It was the winter of 1989 when a 16-year old Sachin Tendulkar made his debut for India against Pakistan, their fiercest rival. He came armed with an already formidable opposition and began the journey that scaled a summit that a few would imagine was possible.
Twenty years later, Sachin Tendulkar is a legend among his peers and a colossal that history would place on a heady pedestal. He still plays the game with limitless enthusiasm and continues to enchant.
CNN-IBN brings you the man himself, his unmatched success and the hunger that continues to drive him on in Tendulkar@20 in his own words.
Are you still as excited as ever to begin a new season of cricket?
Sachin Tendulkar: I am always excited to play cricket. Twenty years ago, it was a similar kind of excitement and today also it's the same. When it's cricket, the heart starts beating faster and it's not just me, but everyone around us. They all are looking forward to the season and so am I.
As you said, as the season starts, the heart starts beating faster but now you must know how to deal with the positive nervous energy in a much better way than when you were 16.
Sachin Tendulkar: Initially, I didn't realise this but as time when by I came to know that this is how my body gears up before a big game. I am a little restless and that's how my body is preparing and my subconscious mind is getting ready for the event. Now I am used to it. So I like it when I am a little restless. I'm comfortable with it.
Have you redefined the word genius? In two months time, you will become the second cricketer to complete two decades in international cricket. How do you look back at this entire journey?
Sachin Tendulkar: It's been a fantastic journey. I thoroughly enjoyed it and every moment has been a special one.
Playing for India means the world to me. I grew up dreaming about playing for India and I am living my dream. It's almost going to be 20 years now.
I am thankful to God that I have been given the opportunity to play for the country for such a long period. I have been fortunate because so many people dream of playing for the nation and I have been doing it for a couple of decades. So I am quite happy about it.
You have broken almost all records a batsman can. So now what motivates you personally, apart from the team goals like winning a World Cup for India. You aspire to get 15, 000 runs or hundred centuries?
Sachin Tendulkar: First of all, when you play for India, you do not need any external factor to motivate you. When you play for India, you are motivated from within. I don't think anybody plays for the records. Records are just mere records of what I have been able to do for the country. It's just my contribution. While playing, if records are broken, it's great. But what we look to do is go step by step towards achieving the team's target. And while achieving that the various things that happen are always welcomed. The most important thing is the team's glory and that's what we all focus on.
But someone as Roger Federer aims to have this many grand slam titles. Do you see yourself achieving 15, 000 runs? Is it something you are looking to achieve?
Sachin Tendulkar: I have never said I want to score 15, 000 runs. When I achieved 10, 000 runs Sunil Gavaskar said to me that I should achieve 15, 000. And that was what I was asked and I answered that if my hero tells me to do something, I have to put a big effort to do that. And that is where it ended. It was projected differently. I have never made such big statements. I would like to enjoy the game. And if it has to happen, it will happen.
The only target that I can say I was given was 35 Test hundreds because we grew up watching Sunil Gavaskar and every now and then his examples were used. And if you wanted to be regarded as one of the greatest players, then you have to get to 34 hundreds and go past that. That was the target. I am quite happy because Gavaskar played a role in motivating all of us and left such a legacy that the next generation got inspired by what he did. And in every step in our cricketing life, we have used his example.
Gavaskar was a hero for you, Rahul and Sourav. But now you are the hero for the next generation. Piyush Chawla was born in the same year you made your debut. So what do you think you have given to the art of Indian batting?
Sachin Tendulkar: I don't know. I guess I am the wrong person to ask this question. I have just gone ahead and expressed myself. I have just played the game I know and I have been taught. And if the kids watching me got inspired then I think it's for them to answer this question. You can ask them what were the qualities they liked and what were the factors that motivated them.
For me I can say that winning the 1983 World Cup was a huge thing and again the victory in Australia in 1985 when Ravi Shastri became the champion of the champions played a huge role in motivating me and making me feel that one-day I have to be a part of this team. So I will leave the question you asked for the youngsters to answer.
Do you think you brought a Viv Richards style batting to India, one which is aggressive?
Sachin Tendulkar: My two batting heroes have always been Gavaskar and Viv Richards and I have always felt that I should be a mixture of both. When it comes to attacking, I should be able to play shots like Richards and when it comes to concentration, mental toughness, determination and guts, I should be Gavaskar. I grew up watching them and wanted to play like them. And also, achieve what they have been able to for their countries.
Sir Don Bradman said you bat like him. That's not a small compliment. Do you feel there is any young cricketer who plays like you?
Sachin Tendulkar: The statement from Sir Don was a huge thing for me. I remember I was in Sharjah and I was told that this is what Sir Don said about you and I was on the top of the world. I was extremely happy and I didn't know how to react. Then I got the opportunity to meet him on his 90th birthday. I spent an hour with me, which is always going to be the highlight of my life.
