The one and only Sachin Tendulkar (saluted as a “consummate artist” by another living legend, Amitabh Bachchan) spoke to The Telegraph for well over an hour in the lead up to completing 20 years of international cricket, on Sunday. It has, of course, been an incredible career marked by achievements.
Here go excerpts from the interview
What’s the India of your dreams?
(Pauses) One where everybody has clean water to drink... Where everybody has access to education, right from childhood... For me, both are critical issues...
How do you look at the India of 2009?
I’m not disappointed with the way things are, I know those in authority are making an effort... There’s no point sitting back and criticising for the sake of doing so... An effort is being made to change India for the better and I’m appreciative of that... I’m the positive sort and like looking at the positive side. Sure, one would like to have certain things in place, but I do realise that doing so could take time. It may not be easy...
The question is whether India is heading in the right direction...
What, for you, would be a nightmare-like situation?
India being hit by natural calamities.
I’d like all citizens to have the basic amenities of life... Nobody, ideally, should be deprived... I’m not talking of the big things, like cars or hi-fi music systems, but clean drinking water and education... You could add health care.
Is there an Indian you’ve admired?
Certainly somebody who made India her home, Mother Teresa... Throughout her life, she helped those whom others would shun... She made a difference to the lives of so many.
Did you get to meet her on one of your visits to Calcutta?
I couldn’t and that remains a regret.
Are you interested in politics?
But you do vote, don’t you?
I exercise my right, that’s it.
So, there’s no chance of you going the way of an Imran Khan or an Arjuna Ranatunga?
(Laughs) Not at all!
Generally, how do you see life?
I consider myself fortunate... Blessed to have been part of the family I belong to... I like giving something to others, which is why you found me endorsing The Joy of Giving Week. As I’ve told you, nothing is ever too small to give. What matters is supporting a cause from the bottom of your heart... A shirt or a pair of shoes may not mean much to you, but would be like gold to somebody who needs that pair of shoes or that one shirt...
Just how much should icons be doing for the lesser privileged?
Look, it has a lot to do with how an individual feels about the whole thing, the way he sees his role (in society)... It can’t be that somebody has to compel an individual to do something. It has to come from within, not otherwise.
You’ve often interacted with terminally ill children. Have those experiences left you very distressed?
Yes... Each time that I’ve met them, I’ve come away feeling how lucky I am... Often, we take things for granted and just wait to complain about this or that... Yet, the terminally ill children have no complaints, despite probably having only weeks or months to live... I’ve always been moved... Meeting such children makes one appreciate the importance of good health, of not being handicapped in any way.
Would an Imran, who has built a cancer hospital in Lahore, score higher marks than cricketers of equal stature because of that one achievement?
I wouldn’t club the cricketing and non-cricketing sides together...
You were part of the Indian team which visited the hospital on the 2005-06 tour of Pakistan. Anything you remember off hand?
I remember it as a very fine facility where even the common man can get himself treated... Imran’s done an absolutely incredible job.
Now, for some cricket-specific questions... On the eve of his 60th birthday, in July, Sunil Gavaskar picked Kapil Dev and you as India’s “greatest” cricketers. Your thoughts?
Makes me feel special... Mr Gavaskar was an idol.
In your book, where would Gavaskar rank?
Without a doubt, he’s one of our best... I’d rate Rahul Dravid very highly, too, as also Anil Kumble.
How should greatness be measured?
(Pauses) One has to judge a player’s contribution to the team... It can’t be about having one terrific series or one very successful tournament... One has to judge over a period of time, take the consistency into account.
You continue to show the passion of somebody making his debut, not one around for 20 years. What, indeed, makes you tick so phenomenally?
Passion... The hunger for runs comes out of enjoyment... I continue to live my dream, which was to play for India... I have a responsibility to do well and carry the team on my shoulders... It’s not a small responsibility, but I’ve never felt burdened... Never thought that I’ve had to make sacrifices to get to where I am.
The motivation, therefore, comes from within?
It does... I don’t need an external factor to motivate me.
One target, it seems, is 15,000 Test runs...
Not a target... If it has to happen, then it will.
You’re already close to 13,000 in Tests. Would 15,000, then, be a driving force, so to say?
I wouldn’t look at it that way... I’ll keep playing, keep doing my job... If I’m destined to get there, I will. My job is to give my best shot (not aim for records).
When will you start focusing on the 2011 World Cup?
Twenty years ago, how long did you expect to play?
If you’d phrased your question differently and asked me, on the second day of my Test career when I’d got out for 15, just how long would I be playing, my answer would’ve been that the first Test would also be my last! I felt out of place, everything was new... I recall (manager) Chandu Borde spent quite some time talking to me and that made me feel better. The intensity of international cricket was so much more different.
You’d been so tired after the first day (November 15) that you went off to sleep on returning to your hotel room...
