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‘I like to compete and hate losing,be it a game of cards,table tennis or go-karting’

In this Walk the Talk from 2006,Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta spoke to Tendulkar.

In this Walk the Talk from 2006,Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta spoke to Sachin Tendulkar,at first light in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park,for a freewheeling interview. Excerpts:

This really is a cradle of so much talent,isn’t it? Shivaji Park.

Yeah,I mean,if you see,a lot of ex-cricketers stay around this park and this is the heart of Mumbai cricket. I grew up right here…myself,Vinod Kambli,Praveen Amre,Lalchand Rajput,all India players,played right here.

Yes,and I find it difficult to imagine that on these surfaces,we used to play without helmets. As you know,now,things have changed completely.

And once you are brought up on these,you could handle anything,I suppose. Right,but tell me a bit more about those days. What was it like to train with… you were very young when you were training and you were playing for India short of 17.

When I started playing here,I mean,I was only 11 or 12,and my brother brought me here,he said,‘Ok,enough of being naughty in our building and all that’… I used to climb trees,and also fell occasionally … but when I came here,my coach kind of said,‘No,you still need about six-eight months,come later on’. But my brother had seen me earlier,in our apartments when we used to play downstairs with a tennis ball. And he had seen maybe a spark in me or whatever. But he convinced my coach to give me another opportunity. He knew my coach because he grew up right across there…So I got another opportunity,my brother said,‘He is really tense right now,you have a look at him tomorrow but don’t stand behind the nets,maybe from a distance’.

Your first trial,you didn’t do so well,is it?

I didn’t. My coach had clearly told my brother that he is too young right now and we need to give him another six months.

Did you use a full-size bat or a small bat then?

I used a full-size bat because I had no option. I had to share a bat with my brother that’s how I got used to playing with heavier bats.

We all talk about sibling rivalries,we talk about brothers and sisters competing… in your case,your brother seems to be a parent-like figure in your life,isn’t it?

Yeah,in my case it was totally different. My brother kind of shielded me from all the pressures in life. He said,‘all you got to do in life is focus only cricket and nothing else. Everything else will be taken care of. And even today,if something needs to be discussed and talked over,my brother would say,‘Ok fine,leave that to us’ and all the family members would discuss together and take a decision and my focus still stays on cricket. I am 33 today,so I think I can participate in certain discussions but my brother doesn’t think so (laughs). He feels it should only be cricket and nothing else.

Sachin,now tell us about you and Vinod,the great partnership,664…

I think it was in 1985-86 when I met Vinod. Right here. And we literally clicked.

How did you meet him the first time… Vinod Kambli and you?

At that time,I wasn’t playing for Shardashram… Vinod was in another school. We were practising right here and got to know each other. After that,it really clicked because I joined Shardashram,so did Vinod. We were in the same class. Though there was a big group there,a good 20-25 boys who enjoyed each other’s company…with Vinod,the friendship clicked because he used to come home for lunch,or we used to go and have vada-paav,bhel,then that kind of reflected also on the field. Occasionally,we never used to call while taking a run. I would just look at his eye and I would know whether it was ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The opposition found it quite tough to manage and that partnership was wonderful,664. It was at Azad Maidan,and we batted first and I went in to bat just before lunch. And Vinod was already batting at 40-45,when I joined him. We had a great time,we were like singing songs between overs. Our school had such a strong team,we would thrash everyone and we would kind of decide,‘okay,we need 100 runs,we are going to finish the next 100 runs in 30 overs’. (We knew) tonight we will get around 20 overs and the next morning we will get around 10 overs. So that we could bunk school.

The entire school team would go for a movie or go to the beach and play there. It was a lot of fun,school days…

You are ambidextrous,you can use both hands.

Yes,so is Vinod. But we were totally different in nature to each other. Vinod was an outgoing person,enjoyed going out…

Very flamboyant.

I was happy being in my room… put on some music,watch television. It was wonderful,Vinod would always be up to some mischief,and I used to be a loyal spectator… all the time,giving positive responses. It was wonderful,we used to joke around and… Vinod is an extremely funny character,I mean,but he’s got a big heart. If you know him,you really know what to expect from him. But for a stranger (it seems) this guy is not serious in life,(you may ask) what is wrong with him. But if you know him,he was extremely serious when it came to cricket. The moment he crossed the boundary line (and) he was out in the middle,he used to forget about all his mischief and just focus on cricket.

For many of us,a great memory… not a happy memory… but a great memory of him is that World Cup (1996) match,which was abandoned in Kolkata against Sri Lanka when he came back with tears. Very emotional moment.

