Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Competitive spirit has played a huge role in making me what I am' - Interview By Sharda Ugra

September 24, 2009

On the eve of his departure for South Africa for the Champions Trophy, Sachin Tendulkar took time off for an exclusive interview with Deputy Editor Sharda Ugra. Excerpts:

Q. You're embarking on your 20th year in international cricket, the only player after Gary Sobers to do so. Does it feel that long? Do you remember it all?
A. I remember on my first tour Kapil Dev challenged me. He said: "You play for ten years". When I completed ten years, Kapil Dev was the coach so I caught him and said I've won our bet. I'm glad today I'm almost very close to doubling that. I remember things clearly. I remember most of my dismissals and I don't think any cricketer forgets that… I remember the great shots too.

Q. What part of your 16 or 20 year old self would you like to have in your game today?
A. Mentally, it's different, now. When I was younger, there have been times when I've gone out thinking of attacking from ball one, that wherever the ball is I'm going to hit a six. That kind of thought process. But I'm glad that doesn't happen today. You think differently in various stages in life and you react accordingly.

Q. What is the single biggest lesson cricket has taught you, that would save a lot of younger guys a lot of trouble if they knew?
A. I think to respect the game and to respect fellow cricketers. I was made to realise that very early on. In the early years of cricket, you have done every possible thing under the sun to achieve your target. All of a sudden you have the India cap and India T-shirt and you start thinking, oh I'm somebody special. I remember just after I started to play for India, a close friend conveyed a message through another person: "Just tell him that I've noticed that he is probably starting to think differently. The sooner he realises that, the better it is." And I sat back and I realised that, yes it was true.and that really helped me. I normally tell the youngsters who just got in the team that it's good that you are here but learn to respect the cricketers who played with you before. That would help you to stay on the ground more than anything else.

Q. More than the runs or records, the consistency of your performance stands out in your career-what's the secret?
A. I don't know how to answer this. I wish I knew the answer, I've just gone out and played with a lot of passion and I spent a lot of time preparing myself, not only physically but mentally. I spent time preparing. There have been ups and downs but when there are disappointments, I would much rather convert that negative energy into positive energy, in training harder or spending more time at the nets. The setbacks have motivated me. My thinking is simple, I want to convert those disappointments into positive energy and use it to get even more determined. That's what I've done, nothing else.

Q. They say as athletes get older their body starts to break down, give them trouble but their mind gets sharper about their game, they find out new things. What are the kind of things you have learnt?
A. You discover a lot of new things and I've been able to do that. If earlier obviously there were just a couple of ways to deal with a particular bowler, then today there would be four ways. You just know how to use what and when. It's about not accepting every little challenge thrown at you and going after that. Sometimes you hold back and when it's needed you go for it. You just calculate better and it comes with age and experience.

Q. How much was opening the batting in one-day cricket a big factor in your success?
A. Yes, it was an important phase. I remember in 1994, when Sidhu was not fit for an ODI game in New Zealand, I walked up to Azhar and Ajit Wadekar and told them 'give me one chance. I know I can hit the fast bowlers and if I fail, I will not come and ask you again.' They agreed and I scored 82 runs of 48 balls. From there on things started looking different for me.

Q. How?
A. Because I was consistently facing the new ball and playing the first spells. Also had to play shots, there was that freedom too. And while doing that, I thought I developed a few shots batting up the order, like the punch off the backfoot and the shortarm pull. I used to play those but opening the batting, there was more opportunity to do that so I did and I started using that in Test cricket more than what I would earlier. The switch worked for me. To go out there and face the first spell and look to play shots… It was good for my game because I was always thinking positively.

Q. You say that you express yourself when you're batting, but you're not really an aggressive person?
A. I've always been competitive. It's extremely important for a sportsman to be highly competitive, one should not be able to take defeat just like that… I don't believe in that 'just another game'. When I'm out competing, I want to go all the way to the end. I compete hard but compete hard in the right spirit.

Q. Do you think you changed the way Indians bat?
A. I don't know about that and I honestly didn't think much about the other players; whenever I was made to take up the challenge, I felt that I could easily go and play a particular shot against a bowler- what's the big deal. I would do it. I backed my natural instincts and I just went ahead and played my game. It wasn't like I was out there to prove something to someone. I was there to take the opposition on and put my team in a comfortable position.

Q. Do you think about your place in history?
A. I don't honestly… I haven't thought about that at all… I've not thought about it...

Q. You've said elsewhere that batting to you was finding comfort.
A. I've always believed in that. In changing my stance for example, I've always thought more about my comfort level rather than what looks good. Even if technically something people said: "You shouldn't be doing this", but if I'm comfortable and can adjust, then I would go ahead and do it. My stance depends on the wicket, it has lot to do with feel. It has nothing to do with the way I've been taught, or how I've practiced. It changes in between innings also. One over I would be batting with a different stance the next over if I feel if another particular stance would suit me better, I would change.