(Grins) I did, yes, for a couple of hours... That first day, in such a different environment, had left me drained.
Over the past 20 years, cricket has seen a number of changes. Your take?
Well, because the number of matches have increased, it’s more demanding physically... Some of the changes were needed, they’ve been important.
In terms of skills, is it that today’s cricketers have to be more skilful?
Even earlier, one needed to have the skills... That, surely, hasn’t changed much... But, yes, the quality of the equipment has changed. That’s progress.
Okay... Let me put it this way: Is surviving more challenging in 2009 than it was in 1989?
Twenty years ago, there were different challenges... The challenges and expectations change with time and differ from one level to the other. One has to stay focused and adapt to the changing demands.
Isn’t there a fear that T20 will produce rather mediocre cricketers?
But T20 demands that some batters come and just throw their bat around... If somebody does well, that way, then I don’t have a problem... At the end of the day, we’re talking of the same ball and bat... I don’t see why anybody should have a problem if somebody becomes a hero in a matter of seconds or minutes... You may not remember who holds the record for the marathon, but you’ll know about (Usain) Bolt... There’s space for all forms and each has its challenges... So many dream of playing for India, but you’ve got to be realistic, as well... Very few actually get to realise that dream and, if some can make a career out of T20, with one of the (IPL) franchises, then so be it... They will be able to look after themselves and their families.
Exclusively T20, then, is a viable option...
Absolutely... As I’ve said, somebody may never get to play for India, but could live his passion through a T20 career (in the IPL)... T20 has become hugely popular and will help globalise cricket... Will help increase viewership, expand the market.
But the easy money could actually ruin some cricketers, isn’t it?
(Pauses) There’s a downside to any positive... Surely, how one acts and behaves is in the hands of that person alone... Why blame the IPL? What makes you believe Test cricket cannot spoil a player? I don’t wish to go into details, but there have been instances of that...
Test cricket, though, remains supreme...
Of course, it’s the No.1 form. Has been so, still is and will remain at the top. Test cricket requires more imagination, better planning, sharper execution.
Are you in favour of four-day Tests and such matches being played under lights?
I’m for five days... Test cricket is a challenge and that challenge should be over that many days... As for day-night Tests, the balls could well be an issue... Day-night cricket should first be attempted at the first-class level.
You’ve suggested a change for the 50-over ODIs...
A bit of imagination is needed to take it forward... Indeed, people are putting their heads together.
Aren’t you disappointed that the Deodhar Trophy has been dropped by the Board this season?
Yes... Having said that, the Board introduced the Corporate Trophy, instead... I see that as a good move, for companies can only field permanent employees... Employment opportunities have opened... It’s a win-win situation and I’d like to compliment the Board.
Your advice for this generation?
The young players should live their dream... The desire to play for India fired me up... It should drive today’s generation, too... I’d say don’t look for big things straightaway... Work towards and on the small things and climb from there.
What goes into the making of a successful individual?
A dream... Then, the desire to chase that dream and to make it happen... Honesty towards the job, a sense of commitment... Vision, too, is needed. You can’t guarantee X or Y is going to be successful, but if the attributes are there, then there’s every chance that X or Y would end up being so.
How do you think the millions will remember you, once you’re through with cricket?
Not only as a record-breaker... I guess they will also remember me as somebody who inspired the next generation to take to cricket in a big way... Personally, I see that as my biggest contribution.
At any point, have you thought of what you could be doing after retiring?
What if India hadn’t won the 1983 World Cup, inspiring you to make a career out of cricket...
Oh, I would certainly have been playing some sport... By nature, after all, I’m a sporty person.
Finally... As we speak, who are you most thankful to?
(Emotionally) My family, immediate and extended... All my coaches, starting from Ramakant Achrekar Sir... Teammates... People tend to forget groundsmen, but I’d also like to thank them... I can’t, at this moment, forget to thank friends — cricketing ones and those outside cricket... I hope I haven’t missed anybody...
DEFINING MOMENTS FOR THE MAESTRO
No.1: Beating England by six wickets in the Chennai Test, last December, just weeks after Mumbai’s 26/11... That will always remain my most special moment... Our win there was for all those who’d lost their lives in the terror strike... I’m happy that I contributed an unbeaten hundred (103) in our chase.
No.2: My Test debut (November 15, 1989), in Karachi... A very special day... Also, my first Test hundred (119 not out, at Old Trafford, in August 1990).
No.3: The 35th Test hundred, which took me past Sunil Gavaskar’s 34... I got 109 (against Sri Lanka, at the Kotla, in December 2005)... I’d put my getting beyond Brian Lara’s record for the maximum runs in Tests, in Mohali last year (with 88 in the first innings against Australia), in the same category... Will stay a very special moment... A defining one.
(Source: The Telegraph, Kolkata)