We all cried that day in the dressing room,Vinod was one of them who happened to be there in the middle. It was rather unfortunate that the match had to be called off. That’s one moment I would like to forget… we were in terrific form,we were doing well…

So was that one of the saddest moments in your playing life?

Yes,that was surely one of the saddest moments because we knew for sure that we had the capability and the ammunition to beat Sri Lanka in the semi-finals and make it to Pakistan,to Lahore (for the final). The whole team was playing well. We were in great form,fielding well,batting well,bowling well. Everything was clicking and the momentum was with us. All of a sudden,it was over.

What was the toughest series for you so far?

I think that 1992 tour in South Africa was very tough. We didn’t expect the South Africans to come at us so strong.

Which is the greatest team that you have played against?

The greatest team,without any doubt,is Australia.

Tell me something about that series (2001),something turned that series,something that turned Indian cricket. And that good momentum lasted some time. There was that Rahul-Laxman partnership. What happened? That was one great turnaround where you were not present on the ground.

It was fabulous,I have not seen anything like it. We were down and out in the second innings…

We were looking at an innings defeat.

Yeah,and everyone was sitting in the dressing room,few were watching the game outside. And,we took our spots and we said… we are all sometimes very superstitious… and we decided we are not going to move from those spots. The partnership started growing. We said ‘ok fine,now what’s going to happen next?’ Time went by and we started gradually climbing up the ladder and we started believing that this could be an interesting game because if we get 200 plus… at that stage,we were saying ‘ok,if we get even 150 plus we can have a go at them. But then we eventually ended up in a solid position.

I remember that evening,Rahul and Laxman,both of them were totally exhausted. And the whole team was right next to them,you know,asking ‘what do you want,do you want water,this,that,Electral,glucose’,all those kind of things. The next day,we started planning that evening. ‘Ok fine,now we are in such a good position,we should go out and attack the next day and set them a target’. That was our best chance,a target which is beyond their reach,so they had to block to survive. And in the first session,nothing happened… (and then) All of a sudden,before tea,things started going in our favour.

You made a contribution too.

Yeah,I came and got three wickets. I thought those three wickets were quite important,Hayden,Gilchrist and Warne. And Warne,I got him out on a googly. To get the world’s best leg-spinner out,to sort him out on a googly was quite exciting. He caught me after the game and said,‘oh,you caught me there’. It was a brilliant game,probably the best Test match of my life.

You played a great innings here,on a big turner against Shane Warne. And I remember,I think,Richie Benaud said for him,the great sight was Shane Warne for the first time coming round the wicket to a right-hander and you hitting the first one over mid-wicket for six.

I kind of practised in the nets. … L Sivaramakrishnan and we were practising together in Chennai and LS used to bowl to me in the nets and I had made that area (on the leg-stump) quite rough. Warne usually bowls round the wicket… Just wanted out to try out a few things and it worked really well. And even when I was practising with the Mumbai team,I used to make the left-arm spinners bowl in that rough area.

The other bowler who tried to use that leg-stump line with you was Ashley Giles,your only stumping dismissal in Test cricket.

Yeah,I thought there I kind of got a little carried away because at the other end… I was batting with Sehwag,and the seamers had bowled a wonderful spell,and basically that was the last Test match. Before,he had… in that entire series,he had bowled only over the wicket to me and I sort of said ‘Ok fine,if you are going to play around with my patience,I am going to play around with yours. Let’s see what happens’.

I was absolutely in control but that particular match,Sehwag was,you know,playing a few big shots,I said ‘I am also going to try and play some big shots’. I think I was batting on 90. And I had started planning,I said,‘let me hit one over extra cover and one over mid-on,and get close to 100,and you know,after that I am going to play some big shots. Because so far I have controlled everything. Whenever I wanted to block,I block and whenever I wanted to pick a single,I have done that. And it was a defensive line to bowl. I knew if I kept padding,I was never going to get out,but that was part of their strategy. Because they wanted to block one end.

Is there something special about playing Pakistan? It somehow seems to bring out greater competitiveness in you. You once said before the World Cup that it is important to beat Pakistan.

I think it’s a different ballgame,to be honest. Because there are so many emotions attached to it. I remember in 2003 when we played the World Cup game… literally,from 2002 January,people had started talking about that game,‘Remember 23rd of March you are playing Pakistan,Centurion,we have to beat them’. So you know such is the excitement and involvement when India plays Pakistan. So it slowly becomes a different game,it’s just like the Ashes,England and Australia. You may have the best of games like Australia and South Africa,1999 semi-finals,that was a superb game,but people talk more about Ashes because the rivalry has been for a long time.

