Sachin Tendulkar’s cherished dream of winning the World Cup came true at the Wankhede stadium, incidentally also his home turf. Sunandan Lele, sports consultant with the Sakal Media Group, interviewed the batting maestro for Outlook. They talked on how, and why, players from small towns have begun to dominate Team India. Excerpts:
Does the World Cup win show a new, triumphant face of small town or semi-rural India?
In a way, yes. Especially in the last few years the epicentre of cricket has slightly shifted from metros like Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi. Players are coming from smaller towns. Our captain is from Ranchi. Players like Munaf Patel, Sreesanth and Piyush Chawla belong to smaller towns. Skill-wise, they are as good as anyone.
My 100th ton can wait but not the World Cup. This was my last Cup, so winning that was topmost, the only priority.
How are boys from small towns different from those from big cities? Are they more motivated?
They are different because they are original, as far as their cricketing style is concerned. Though I was an end result of organised coaching of Mumbai cricket, I would still say that (Ramakant) Achrekar Sir’s style was different. He encouraged his students to retain their original style. He rarely changed a batsman’s grip or changed the bowling style of a bowler. In places like Ranchi, Mahi (Dhoni) tells me that cricket facilities were a bare minimum. Look at him or Munaf now, they have their own playing style. Dhoni used to play football and that’s made him faster and stronger. Players from smaller towns sacrifice a bit more to develop their cricketing skills. They are more motivated about making it big.
You were chasing this dream for almost 20 years. Do you believe in luck or destiny?
I totally believe in destiny. In cricket, we say that form is temporary and class is permanent. I will go further and say that in life luck is temporary and destiny is ongoing. You may work hard or prepare well for the big occasion, but whether you succeed or not doesn’t lie in your hands. You should work hard on your skills and, most importantly, do good karma. Only then can you invite your destiny. We were all chasing this dream of the World Cup but somehow we weren’t reaching there. Our team was very competitive, not just in 2003, but even in 1996. In 1996, we lost in the semis to Sri Lanka and they went on to win the Cup. We played great cricket to reach the 2003 finals but lost our way. This time all our efforts were in the right direction. Destiny played its part, we became world champions.
What is so special about this team?
I think it’s the great dressing room atmosphere. In Gary (Kirsten), we had the best coach and his support staff team was absolutely brilliant. Our preparation too was very specific. We learned to concentrate on preparation and just not think about the end result. The team was in a relaxed mood before all the big matches. We were really happy in each other’s company. We followed an important principle of Gandhian thought—the principle of honest disagreement. Gandhiji used to say that honest disagreement is often a sign of progress. At team meetings, all the members were encouraged to express their opinion. I think that also helped us.
You missed out on a major landmark, scoring a 100th ton.
In team sports, individual milestones are the last priority. To put it in perspective, I’d like to say that my 100th ton can wait but not the World Cup. This was my last Cup, so winning that was topmost and the only priority.
After the match, many players openly said that they wanted to win the World Cup for you. They carried you on their shoulders for the victory lap. What was it like?
It was truly amazing. We were very emotional when the moment arrived. We couldn’t hold back our tears. But let me tell you, these tears of joy taste sweet. We were happy in each other’s success and we backed a player who was not doing well. Now, I believe that if a sportsperson gives his 100 per cent, then a day will come when destiny beckons to you to hand over what you richly deserve. But for that to happen, you must keep chasing your dreams, keep working hard.
The Indian team also symbolises a united India, with players from different beliefs and backgrounds. How does that feel?
This is what gives us the greatest joy. Our success on the field means so much for 120 crore Indians and even those Indians living abroad. Which is why the team dedicated the Cup to the 120 crore Indians. We are so proud of our armed forces. Because of them, we feel secure. We can experience freedom because they are sacrificing their lives for us. I am too small a person to comment but I’d like to salute them on this occasion.
(Sunandan Lele represents the Sakal Media Group, publishers of Sakal, Maharashtra’s No. 1 Marathi daily, besides magazines and interests in regional TV)