His love for cricket must be unmatched. He never gets tired of talking about cricket and it is needless to say that he thinks about the game all the time. When he gets out, for a hundred or nothing, you will see Sachin Tendulkar knocking around with a tennis ball or dashing off to the `nets' with a couple of bowlers in tow.
He is said to be the man in waiting for the hot seat of India's cricket captain and the young man is well aware of the talk. He does not show any distinct anxiety about the topic which has been doing the rounds. There has been a widespread demand for Mohammad Azharuddin's removal as captain but the two men directly concerned have not allowed it to effect their relationship. Whatever the Board and the national selectors decide on the fate of Azharuddin as captain, it would not come in the way of the excellent rapport the two enjoy. ``I am prepared,'' says Tendulkar.
He has remained prepared for quite some time now but he also adds quickly that ``I don't want to grab it.'' He has said that before too. Azharuddin also has gone on record saying that he did not aspire for captaincy and when it came, he tried to do a good job of it. His poor run with the bat in the Test series must have complicated matters, but then he is not the one to lose sleep over it. He had also said sometime back ``I am prepared to play under any young captain if need be.''
All former Indian cricket captains have suffered from the exacting demands of the officials and the fans. There are times when even victories, because they have come at home, would not satisfy the critics. You have to win abroad to prove captaincy credentials. Coming back to Tendulkar, he was candid in admitting that he did not want to grab the captain's seat. ``I don't want to spoil the healthy atmosphere in the side,'' he said during a chat on Saturday. Now that is an important statement, reflecting his concern for the side and Indian cricket. If he gets the captaincy he will go ahead, but will not work out devious plans to unseat the man in charge.
Tendulkar has had opportunities to lead the country on the few occasions that Azharuddin has left the field. He is known to be a hard taskmaster when leading Bombay and West Zone. The charge against Azharuddin is that he is indifferent. But then he has always had the backing of the team. Often he has remarked that he was not the one to put up a garish display to show his involvement in the game and has his own quiet ways of getting the best out of the players. He may have failed on this tour to achieve that really and principally because of his inability to get going with the bat in the Test series. Interestingly, Tendulkar did not get runs in the one-day series but then one could not have termed it a failure. In the first one-dayer, he got a horrendous decision and in the second he was run out thinking Vikram Rathore was saying ``yes yes'' when actually it was ``wait, wait.'' In the third match, Tendulkar got a beauty of a ball which would have got any batsman. Azharuddin was the `man of the series' in the one-dayers before striking a bat patch in the Tests. As it is, Tendulkar carries tremendous pressure on his 23-year- old head whenever he walks out to bat. Would the captaincy not burden him more? He is emphatic ``I don't feel these pressures people talk about. I don't think so. If it happens (getting the captaincy) it will surely make me more responsible.'' Now that may convey the wrong message that he is not responsible. What Tendulkar means is his involvement. Left to him, he would never like to be out of the game and he reveals ``as a captain you are always more involved than others and that is what it would be for me. I would be certainly more responsible and more involved.''
Captaincy, in Tendulkar's opinion, would also give him more opportunities to learn and improve. He says ``it always happens. When you get a big job, the opportunities open up and it will be a good thing for me because I would learn a lot. The earlier I learn, the better it will be for me and the team.'' Is there a message in what he says. Whatever be the case, Tendulkar, as he says, may not like to grab the captaincy but is prepared for the job whenever it comes his way.