| PICTURE SPEAK |
|CLASS APART: Tendulkar faces competition from no one but himself |
Eventually, when it is all over, maybe we will finally see him as he sees himself. Just a man with a God-sized gift. A father waiting for the surgeon's scalpel and playing with his son in a London park. Swinging the five-year-old's bat for as long as he can, wondering when he would be able to heft his own and head out into the sun again. Three months after batting with his son Arjun on an English summer's day, Sachin Tendulkar was able to hit a cricket ball with a purpose. It was both reunion and communion.
Tendulkar, 32, is ending his longest break away from competitive cricket, testing the fulcrum of his operated left elbow for strength and smoothness. A great competitor has been challenged again and an invisible contest has begun. As the Indian team has stumbled through below-average results and above-average angst, the debate around Tendulkar has morphed into impatience over his return. His comeback event, the Challenger Series in Mohali, pulled in 80 media accreditations, where normally 25 is a crowd. He was trailed everywhere by cameras, mikes, eyes and whispers. A net session and two brief innings offered no clue about what would happen when the matches got serious and the bowling went up a notch. But with him on the field, India's poor form and shoddy dressing room dramas seemed manageable. With his return, it seemed results could be turned around, expanding egos trimmed and bad boys' heads knocked together. Not only would he be batting's messiah, but mentor to the muddled too.
As always, a safe distance from his own hype, Tendulkar says, "I'm not a magician."
Someone, please inform the Cabinet. Now we're in real trouble.
| INTERVIEW | SACHIN TENDULKAR |
"Winning is the best medicine for everything"
Sachin Tendulkar spoke to India Today about his batting, his team and the burning issues in Indian cricket. Excerpts from an interview:
| PICTURE SPEAK |
|BACK IN THE FRAY: Tendulkar returns to competitive cricket in Mohali after six months |
Q. Given the way the season has not started well either for you or the team, where would you like to be at the end of it?
A. I'd be very happy if we ended our season on a winning note. If all the 15 players, the coach Greg (Chappell), Ian Frazer, the trainer and the physio feel we've gained something out of this season and this is a positive step, that we have been able to lay a good foundation for the World Cup which is 18 months away. If we end our season with that feeling, I'm sure we've gained something very positive and also we're heading in the right direction. That's so important before a major tournament; before the 2003 World Cup we gathered momentum and played really good cricket and that really helped.
Even though there was a bad patch in between which was probably the New Zealand tour and a couple of practice games in South Africa, we regained our confidence very quickly because at the back of our minds we knew that yes, we've been playing good cricket and that is just one hiccup which any team can go through. So the recovery was much faster.
Winning can happen to any side because when you're winning, it's not that you are doing all the correct things - sometimes you make a mistake but because you've got plenty of victories behind you - you feel okay, fine ... something is going to happen on the next ball which has to go in our favour. Winning just changes your thought process. When you lose, sometimes you just don't believe it. That's why they say it's important to get into that habit of winning. You believe you will pull it off from any situation. Sometimes when things are not going your way, you are not sure what is going to happen till the last ball is bowled. Winning is the best medicine for anything and everything.
Q. In the last five years as a cricketer, you've had to deal with a lot of change - injuries, your role in the team, the way people bowl to you. How have you managed that change? What have you learnt from it?
A. I would say in the last two years, maybe even not that much but after the World Cup, I've had some or the other injury. It was difficult to overcome those obstacles and I had to take all those things into consideration and give my best. In certain ways, my thought process had changed a little because there were certain things I could do and certain things I couldn't. Keeping all that in mind, I had to go out and play and it was tough. I've probably learnt to be mentally stronger, tougher and to be patient. Sometimes not only in batting but various things in life, you have to be patient. As they say, time is the greatest healer and you have to wait. It doesn't mean you sit back and let things drift away.
You've got to keep trying hard from your side and hope for the best because there is no substitute for hard work. If someone says you have to be patient, it doesn't mean you go home and relax; I mean you keep working hard on the other aspects. If one is not allowed to play cricket, then fitness automatically hits the number one spot on your priority list. I have really worked hard on my fitness.