If I have to describe somebody who comes closest to my batting style, it has to be Virender Sehwag. Even at home, people get confused as to who is batting because the attire was almost the same when he started wearing those leg-guards.
There is a massive book coming on you called the Sachin Tendulkar opus. Now when we saw the list institutes on which the books have been written. It's Manchester United, Wimbledon, Formula One, Maradona and Mohammad Ali. Where do you see your name on that list?
Sachin Tendulkar: I see myself somewhere there. It's a huge book. I have got Mohammad Ali's book at home. It weighs 35 kilos and is a pictorial book. It's like watching a movie with some exclusive pictures and you won't get to see anywhere else. And I can vouch for that because I have seen couple of Mohammad Ali's pictures in that book that I have not seen anywhere else. It's very exclusive and the moment I saw the copy, I said that yes I will do it because this is something exciting and special. I have never seen anything like this before. Can you imagine a book weighing 35 kilos? It's something unique.
People now don't compare you with great batsmen. They compare you with great sportsmen like Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. How does it feel when you are compared with global sportsmen?
Sachin Tendulkar: It feels good when you are contributions are acknowledged. Who doesn't like being praised?
When you look at these sporting greats, whose personality do you think comes closest to yours?
Sachin Tendulkar: I think there is something wrong with me because my sporting hero has always been outside cricket and it has always been John McEnroe. I like his style and his aggression and he always expressed himself. I liked his mannerisms and there was something that caught my eye at the age of five or six when I started watching him. I was the only one who used to support McEnroe and the rest of the guys used to back Bjon Borg. I also like Boris Becker, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. I watch a lot of tennis. And I also watch Formula One and Michael Schumacher.
CNN-IBN: The opus contains your entire life story. Would you want to be the last picture in that book to be you holding the 2011 World Cup?
Sachin Tendulkar: It's just not my dream. It's the entire nation's dream. To win the World Cup is a huge achievement and as a cricketer you want to do that for your nation. And same here, I would like to do that.
We recently saw Australia toppled over as the number one team. Do you think the Australian domination is over?
Sachin Tendulkar: Australia definitely lost a lot of match-winning players and I felt they left a vacuum. But that does not mean that they cannot fill that up and get back to the top sides of the world. It's still one of the topsides of the world. South Africa have played really well for a couple of years and have shown a lot of consistency. Australia will be there and it's just a cycle and every team has to go through that cycle. I feel Australia will get there at one stage.
Do you think India have the potential to be the number one side?
Sachin Tendulkar: We have the ability, spirit, desire and the hunger to get there. We have been working towards it. I know it has been a roller coaster ride. If you look at our performance in the last couple of years, it has been terrific. And a couple of hiccups here and there are always going to be there. It's never going to be smooth ride. And that's what keeps us together and tighter. It's the difficult times when the team needs to be closer and rise up to the challenges and meet the obstacles. I see good times ahead of us. We have had some terrific times in the past and we will likely to continue that. We have our team target and we want to achieve that.
When you see the world of cricket today, do you feel the Test cricket is in danger?
Sachin Tendulkar: No, I have no fears. I don't think Test cricket is in any danger. It is very much safe. It's the ultimate test of a player's character, his peripheral awareness and vision. You should be able to realise playing on the second day what the wicket will play out in the fifth day. That planning is important. So, the Test cricket is the most challenging format. I don't think there is any danger to Test cricket.
Do you think there should be any changes done in the format of Test cricket?
Sachin Tendulkar: I don't think any changes are needed because most of the Test matches are producing results. Earlier, there were complaints that most of the matches are drawn and there are no results. But we are consistently getting results. So where is the problem? It's a different format of the game. It's the most challenging format of the game. So appreciate it rather than finding faults with it. Just because there are a couple of new introductions, doesn't mean Test cricket has to change.
For someone who has broken all ODI records and has played the maximum number of ODIs, how do you see the future of ODI cricket?
Sachin Tendulkar: I do feel there can be subtle change to ODIs. This thing has been going on for some time and I have been thinking about it. Why not make a side bat for 25 overs and then make the other side bat. There is an unfair advantage. If it's a day/night game, sides know that there will dew under the lights and both will like to bowl first and then 300 becomes a chaseable target.
So play 25-25 innings; so that both sides bat and bowl when there is due. And if it's a day game and there is dampness in the wicket then both sides get to play on a wicket that does a bit initially. That will bring balance to the game.
I remember this thought came to my mind in 2002 when we were playing Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka. We played two days and still there was no result. We were declared joint winners. But we had played almost 110 overs. The first day, Sri Lanka batted 50 overs and then we batted for seven-eight overs. The next day again Sri Lanka batted 50 overs before it was rained off. So we played 110 overs and there was no result. If you play 25 overs each then at least at the end of 40 overs or 50 overs, you know a particular side has won that game.
