Playing shots are as important as not playing them, explains Sachin Tendulkar in this concluding part of his exclusive interview to HT. He also talks about the immense pressure he faced during the wait to score his 100th international century and how retirement has not come to his mind. Click here for 'Art of batting', part I of the interview.
On shot selection, in the 2004 Sydney Test, you scored a double hundred without hitting a single boundary on the off side. To do this for such a long time, especially when that happens to be your strength, must have been very difficult. How did you pull it off?
I was batting really well on that tour. I felt terrific when I landed in Australia as I was in very good form. In the first three Tests, I was moving well and batting well but did not score the amount of runs I was expecting to. When I reflected on it, I felt I was shifting from fourth gear to overdrive, wanting to destroy the opposition. I decided that I would shift to fourth gear but not beyond that, however comfortable I felt against any bowler. No shifting of gears. And in doing that there were certain areas I decided to avoid. Not that there was a flaw, it was about controlling my aggression, and not about technique. I went out there with a challenge that ‘if you are going to test me with your patience, I am going to test you with my patience’.
Why didn’t you implement the same plan on your recent tour of England and Australia, where you fell a number of times playing outside the off stump?
You can’t go with the same approach every now and then. You have to trust your instinct, see how you are feeling, got to see your mental set-up. That was a different stage. This was also when I was on my 99th hundred and everyone focussed on things I was not able to do, forgetting that in the last 21 years I had achieved things which were hundred times bigger.
I felt the focus was only on the hundred and if it did not come, no one, very few, focussed on what I was able to do than what I was not able to do. It had also to do with how people were looking at that season. As for my batting, I played some important innings. My 74 against the West Indies in the Delhi Test was crucial as we had lost Rahul (Dravid) early and my partnership with (VVS) Laxman was important for winning. But all those things were, well, people were focussing only on the hundred. Normally, if you score 74 in a match-winning situation, it gives great satisfaction.
The pressure did affect your game?
Yes, in a way it did. In those 10 months, all that everyone spoke about was my 100 hundreds. It got to a point where I got thinking, why is it happening? It was not that I was not batting well and it would happen when it will.
I felt in the first part of the Australia tour, I was batting the best I had in the recent past. I was moving well, I was very aggressive, when there was time to leave I left. I played five or six maiden overs, depending on the situation. But there were other opinions, ‘why is he not playing his natural game?’ It is easy for people to give opinion from outside. I can’t be looking to keep everyone happy. I need to trust my instinct and play according to what I think is needed at that moment and approach the game accordingly.
In Sydney, when I was batting in the second innings, (James) Pattinson and (Ben) Hilfenhaus bowled a very good spell at the end of the third day’s play, and we had to just respect that spell and let the ball go. That is what I did with Gautam (Gambhir) , who was batting at the other end. Even though I was leaving the ball, I knew I was in total control. It is all about knowing when to strike and when to defend. The next day, to the same line and length, I kept attacking the bowlers and they had to keep a deep point. You know, it has also to do with how people get it.
Over a period of time, how has your batting evolved? Changes in stroke-making, like you were a terrific hooker earlier on but…
I don’t think I was ever a natural hooker. It all depends on the feel, when you think you can play that shot and when you can’t. I got my 51st Test hundred by hooking (Morne) Morkel for a six. In the World Cup match at Nagpur, (Dale) Steyn bounced and I hit him for a six.
How did the shot you hit over the slips to fast bowlers evolve? You don’t normally play risky shots…
To me, it is not a risky shot though it may look like one. I only look to play that shot when I feel confident enough. I started playing that in Bloemfontein in South Africa in 2001-2 a lot to (Makhaya) Ntini and a couple of shots to Nantie Hayward and then I think I played one to (Jacques) Kallis as well. I played that shot when I knew I had time to guide the ball, and I did that in Australia and even against the West Indies at Mumbai, so yeah, I have played this shot.
Which is the stroke that gives you the most pleasure?
It has to be the straight drive. Then you know everything is correct, the balance is right, your head is right, the weight is transferring well.
Does the world’s highest run-getter, century-maker, think he has a weakness?
I don’t think there is a weakness but as long as it does not make me overconfident, it is my strength. But the moment you cross the line and become complacent, then that becomes your weakness. Because you have worked on so many aspects of the game, over the years I have played so many deliveries, and practiced so many hours, you have rectified most of the things. But you face just that one moment when there is a lapse in concentration and it all collapses. I spoke about aggression. Sometimes you become too aggressive and sometimes too defensive, but that is part and parcel of the game. I mean, you are not a robot where you push buttons and everything is going to fall right, that whatever you have imagined will happen exactly that way.
Are you still working on correcting something in your batting?
Not really, I only work a lot on my feel. I think that feel has to be there, good feel while you are practicing in the nets. Just to be in that space is important. If you are in good space, the rest follows because you know, having played for so many years, the subconscious mind has stored most of the things. But to be able to bring that out when it is needed, you got to be in a good space and that is important.
You still feel you are in that good space?
I keep working on that because it is not something that you sit back and it will happen by itself. You need to look at the good things you have done to be able to do that. That is what keeps me positive. If you look to find problems, there are always going to be problems, so to be in good space you have to understand what your problems are, work on them but focus on the good things you have done.
How far ahead are you looking at your future? That is what the world wants to know.
(Laughs) it is simple. As long as I am enjoying cricket there is no need to think otherwise. If I wake up one morning and feel I am not enjoying cricket and I start questioning myself, ‘why am I here?’, then I know there is a big question mark. When that day comes, we will deal with it. But right now, I am looking forward to the season, I still have that enthusiasm for checking various bats, trying to figure which is the right one and what is the pick up, they still excite me. As long as all these things are keeping me excited, it means the passion is alive.
People say the RS membership is accepting the fact that you won’t last too long?
(Laughs again) No. When the president nominates you, it is an honour. And I clearly said even at that stage that my focus is on cricket. All those sessions I have put in, the number of years of hard work, do not change at all. As long as my focus does not shift from cricket, it will not. I was nominated because of my contribution to cricket and I don’t want to ignore my practice sessions, my preparation. It may not be a net session; it could be just gym sessions or mental preparation. I don’t want to change all those things. I am sure about that. And as and when I stop playing cricket - I don’t know when - that time we will think about it. Right now, I am not thinking about it, I am just thinking about the coming season and how best I can contribute.
Your fans want you to play the next World Cup, any message for them?
Yeah, it is nice. All I can say is that I was honoured by the Indian Air Force and they made me Group Captain two years ago, but I still don’t know how to fly. So, the message is clear. What I am trying to say is you know I am a sportsman and this is a nomination I have accepted with full respect and that my focus shifts immediately back to cricket.