Talking about my batting, a few things have changed ... someone else is playing the role I did six-seven years ago and the role I play now someone else played when I was younger. What Sehwag and a few others are doing, is what I did six-seven years ago. Your role in the team keeps changing and that's why it's called a team sport and it's not about what the individual feels. Because there are times when an individual feels I that I want to go bang bang bang or just block. But the team's requirement is probably something else. You have got to try and adapt to the team's demands and play within the requirements of the team and not cross that rope. So I think my role has changed. I have to play the role of somebody who would play some shots and keep rotating the strike. There are a few other aggressive players who would try and play the big shots and at the same time I stay there and continue to go through to the 40th or the 45th over.
What I've learnt about my batting has been the thought process. When you're 24-25, your thought process is completely different; you want to smash everyone and get results as quickly as possible. But I think as time goes by, you start thinking differently. As I mentioned earlier, I've learnt to be patient, so probably that factor has played a big role in changing my approach a little bit but it also depends on the kind of surfaces you play on.
When I played in the World Cup, my strike rate was completely different. There are other factors: a lot depends on the kind of surfaces you play on, how the team is playing, how the non-striker is playing. There are times when you feel okay fine, I'm going to hang around and the non-striker is going to do something, he is going to take the charge. There are times when the non-striker says I'm finding it a little tough, so why don't you explode? It is all about how you feel on that particular day; if I feel one way today, it doesn't mean that tomorrow also, I'm going to feel the same. It could be because my body is a bit stiff, or my bat swing might not be as good. So you figure out all those things and then you decide to charge.
Plenty of views have been expressed about my batting. At back of their minds those who have played this game realise that every day is not the same day. Things change and one should be wise enough to change with time. Nothing stays stationary in this world, everything changes all the time and so do I, I am no exception. Everyone changes and you have to accept that and move accordingly.
Q. There is the big debate about your batting and the fact that you are not the 25-year-old batsman anymore. What would you say are the rewards of this new role of responsibility?
A. I enjoy analyzing situations because it is not about going out there and trying to smash everything. Plus the team has played well. Maybe why it is made to look different is because I'm not hitting the ball as much in the air. People normally like to be on the other side of the fence all the time. When I was hitting the ball earlier in the air, people would say why? What's the need to hit the ball in the air? And when I'm not hitting the ball in the air, they say why aren't you playing all those shots? So basically, it's hard to keep everyone happy and satisfied. Eventually what matters again is the team's goal and if we can achieve the goal as a team and not as individuals, it is fine. There's nothing wrong with it.
Q. There is another set of debates about the weight of your bat. How much has that changed?
A. I've stuck to more or less the same weight over 16 years, maybe yes it has come down a little bit but not because I was playing on faster, bouncier tracks or anything. It is not because X or Y is suggesting that I should play with a lighter bat. I've always stuck to the same weight and it's essentially whatever I've felt comfortable with. From 1989 to now, the weight has come down. If I pick up the bat with which I played in 1989, I find that heavy. The weight has varied from 2/14 to 2/11 ½ to 2/11. It hasn't been a conscious effort, it is whatever feels good because the bat is my weapon, I'd better be comfortable with it. It is a question of getting the bat swing right. If you don't get it right, you are not going to time the ball as sweetly.
Also when I shared this query with doctors, they said if you play with a lighter bat, the impact is going to be felt more on your elbow. The heavier the bat, the lesser the impact. All these things contribute. Also with a lighter bat, your thought process changes, you feel you can reach out for anything and everything. Inspite of that I still reach out, so you know what can happen if I start playing with a lighter bat! I've been around for a long time. I know what is good and what is bad, there are times when I choose to play with a comparatively lighter blade and I've been doing that but I don't feel the need to go public. I don't need to tell anyone, yes, that today I'm playing with a lighter bat. So what? Eventually, it's cricket I'm playing and that is where it should end.
Q. What part of your rehabilitation was tougher to deal with? The physical or the mental?
A. Both were tough. Last year, the treatment that I had, shock wave therapy, was extremely painful. Probably the most painful treatment of my life.
Q. And it's known you have a very high pain threshold ....
A. I've carried a lot of injuries out there in the middle and surprised the physios occasionally. But when you are not playing that is the time when you can actually feel the pain. When you are playing your mind is so focused on the cricket, you don't realise those sort of things, the little niggles here and there, you tend to forget about them. Here I was not playing cricket and I could feel the pain more. The shockwave treatment was as if somebody was taking a long nail and trying to hammer it inside the elbow, the pressure generated was a lot. It was for 12 minutes and they do it continuously. It's very high tech with lasers and crystals. After my first treatment, my wife was coming to England to be with me and I told her to carry a video camera and to record the session. I told her you will never see me in so much pain. Make sure you carry a camera and record the session. And we've actually done that.
