Derbyshire: Sachin Tendulkar will turn 100 next week -- well, in terms of Tests played. At 29, the Indian batting genius is a veteran of 99 Test matches and when he plays against England at the Oval on September 5, he would reach the milestone. His late father would have been proud at this approaching moment, says Tendulkar. The most feared batsman in the world, Tendulkar has scored 30 Test hundreds, made 8,352 Test runs for a great average of 57.99 since making his debut against Pakistan in Karachi in 1989. Add to this 33 One-day hundreds and 11,505 runs, and his awesome impact on the game is obvious. As he reflects on his international career thus far, Tendulkar says "thirteen years have just flown by quickly". In a wide-ranging interview, the maestro said he had enjoyed every bit of his career as he spoke at length on the issues dogging world cricket, his batting heroes and his family life.
Excerpts from the interview:
You now approach your 100th Test in your 13th year in international cricket whereas your contemporaries, men like Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, have long crossed the milestone. Do you regret you have missed out on 20 to 25 games or 3 to 4 years of Test cricket only because India doesn't play that many games?
I feel in recent past we have played decent number of Test matches. During 1993, 1994 and 1995 though I missed out on a lot of cricket. I could have played 25 more Tests. But now we are getting that opportunity. I just want to forget what has happened. The number of games have also changed now. Normally it takes a player long, long time to play 100 One-day Internationals. Now people play three years and they have reached that milestone. So it is changing now.
You have been at the centre of Indian cricket for 13 years now, truly a Tendulkar Era. What are the areas where Indian cricket must improve if it wants to have more Tendulkars?
It is important to play on good lively tracks. Second important thing is to play with Kookaburra ball. Ninety per cent of the countries play with that ball. The bowlers get different feel, the batters get different feel, it makes a reasonable difference if you play with that ball. These two changes would improve the standard of cricket in our country. If a batsman scores a hundred, it should be a proper hundred. Not that he has played 80 runs of spin bowling and 20 runs of fast bowling here and there. It should help both seamers and spinners only then if a batsman scores a hundred, he should be a satisfied person.
What about conditions of cricketers in terms of payments etc in Indian cricket?
I think that's so important. I feel sorry for the first class players who don't make that much of money so they could only look after their family. If a first class cricketer tries for so many years and somehow can't play for the country, there should be, not exactly compensation, but something, which a player deserves. If he is good enough to play first class cricket, he should be in a position to look after his family.
In international sport there have been moments when people have transcended their sport. Men like Mohammad Ali, Don Bradman and Pele. Do you think you can play a larger role in Indian cricket than just batting and scoring runs?
Whatever I have felt about changes needed in Indian cricket, I have said so. In 1996 when I became the captain I said we need to change the tracks in India, for domestic cricket and not only international cricket. If we want our second string to be strong, then the tracks have to change.
They say that if Sachin aligns himself to any issue, that issue would be taken care of. Like Steve Waugh does his bit in Kolkata?
I have been supporting a few cause - it is just that I am not doing it publicly. I am doing it because I feel good not because people would read about it. I have basically been helping people who are from slum. And trying to make their lives more comfortable and children whose studies are taken care of. I am supporting this charity, which basically teaches the poor kids from slums, how to live a good life.
Coming to your career, there have been times when people have tried to curb you. Ashley Giles has bowled outside the leg stump and so has Andrew Flintoff. How do you view it?
If I am the batter and if I have to talk about it, the people would say he is talking about it. But I get the impression people feel it is boring cricket. I have to go out there and fight it out so I shouldn't be saying it because I am prepared to fight. And even if they continue to do it in future, I will still go out there and fight. But it is boring cricket and day-by-day you would realise that people are disappearing from the stands. That's what one doesn't want.
Media's focus has been too intense. Can it be annoying at times?
There are times when things are said which are completely irrelevant and it is not a constructive criticism. Sometimes people fail to realise that even I have played international cricket for 13 years, even I know what is going around. And even I am trying as hard but sometimes no matter how hard you try, it just doesn't happen. I just feel when the criticism takes place, one should be sure that it has actually happened. Then you confirm it and then you write. But just to spread rumours, don't speculate, that's what I feel.
How do you look back at your captaincy days?
The day I stepped down from captaincy, I just closed that chapter. But when you don't win, it is upsetting. As a captain, I was thinking too much. At no stage I could switch off from the game. I thought that was putting too much pressure on me as a person. Playing cricket, each and every player has his own pressure but I thought this had started affecting me off the field as well. At no stage I could switch off my mind from cricket.
How were your days in domestic cricket?
I remember my first season. We had all the big names in the team. People like Ravi Shastri, Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Raju Kulkarni, Lalchand Rajput, Chandrakant Pandit, I thought it was a great opportunity for me to play in that team. In my first season, I ended up being the highest scorer for Bombay. The most important thing was Irani Trophy because that's when I was selected to play for India. I still remember Gursharan Singh came at number eleven, he had fractured his hand, and despite all that he came out to bat because I was batting at 92. He played three four balls and allowed me to score my hundred. It was something very special. I think he was asked by Raj Singh (Dungarpur) who always supported me, right from my school days. Raj Singh made the Cricket Club of India (CCI) committee change the rule for me because guys under 18 were not allowed to come under dressing room. And I was only 14 when I played for CCI. An exception was made. He also made me play for CCI, which is 'A' division club cricket. I remember it was he and Madhav Apte who were instrumental in making me play for CCI, which allowed me to play against all the top clubs in Mumbai.
Coming to international cricket and being exposed to the rude world of international cricket where everyone is trying to take his pound of flesh and a boy must become a man overnight, how do you react to it?
I have enjoyed every bit of it. Thirteen years have just flown by quickly. I really feel if you are going to be nice to people, the people are going to be nice to you. That's what my father taught me and he always said if you are going be nice to others, they cannot be bad to you. It would have been good if he was around today. He would have been a proud man at this approaching moment.
But do you have time for yourself?
To a certain extent no but I surely wouldn't tell any youngster that be careful and this is not an easy world. You don't worry about some other guy's problem. You worry about your problems and you concentrate on what you have to do. The kind of itinerary we have had for quite some time now, it doesn't allow us time for ourselves as such, but that is how cricket is changing now and one has got to learn to deal with that, it is not easy and that's the reason my family travels with me. It is difficult, it is not easy I must say that. The family has been very understanding. My wife has known me for a long, long time. My family knows these are the days when I would be travelling quite a bit and they know once I stop playing international cricket, I am going be there all the time. But whatever time I get in between, I make it a point to spend with the family and not do anything else.
Has your grip really gone up on the bat?
It has gone up a little bit, yes. May be it is a gradual change but I feel when I got into the side I was a bit shorter. The bat was heavier too.
Who have you admired? I think I have really admired Vivian Richards. That's how I always wanted to play. I like to play my shots and he played his shots throughout the life. I have not played much with him, I have just played county games with him. I really like his play and the way he played his shots -- really remarkable. I also admired the consistency of Sunil Gavaskar. These two are my batting heroes. And as for behaviour I admired, it obviously was my father.
Have you ever sledged on the field?
I have tried to disturb a batsman's concentration here and there and it happens because I am part of the team but I have never abused any player as such. It is not sledging as such it is just that for those five minutes you are making a batsman think something else. After the game I am a very normal guy. We all cricketers know that whatever we do is all there only in the field.
Match-fixing, any comments on that part of the game?
No, I just want to leave it aside and it is something I would not like to talk about. I just feel this is good period for Indian cricket and we just discuss positive points.