Another match against Pakistan,Sachin. I know you will be asked this question always. The declaration at 194,what exactly happened?

Yeah,I got a message from the dressing room that try and get to your double hundred as quickly as possible. I said ‘yeah,ok’ and we decided on a particular target,and then we declared. We kind of declared before the target.

So I went back to the dressing room,I just sat down,got my pads off and all that. I just sat there. When I was asked in the evening,were you surprised,were you not happy,it was natural to say that yes I was surprised,because we had decided something else. But I said that the team comes first…it was just blown out of proportion.

No arguments?

Both me and Rahul,we sat together,and we said ‘we are not going to take this beyond this evening’. I mean the matter is over,and we are in the middle of a Test match. We can’t let this affect the Test match. And I said,‘From my side,the commitment and involvement is concerned,you will not find even 0.1 per cent where I am lacking’. And it was over.

The other thing is about captaincy. What’s fascinating is how you so easily slipped out of it,as if in your mind,the challenge of managing Sachin was good enough … no need to manage Sachin plus 10.

(Laughs) I was quite comfortable doing that. I just felt I was too demanding on myself at times. I was not willing to spare myself at any stage. I wanted to win each and every game. And I wanted positive results in each and every game. Which is not possible,because you are bound to lose some games because the opposition…have also made plans. But I thought I was not sparing myself at all. At times,you need to give yourself a little room,just sit back and look at it differently. It was a little tough.

There was this statement that Tiger Woods once made. When a reporter asked him what drives you,he said ‘To be competitive’. He said ‘if I was playing a game of cards with you I would like to kick your butt’. Are you like that?

I am very much like that. I like competition,and I hate losing. I don’t like losing,it may be a game of cards,table tennis,go-karting whatever. I don’t like losing. I like to compete.

Some people say Sachin’s talent is a gift from God. But people also know that you work very hard at it. How do you see your talent?

I think it is also the hard work. I mean I have spent a lot of hours on this ground practising and then different grounds. Wankhede Stadium,MIG,CCI,a lot of grounds. And the practice sessions have been long sessions. Not just one or two hours… I used to start at 7.30 in the morning. And from 7.30 to 9.30,I used to bat in five nets. Then play a practice match which would go on till almost 5 ‘o’ clock. Then again 5.30 to 6.30-6.45,I used to bat in five nets again. Like this I did for 55 days in a row,I mean,55 matches in a row. Every day,play a match,practice before the match and after the match and eventually my body gave up. It was a bit too harsh on the body and…

The body complained.

Complained,yeah. It was too much. I was enjoying each and every moment. But I have worked hard for it. It is also the talent. Also,something which is extremely important is the family’s backing,the support. Because if you are talented but if your family is not with you,does not support you,wants you to do something else in life,your mind,your focus,your energy is always divided. In my case,the energy was never divided. It was only on cricket. And that positive energy,that positive force is with you.

And you have also built yourself.

Yeah,I met my wife in 1990. She’s known me for a long,long time.

And if I could make a story,a child prodigy wanted a mature pair of hands to control him.

Yeah,I would say that she is far more mature than me. Wiser than me,for sure. Because some times I lose my cool,and she is the one who says ‘No,no no,you don’t need to react,you just keep quiet and play,and don’t focus on other things. You got to go out there and score runs and that is what you love to do. And you know,you don’t have time to react to this and all that’. Such things help because I am a normal person and I feel happy,I feel upset,I feel excited,I feel sad.

Do injuries make you insecure? You have a high pain threshold.

Injuries,to a certain extent. Injuries do create certain obstacles. But I have always managed to forget about my injuries once I started playing. Because the pressure levels are so high,you focus so much,you forget about your injuries. You want to leave them behind and go out and compete.

The moment in Wankhede? Didn’t it leave a bad taste when somebody booed?

No,it was blown out of proportion. It’s not the first time you have had one of the guys saying ‘Awww or hai,hai’ or whatever. Because people come there to enjoy,they have their views,they have their opinions…such things happen,but just because you have the one-odd guy passing a stupid comment,you can’t ignore the other 25,000 in the stadium who are wishing well for you,hoping that you would do well. I value that a lot,their support and good wishes.

As you said,you have lasted 17 years,55 per cent of your life,you have the largest fan club of any sportsman in the world. And all of us want you to be known as not only as the youngest to play for India but the oldest to continue playing for India…

Thank you,it was a pleasure.

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