Q. What was the post-surgery rehab like?
A. I was training at Lands End at the Taj and had a trainer with me,Vijay Alva, who had worked with the Bombay team. All the exercises were given by Gloster and our trainer Greg King, Vijay monitored all these exercises. I trained five-six days a week for two-and-a-half months. Those sessions really helped. It was tough to go out every morning and do the same things for this period but it has helped so far. And I feel quite confident about the number of hours spent at the gym. After that I used to relax and that was an important time for me. The doctors felt I shouldn't be overloading my arm either, so I had to find the perfect balance between pushing myself enough and not going overboard. Also in between the recovery time was important. It wasn't that I could go flat out for a number of days and get back in action earlier than expected.
It is equally important to recover - otherwise immediately you can start feeling the effects. Instead of progressing you could go five steps backward. You have to be careful with that. It was a tough balance to find. I was a little confused, I didn't know whether I should start now or not. I couldn't figure it out, so I was constantly in touch with the doctors.
Q. For how long didn't you pick up a bat? That must have been difficult ...
A. I went to England just before my surgery and we carried a bat for my son Arjun. We played a couple of times in the park so that was the last time I picked up a bat. When I came back from England, there were a few new bats which had come home so I couldn't keep myself away from them. I would pick them up just with the right hand and try to figure out how they felt. The first time I hit was I think on August 14 at the MIG Club. I tried for four-five days and I felt it was a bit too early. I wasn't ready. I hadn't regained enough strength. John Gloster was there to monitor the sessions. Then after about a month of that, I had the sessions at the Wankhede stadium with the Mumbai team.
Q. How closely did you follow the Indian team in your time off? Did you follow it like the average viewer, getting angry when things went wrong?
A. I did watch most of the games and yes, you realise it's far easier said than done. Many a time, I would send SMS messages to my teammates about something in the match and I made it a point to write, "Easier said than done." I'm sure the players must have tried like hell but sometimes it just doesn't happen. The game looks easier sitting miles away from the action.
Q. Watching from the outside, where do you think the team has been going wrong this season?
A. We have not gathered momentum from the last season, and as I said earlier, when you are winning, you think you can pull it off from any situation, the confidence is so high. It doesn't mean that on other occasions we don't feel confident but here you go a step further. Because you are thinking so positively, you have positive energy in your body and that is felt in your movements on the ground. That is why body language also matters. And I have felt in the last few months, we have not been able to get that going against the better sides. And no one can do anything about it, except us. From the outside, people can only wish well for us and support us, but eventually it is the team which will have to pull up its socks and fight it out. So it is the coach, physio, the trainer and all the players who have to get together to put up a better show. I'm sure it will happen, it has to happen, we've done that in the past and it is just about carrying form from one game into the next. There's a long season coming up and I'm very positive about it.
Q. You missed the biggest controversy in years, the whole Sourav Ganguly-Greg Chappell stand off. Were you glad in a way you weren't around the team at that time, because things got ugly.
A. The only statement I made about it was that it shouldn't have been out in the public. It should have been sorted out between the captain and the coach, the board and the concerned people. It shouldn't have been out in public because once it goes out of the room, then there is no end to controversy. It keeps going on and on and no solution is found. When in fact the solution is there itself inside the room. It should be sorted out there and then.
Q. You belong to a very strong group of senior players in the team; who according to you among the younger lot has the maturity and leadership that your generation can hand over the team to with confidence?
A. I'm not talking about the more recent lot, but from among those who got into the side say around five years ago, like Mohammed Kaif, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, who have been around for six-seven years ago, Ajit Agarkar, Yuvraj Singh, all these guys are matured enough and as they grow older, obvioulsy things can only get better. I think it is up to them to take the responsibility and make those sensible decisions. Sometimes you feel yes, I'm right and probably you are the only one who feels that way. It's important that they stay together all the time and make some big decision for our country.
Q. Do you see yourself as a mentor in this team as a senior player? The general sentiment is that now you're back, things will be better ...
