'I never worry about other's expectations from me. I try to live up to my own' A recent survey listed him as India's greatest living star. Way ahead of Shah Rukh Khan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and bomb maker A P J Abdul Kalam. But Sachin Tendulkar is not just a great cricketer; he is modern India's most admired role model. Currently at the height of his fame and success, Sachin seems to be the answer to India's desperate search for a great, internationally admired sporting hero. What's he all about? What makes him tick? Pritish Nandy spoke to him to find out.
Given the huge expectations from you,
the great pressure always building up, do you ever get
performance anxiety? On the field, I mean
I never worry about other people's expectations from me. I try to live up to my own.
And what are your own expectations from
They keep changing. Every time I plan before a series that I have to score so many runs. That, when the situation demands, I have to go out there and perform. It may be only 40 or 50 runs but those runs can make
a lot of difference. Particularly when the team is in a difficult position
Doesn't that stress you out? Playing
match-saver and masiha?
That's what people expect from me. What I expect from me. Look, last year I scored 1,000 runs in both one-day cricket as well as in Test cricket. In spite of that, people said: Tendulkar failed!
Why? Why did they think you had failed?
Why do people have a different set of expectations from you and a
different set of expectations from the rest of the team?
The expectations are too high. So high that every time I go in, every innings I play, they want a hundred from me. It is humanly impossibleto live up to such expectations. Everybody goes there in the middle to perform well, not come back after the first or second delivery. Everybody wants to score a hundred and get five or six wickets. But it does not happen that way. You cannot predict every performance.
Do you sense when you will do well? Do
you have this instinct which tells you: Today I am going to score
big runs! Or, oops, today I am going to bomb!
Yeah, I do have that feeling sometimes. But that's the time one has to fight it out. That's where mental toughness counts, when things are not exactly going the way you want them to. That's when you need to go out and battle
How do you train your mind to be tough?
I have not taken any lessons in mental toughness. I just feel that whatever I have to do, I have to do it out there in the middle. You may learn things off the field but you must be able to put them in practice out there. That is what I always try to do. Sometimes, I don't feel very comfortable in the nets. When I am not striking the ball well or defending it well either. When I am not connecting. When things are not exactly in control. That's when I just hang in there as much as possible.
Cricket has always been a great game
but in recent years it has become more than just that. It has
become like a war between nations. A symbol of patriotism,
national pride. It began with bodyline and the Larwood, Bradman
face off. But that has grown and, today, an India-Pakistan match
is not just another game. It is war on the field. Don't you find
this putting pressure on your game?
I enjoy my game and yet, at the same time, at the back of my mind I know I am playing for my country. But the most important thing is to enjoy the game. If I enjoy it, I am going to play better. My belief is simple: The moment you stop enjoying something, stay away from it. I enjoy the game and that is I want to play better and better and better. Cricket gives me a different kind of satisfaction. I go out there and score runs and India wins! That's a different kind of feeling altogether.
Did you enjoy the game when you were
captain of the Indian side?
I did. Even though many times I got the feeling that things were beyond my control. But then, that's the way it goes. From my side, I tried everything. I did not spare anybody. I wanted everyone to perform at hundred per cent. But it just didn't happen.
Why? Why didn't it happen? Why did you
fare so poorly as captain?
It's a question of luck. When, as captain, I promoted Robin Singh in Sharjah he got out early and everybody criticised me for the decision. Ten days later, Azhar became captain and he sent in Robin Singh in the finals in Bangladesh, in the Coca-Cola Cup, and we were chasing 314 runs. Robin scored 86 and because of him and Saurav we won the tournament. So everyone praised Azhar for his decision. But it was exactly the same move. It was just a matter of luck. In both cases we were playing Pakistan. In Sharjah we were in a very good position. We were batting first and we were 135 for the loss of just one wicket in something like 30 overs.But it didn't work. In Bangladesh, things were tougher but it worked! It's just providence.
Do you find yourself under special
stress while playing Pakistan?
It's certainly a different kind of feeling. Maybe not stress. But there is a certain amount of pressure when you are playing any side. Till the game gets over, till you see on the score board that India has won the game, you are always under pressure. You push yourself harder and harder. You drive yourself to the edge. That kind of pressure will always be there. On me. On Harbhajan Singh. On anybody. We have to live up to our own expectations. There is always a certain amount of pressure that keeps us on our toes.
And there is no special pressure on
when you face Pakistan on the field?
Not really. Nothing special as such. But, yes, I know what you mean The fact that the crowd sees it as a gladiator sport the moment India and Pakistan confront each other on the cricket field I guess it is a different feeling. We can sense that when we go out there in the middle. From the reactions of the people, the crowds. But to us players it is more or less the same. Whether it is Pakistan or Australia, we have to play well. We have to win.
How did you feel meeting Bradman?
I really enjoyed my time with him. He is a terrific person to meet, to talk to.
Was he forthcoming? Or did he speak in
his usual monosyllables? Did he open up and share memories?
Yeah, he did speak. He did speak quite a bit in fact. Even Shane was excited. It was the first time I had met him. As you know, he does not usually meet people. The fact that I got to meet him on his 90th birthday was, for me, amazing. All he wanted to do was stay away from the press, photographers and cameramen. He preferred being on his own. That was an amazing experience and I will never forget it.
Talking about memories, which was your
most memorable game?
The time we played the World Cup against Pakistan, in Bangalore. In 1996. That was a fantastic match. We batted first and scored 275 or something like that. They were in a very good position but we bowled amazingly.
Why was it so specially memorable for
The atmosphere was there. The crowds were all tensed up. Sitting on the edge, you could say. Every time a boundary was hit no one clapped. There was pin drop silence. And every time a batsman got beaten, the crowd yelled for more. Go for it! That was the mood. I can never forget that game.
And which is your favourite knock?
It is very hard to single out one but I would say, in one-day cricket, the knock I played against Australia in Sharjah last time. It was the fourth game against Australia and we had to score somewhere around 100 runs in 15 overs to get to the finals. And we scored those runs with almost 3 overs to spare! That was possibly my favourite knock. It actually helped us to play the finals and then we also beat them in the finals. That knock I would say won the tournament for us.
How do you see yourself as a bowler? Do
you take yourself seriously?
I am not a regular bowler and I don't want to be one.
But sometimes you achieve astonishing
Sometimes. My strength is the fact that I am unpredictable. I will lose that strength if I become a regular bowler. I will have to then start bowling seam or off spin and become predictable. That is why I would like to stay what I am today and bowl according to what the situation demands. Seam or off spin or leg spin whatever I think will work under the circumstances. If left hand handers are batting, I prefer offspin. Otherwise, seam or leg spin. I just want to enjoy my bowling. To give the impression that I can also bowl.