Ever since the match-fixing scandal surfaced, Indian cricket captain Sachin Tendulkar has steered clear from the press. He was careful not to be drawn into any controversy. Now, in an exclusive interview to Manu Joseph, he breaks his silence. But India's star batsman is still very cautious and recounts how the issue of match-fixing came as a shock to him. Sachin's advice to everyone is to focus on the game instead of the controversies. Excerpts:
Could you explain your silence about the whole issue of match-fixing?
It was a shock to me. I was surprised. I was not aware of anything. The only reason I did not speak about it is that I didn’t know anything about it. I would have given a statement if I knew something. So how can I say who is telling the truth and who is not? I have always given 100 per cent on the ground and while thinking about the game. From my point of view, the concerned people, people who have taken the responsibility, are looking into the issue. I leave it to them.
Like the CBI?
Yes, and the Board. It’s their job. My job is to play cricket. Your job is to write. All of us should stick to our jobs.
Has the CBI approached you by any chance?
You say everything happened behind your back?
As I said, I was not aware of anything.
But Rashid Latif has said that you know everything?
It’s not true. And it’s not necessary that I react to any person’s statements.
And what of Manoj Prabhakar’s claim?
He has not spoken to me. I have only read his open letter. It’s his opinion. I have always been out of this kind of thing. The nation knows I am clean. My whole career has been transparent. I don’t have to go out and say anything in my defence. People who have watched my game for about 11 years now, know that.
True, but the general opinion is that one man who can be believed, one man who can throw light on this issue, is you.
As I said, how can I make any statement when I myself don’t know the truth?
It is said that a revenue intelligence tape of your wedding shows that four of Mumbai’s top bookies were present...
As far as I am concerned, there was not a single person of that description at the wedding. I don’t know why people are dragging my name into this.
Do you think there is a campaign to sully your image?
I don’t know, but I don’t want to give much attention to all that.
One allegation, that can be found even among people who adore you, is that you are too diplomatic. Why is the Indian cricketer so diplomatic?
I don’t think that as an Indian cricketer I am a diplomatic person. Rather, I would say that I have always been soft-spoken. To me, it’s natural not to say much beyond the game. I have never tried to hide anything. That’s the way I am. If you can’t accept it, don’t ask me anything.
Have you ever been approached by a bookie?
During the Australia tour, it seemed as though you were not very keen on Azhar and Mongia joining the side. Was it purely for cricketing reasons or something beyond the game?
I don’t know what caused the impression that I was not keen on them. See, some things like the decision on Azhar and Mongia on the Australian tour are supposed to be matters that should not leave the room where they are discussed. If such things are to be discussed openly, then I feel the Board should tell us that it is all right to discuss them openly. I go by what’s on paper. I go by the rules. If the rules say I can discuss something I will, if I am not supposed to, I won’t.
The Australian cricketers seem to be quite open about even ‘sensitive’ issues...
That’s because the Australian Board allows their players to talk. The Indian Board doesn’t. It’s as simple as that. We’re just going by the rules.
Do you think the players should be given more freedom to speak their minds?
Yes, I do feel that Indian players should have some freedom to speak their minds-about the game, not about things like match-fixing because that’s a sensitive issue and anybody who opens his mouth should also provide proof. It’s important not to create controversies. It’s the game that’ll suffer.
It’s said you were a very dejected man when you stepped down as captain after the tour of Australia.
I felt I should step down from captaincy because I wanted to concentrate on being myself. I was not being myself on the ground. That was because of a few things like the team not playing to its potential. Playing in Australia was always going to be difficult. And whoever was going to be the captain had to depend a lot on the entire team.
But when the team was not able to perform to its best, it worked on my mind. It was not affecting me as a player but it certainly started affecting me as a person. Even off the ground I was just thinking of the game. It was a gradual process but it was getting to me.
And why do you think our team was not playing to its full potential?
We didn’t do well because of lack of form, tough conditions and simple bad luck.
As a captain did you ever favour players from Mumbai?
I don’t think it’s natural for a Mumbai player like me to pick Mumbai players for the national side. I am against any sort of favouritism. If I was playing favourites, I wouldn’t have had six or seven players from Karnataka when I was captain. At one point, Abey Kuruvilla was the only other player from Mumbai in the team.
How do you think the Indian cricket team can emerge from the mess it’s currently in?
Right now, we need to rebuild the side. It’s a good side, it just needs some confidence. And that happens when a team starts winning. Nobody complains about attitude and commitment when a team starts winning. We have to leave everything behind and focus on our preparations for the world cup. Actually, there isn’t much time left, the two-and-a-half years will just fly by. We have to start planning our strategy and put a winning combination in place. Remember, in South Africa the conditions are pretty much like those in Australia.
Do you think Indian cricket can recover after this scandal?
Cricket is too great a game to be permanently affected by these scandals. It’s given so much joy to people all over the world. This is just a passing phase. I am a positive person. I can only look at the positive side.
How is your back?