A. I look at it differently, I'm part of the team and I'm not a magician. I'm part of the side and have just spent more time than the other players on the circuit. It's more of a family away from home. I play that role of older brother. Sometimes you need to tell the player something sternly and sometimes you need to take them aside, have a quiet dinner with them and explain to them that it doesn't work like that. Basically I'm very happy. The players look up to me and in adverse situations they want to come and share their thoughts and that makes you feel good.
All I have to do is give them a frank opinion of what I feel. It may not be always in their favour but eventually it is the frank opinion that matters. And that is why, the players would come if at all they decide to come. We all trust each other and that is the most important thing. If you are not going to trust each other, you don't enjoy each other's company. We enjoy each other's company and that is important.
Q. The structure of the selection panel has come under discussion and you've been a part of that system as captain. Would you be in favour of changing the way the selection panel is structured?
A. Yes, I think it's important to look at all these things in a broader perspective - having selectors from each zone all the time may not be the best of ideas. It can happen coincidentally but you have got to be looking at picking the best possible selectors who analyse the player and not just go by the scorebook; you need to look at the opposition, the bowling attack if someone scores a 100, you have to look at the conditions in which people succeed. I'm sure they are all doing that, but what I'm trying to say is that we shouldn't be looking to pick five selectors from each zone. They could be from anywhere - Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, wherever ... I'm sure the board is looking into all these things and something constructive will happen.
Q. Do you fancy another shot at captaincy? Or have you ruled it out?
A. I have not thought about it. I just feel that I stepped down from captaincy five years ago not so that I could start thinking about it again. It's been a while, five years, and at no stage have I thought about it, or thought that now's the time for me to inform the selectors or say if you need my services ... I've never thought about it. All I've ever focused on is how I can contribute from my side and give whatever I've got that will help the team perform better.
Q. Sixteen years in the game, do you worry that time is running out?
A. No, not at all. I feel that this has been a tough phase of my life, there have been restless moments, but my family was there all the time to support me. That is the greatest support I have.
In truth though, in a time of flux, Tendulkar's constancy has been missed. "We feel his absence in the dressing room," says V. V. S. Laxman, a debutant under Tendulkar's captaincy. He may not have led India Seniors in the Challenger, but when the teams got ready for a minute's silence for the earthquake victims, it was Tendulkar who checked the straightness of their line and ordered everyone to take off their caps. "Great as he is as a player, he is 10 times a better man. He's a father figure to me," says Harbhajan Singh, who exchanges jokes with and absorbs tickings-off from Tendulkar. "Daant padti hai aur padni bhi chahiye (I get scolded by him and deserve to be)," he says. On the field Tendulkar's arrival is, as always, greeted by a hungry roar. But when he moves through corridors and lobbies, bystanders fall silent. Involuntarily everyone takes a step back as if he were a giant who needs more room.
Today he is more planet than star, with longevity and consistency as trademarks. All his contemporaries have at some stage run out of steam or desire. Tendulkar has stomped on at the same relentless pace for 16 years, making allowance only for the wear and tear of scoring 23,776 international runs. He wears a special shoe to cushion a battered toe, does not field in the slips after hurting his finger and if he finds himself in a place where dehydration is a factor, sets an alarm to wake up at night to drink water. Last year he underwent several sessions of a treatment called shockwave therapy for his tennis elbow which he describes as "somebody taking a long nail and trying to hammer it inside the elbow," for 12 minutes. It did not work well enough for him to avoid surgery.
| PICTURE SPEAK |
|TRIAL PERIOD: Tendulkar lines up against Balaji in the Challenger |
Dominated for over a decade, bowlers have changed the lines they bowl to Tendulkar, trying to shackle him by going wider. He has responded by switching gears and resisting the bait. In cricket, improvisation does not always mean indulgence and defence is a solution, not a compromise. "He is so mature he can control any shot," says Laxman. The change in tempo has led to rumbling but Tendulkar is sure of his methods. He will always be the batsman he thinks he should be.
On the morning of his comeback to competitive cricket, his hotel room in Mohali was a mess; there was laundry piled up and the cleaning crew was due. Soon the lights, wires and bags of the India Today photographer were added to the mix. It could have been the Indian dressing room that can do with some efficient housekeeping. In all the tumult though, Tendulkar was himself. Calm, clear-thinking and certain. And as always, ready.