Do you think with IPL, a hype has been added to cricket that can mislead the young players and make them look at cricket in a wrong way?
Sachin Tendulkar: Times have definitely changed. There is no doubt about it. But getting distracted and losing your focus is up to the individual. A lot of things may be happening around you, but you have to keep your focus and composure. You need to know your priorities.
When I was growing up, playing cricket was the ultimate thing. I didn't care about anything else. I just wanted to score as many runs and win matches. It was that simple. The rest of the things take care of themselves. You just need to worry about cricket rather than doing various things around cricket. Cricket should be in the foreground and the rest has to be in the background.
How do you ensure that a cricketer gets to know what Test cricket is like so that he develops a technique built to tackle a hard day of cricket at the highest level?
Sachin Tendulkar: I think we need to be realistic here. Not everyone can play Test cricket for their country. But with IPL, there are eight teams and so many players are getting the opportunity, which is good for cricket and good for the individuals. And I support that because there are so many players who have played Ranji Trophy for their states and have struggled to take care of their families because the income was not much. But now with the IPL, the income is substantial.
You play cricket because you are passionate about it and this is a different format. For guys who know somewhere in their hearts that I may not play Test cricket for India, this is not a bad option because you get to enjoy cricket and you can look after your families. And there is nothing wrong with it. It is extremely important to look after your family and as I said, the times have changed and we need to change with that.
This is just a different format of the game and don't mix two things. Twenty20, one-day and Tests are different formats of the game. And whoever is good, and has the desire to play for India, will always focus on the five-day version, not on the Twenty20. So, it is up to the individual also.
What's the secret behind your focus and dedication?
Sachin Tendulkar: It was not difficult to stay motivated. It was difficult to keep scoring runs because every day is a different day, every bowling attack is different and every surface is different. Sometimes your footwork is good, sometimes your hands are going correctly towards the ball, sometimes you are thinking right but that's not how you will feel every day. But every day, you are motivated to do well for India. And that is why I care about cricket. If you care about cricket, the rest will follow.
At home, there is an unwritten law that if I do well and records are broken, we just distribute sweets at home and keep a box of sweets in front of God and move on. Let the others talk about what I have achieved and we focus on the next game. Right from my school days, we have followed that and that works even today.
I have always been able to keep things simple because my family has played a huge role. My wife, my brother Ajit, my mother, my other brother Nitin, his wife, my uncle and aunt whom I stayed with, my coach and everybody; it's a huge army that goes with me. I represent them in the middle but it is a huge team that works together. And last but not the least, my father who played a huge role in this.
Do you get irritated when people keep asking about your retirement plans?
Sachin Tendulkar: No, I don't get irritated. I have been asked this question a lot of times. I feel it is my decision. I know that I know my body better than somebody else. I understand the frame of my mind. The day I feel I am not feeling motivated to get on to the field. I will have a closer look at the whole issue. If that continues, then I will know I need to move away. I am enjoying every moment and when the time comes, we will deal with it.
Do long breaks help you?
Sachin Tendulkar: A break does help because after a long season one needs a long break. You need to recharge your batteries. You also allow your body to rest a bit and then again start fresh. When you start out, you just want to pick a bat and go to the field. But it's not the same when you get up in the morning and go to the nets and face 150 balls and then come back to your hotel room.
I think it's very important to spend time with your family. I managed to do that this time. And I had quality time, so now I am looking forward to the next season. So I think there has to be balance. And as long as you find the right balance, it works.
Now that you are a father, what kind of dreams do you have for your kids? Do you see a blur picture of Arjun at 17 or 18 playing for India?
Sachin Tendulkar: When I dream, I make sure I dream twice. One is my dream as a cricketer and the other for my family. The cricketing dream stays the same. I have left that to him. He has started playing cricket and my daughter plays tennis. I don't want to force them into cricket or tennis. It has to come from their side. I would just give them directions. Eventually, it's their life and my job is to guide them.
Have your kids realised that they stay with one of India's biggest heroes?
Sachin Tendulkar: I am just their father. That's where it stops. I am all those other things when I cross the ropes in a cricket field. Otherwise I am a family man and now they know that I play cricket for India.
It was tough initially because my son did not like it when I left home. For the first five-six years of his life, he did not speak to me on the phone. That was difficult for me but now he knows what I do and he appreciates that; so that's nice.
Where would you like to see the Indian team after the end of the big season ahead?
Sachin Tendulkar: It's going to be a challenging season. I wish we were playing more Test cricket. We play only three Tests in the season but the calendar is such that we cannot accommodate more matches. And whatever has come in our share, we will like to make the most of it. I hope we live up to the expectations of the nation and get to where we as a team have targeted. That obviously stays in the dressing room that our targets are. But it is obvious that we want to be there at the top. So we will just go out there and give our best.
Has anyone in the dressing room ever called you - uncle?
Sachin Tendulkar: Well, don't give them ideas.