It’s unbelievable, absolutely fantastic. In Dhaka, I shouted so much I almost lost my voice. A win is just the tonic the team needs, it gives every-one confidence. Even in tight situations, you can tell yourself that whatever the odds, the impossible is possible. In the past, we have lost narrowly several times, we have failed to convert chances and that has been a major disappointment. Had we won close Tests in the West Indies and South Africa, even against Sri Lanka, the story would have been entirely different.
Do you see a bigger role as a bowler in Tests?
I enjoy bowling and it keeps me in the game all the time. I love the challenge of trying to out-think the batsmen—that is why I don’t just bowl one type of deliveries. I keep mixing them up to keep the batsmen guessing about what he is going to get from me. It might come to a stage where I would like to bowl more and more. That way, I see a more active role for myself in Tests in coming days. But, it would never come at the cost of my batting.
Cricket has been your life. What if you weren’t a cricketer?
I can’t imagine myself without cricket. But if I wasn’t a cricketer I would surely be in some other sport.
Do you follow other sports?
Yes. Especially tennis. I played some tennis earlier and I like (Boris) Becker and (Pete) Sampras. Soccer also, but I don’t understand it. I enjoy watching (Diego) Maradona though.
Which cricketer would you like to watch?
Jonty Rhodes. I enjoy his fielding, he is superb. Also he does it so naturally and gives the impression he is having a great time. Nobody can match his anticipation and speed in the field.
I’d prefer to watch attacking cricket, not someone who is just blocking and playing defensively. Someone like, say, Sanath Jayasuriya—he has great power and an ability to dominate and destroy any bowling on a good day.
How do you rate Saqlain and Shane Warne?
Both are extremely good. Saqlain has good variation and nice control. He is not afraid to toss it up. Warne is an attacking bowler looking to take wickets.
What advice would you give youngsters wanting to play like Sachin Tendulkar?
I don’t know what to say except that you must play according to your own style. Everyone has a different method, what works for one may not work for others. Also, you must be honest, to yourself in terms of hard work and dedication, and honest to the game. Try sincerely. There is no magic formula for success in cricket—it depends on so many factors like skill, opportunity, destiny.