Q. A lot of other players say that you can get into the perfect state of mind when you are batting at will, into the zone...
A. I wish I could but I'm glad I give that impression to the opposition! But it doesn't come so easily-I would have definitely liked to be in that zone more often than not... But on various occasions I've been able to do that. It's just a level of concentration where you forget about everything else… it happened to me in the Chennai Test match against England. I didn't know we had won the game. When the opposition came towards me to shake hands, that's when I realised that yes, we've won the match because I was not looking at the scoreboard. That's when I realised I was in that zone...

Q. That was quite an emotional innings for you, given what had happened in Mumbai on November 26. Can you talk us through that?
A. We obviously wanted to win because a cricket match is virtually non-existent to what had happened. It wouldn't be right to compare the two things. At the end of the match, I saw that the groundsmen were jumping and the lady who sweeps the wicket came and shook hands. I've never experienced that before and I thought maybe that has to be because of what had happened. I felt strongly about it and I felt that for those people who lost their loved ones and dear ones… if we were able to divert their minds somewhere else even for a fraction of a second then, that would be our achievement.

Q. Did you try to understand why you had been able to enter that mental state for that game?
A. It just happened. The concentration level was very high. There's no particular formula to that. Actually, when you start making the effort then your mind is conscious about that particular thing and it doesn't happen. But in Chennai, the concentration level was such that it just happened.

Q. Have there ever been times in your career when you've thought, this is too tough, I cannot cope, I can't do this?
A. There have been tough times but at no stage I felt that I can't do it, the only stage I've felt that I don't belong here probably was after my first Test. There have been situations where there was no hope but you still go out and do what you can, you still try. If the spirit of competitiveness is not there, you are going to struggle. I feel that the competitive spirit has played a huge role in making me what I am. There have been tough situations but you still go out and you want to do something which may not have an impact on that game but it may have an impact on the series. You look at the bigger picture. If you do that, then you start approaching tough times differently.

Q. Have you ever doubted yourself, known fear or insecurity?
A. Whenever I'm injured… those phases were quite difficult. All the injuries I had were related to my batting style or batting grip… Whether it was tennis elbow or a finger injury, or bicep and shoulder, all of that is needed for you to have the right batswing and things like that. Even during recovery time I worked very hard. I had to be patient and take things as they came. That was tough.

Q. What is the toughest thing you've done on a cricket field? That you're most proud of?
A. Well, I'm proud that on my first tour to Pakistan I continued batting after being hit on the nose by Waqar. When I came back, I realised that I'd broken my nose and we managed to save that Test match. We were 34 for 4 with almost a-day-and-a-half to go. Before that we'd drawn three test matches and this was the last Test and Pakistan was in a good position. I think that has to be it.

Q. A lot has changed in Indian cricket since you made your debut. What about Indian cricket has not changed in all these years which disappoints you?
A. Most things have changed now, and I don't think that at this stage I have any complaints. Right now if I have to say then maybe the only thing which needs to be looked into is providing facilities to players who are in rural areas to spread the game as much as possible and provide equal opportunity to everyone playing it.

Q. Twenty20 has caught everyone's fancy. Do you worry that kids won't want to learn basic skills because those are not going to be used in T20…
A. Well I'd say probably even Test cricket is changing. It's just progression; the game has changed and that's fine, I feel it's fine as long as Test cricket doesn't get neglected. The innovations are going to be there. Now in one-day cricket people play over the keeper's head and and play reverse sweep to fast bowlers. It makes the game exciting, it's fast. For Test cricket you get a different crowd. For T20 there are so many who come because it is exciting. They don't understand the game, but the atmosphere is such that they want to be part of it and it is fantastic for the game.

Q. Take your son-is he going to take to Tests when there's the glamour of T20 around?
A. Arjun actually likes both, he wants to wear whites and hit sixes. So it's a combination of both. I keep telling him that when you wear coloured clothing you can hit the ball up into the air and when you wear whites you have to keep the ball on the ground. I basically want him to enjoy the game more than anything else-if he enjoys the game then he is willing to go to any extents to achieving his target.

Q. Do you think coaches of the future will really want to teach Test skills to kids who are going to come to the game in the next 10 years?
A. I think it's extremely important for coaches to be teaching kids the right techniques, the right fundamentals. There are different kind of skills - to leave a ball outside the off-stump and to know where your off stump is, is an art. As long as we respect formats and just keep our thoughts and expectations for that particular format, we should be okay. Its good to be multi-dimensional, you earn money out of it and you live your passion.

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