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"This year I've learnt to keep my cool"

It has not been the best of years for Sachin Tendulkar. In the one year that he has been captain, India has failed to win a Test series abroad, returning unsuccessful from South Africa, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. In the one-dayers too, India's record has been abysmal, having lost 24 out of 39 matches. Still, Tendulkar is not a man who crumbles easily. Confident, yet honest about his team, and full of suggestions for the future, he spoke to Associate Editor Rohit Brijnath before the team's departure for the Sahara Cup.

 

Q. You are captain of probably one of the worst teams in the world. How do you feel?

A. I don't give any importance to those who are making this statement. I'm not bothered. My concern is basically my team-mates and not what people are talking. Because when we win we're the best team in the world, when we lose we're the worst.

Q. But all teams are judged, so when is it a fair time to judge this team?

A. No one can say that we'll be good tomorrow or the day after. I think if a guy doesn't improve after playing 25 one-day internationals and 15-20 Tests, you can say that he's not learning.

Q. Do you think you've been a failure as captain?

A. The bottom line is the result. If the team is winning, my thinking is that the team is playing well. At times even though you are actually not playing well, your opponents may be playing worse. But I'm looking at a situation where the opposition is playing good cricket and we play better. We have to have a good bowling attack where newcomers should learn quickly.

Q. You think young players are not taking responsibility fast enough?

A. My observation is that if someone performs in two-three games, articles are written about him straightaway comparing him with past top cricketers. This shouldn't happen. We should just say he has performed well. Past cricketers are in a different league, they've played for 15 years and that requires a lot of courage, sacrifice, determination and concentration. To compare a young player with them could make him complacent and get him to relax.

Q. You think players have one good innings and then relax thinking their place is not in jeopardy?

A. I don't think so. I wouldn't tolerate that. You're expected to get runs three times in five innings.

Q. What have you learnt in this past year as captain?

A. All I have learnt right now is to keep my cool on the field. And it's very, very important when the team is not doing too well. You can't afford to lose your temper and demoralise your bowlers. You've got to be supporting them all the time even if they bowl six wide balls.

Q. Does Anjali (his wife) feel that you've changed this year?

A. Yes. When I'm home I can never relax a 100 per cent and she knows that. This usually happens when I return from a tour. And I've told her that when I'm like that, just let it happen. Still, she tries her best to get me out of it.

Q. Is it frustrating to be leading a losing team?

A. No, I cannot say this because I'm also in the team. It's not like they are losing; we are losing. At times everyone gets frustrated -- it's very important how you handle that.

Q. Do you wish sometimes your team were more aggressive?

A. We are aggressive at times, but it's very hard to be aggressive when a particular guy is not bowling well. Rather than be aggressive, I'd prefer if he concentrates on his bowling.

Q. Uses common sense?

A. And common sense is not always common.

Q. But we seem to lack this clear thinking in times of stress.

A. I think the solution for all this is winning. When you get into that habit, you pull off all those matches.

Q. But how do we get that habit when nothing's changed? In our fitness or fielding, everything's the same and that could be the difference between winning and losing.

A. I've said so many times that we need a good trainer, a specialised one.

Q. Are you happy with the fitness of your team? Yes or no?

A. No, we can be fitter.

Q. Do we need foreign inputs like a trainer or coach? Yes or no?

A. I believe in that, yes. We need a foreign trainer. We also need a foreign player who will work with the team and guide them. But like the Sri Lankans who have Duleep Mendis and Bruce Yardley, we need two coaches: Madan Lal and a foreign coach. Both senior players can sit together and decide. At times it's hard for a senior player, just a single person, to look at all aspects of the game. Because the game is changing and every day you have to use different strategies. That's why we need both together.

Q. You think a foreign coach would bring a different attitude?

A. I don't know if he will be successful or not. We have Indian cricketers too who have played for a long time. But it's just a matter of trying something different, like trying a different team. We've never tried it. And no one (in India) should be upset, after all it's just an experiment.

Q. You think the Board has been too slow to react to requests for trainers?

A. That is the Board's decision. The earlier they do it, the better.

Q. Do you want the Board to move a lot faster?

A. Looking at the 1999 World Cup, we should be preparing ourselves now.

Q. What's your attitude as captain?

A. I believe in horses for courses. Right now, I can't afford to be aggressive.

Q. Your bowlers are going to keep breaking down and you need alternatives, don't you?

A. We've got to have second-string bowlers playing more matches against international sides. Not just one match against tourists and then stay quiet for a year. We should send three-four promising guys to a foreign academy so they get to learn something different from what we teach in India.

Q. But this is not your job. You think we should have a planning committee making a blueprint for the future, say India 2005?

A. Definitely. Because that's what other countries are doing and they have been successful. We probably should adopt that policy.

Q. Arjuna Ranatunga told me that Sachin needs to take unpopular decisions sometimes. Do you agree?

A. It's very hard to keep all the players happy. Fourteen different brains are thinking differently and I can't tell all 14 what to do and what not to do. So a few guys are unhappy, a few happy.

Q. Do you think managers should be contracted for more than a year?

A. They should get plenty of opportunity. If a manager has a couple of bad series, it's very unfair if he is removed. You have to give him time.

Q. It's very odd that Madan is not supposed to be involved in fitness.

A. I'm surprised. I never expected the manager to get a letter from the Board on this (saying that he should not get involved in the fitness of players).

Q. Now that the selection controversy is over, what policy do you think we should adopt?

A. It's not that I should have more say; it's a matter of working together. Someone suggested that there should be three selectors, which is not a bad idea. And that there should be about 10 others who will scout for talent and inform the selectors.

Q. Are you happy with your two young batsman, Dravid and Ganguly?

A. Everyone knows they have a bright future. It's an important stage of their career and they have to keep working harder. Rahul is working hard, so is Saurav; but he can definitely do better. He has to work on his fitness.

Q. In which five areas do you want change in your team?

A. Fielding, running between the wickets, bowling, attitude, and in crunch situations we should be able to pull it off.

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