Sachin Tendulkar's autobiography, Playing It My Way, is a letdown in terms of its narrative quality, and the staid prose reflects a lost opportunity to bring out the nuances in the life and career of one of the game's finest batsmen. Thus, instead of taking a refreshing look into the mind of India's biggest sporting icons, the book is reduced to a recollection of mostly things that happened in the middle and have been well chronicled. But wait! That doesn't take away from the frenzy and excitement it has sparked among cricket lovers. HT presents some excerpts from the much-awaited biography. Read on to know how Sachin's partnership with Anjali started, how he felt about the captains with whom he has represented the side, how he reacted after the Multan declaration, what he felt about Chappell and many more.
'Greg's tenure worst of my career'
Greg's tenure as coach was the worst of my career. There is no doubt we failed as a collective in 2007, but his high-handed manner added to our disappointment and, in the immediate aftermath of defeat, had a harmful impact on Indian cricket.
The outrage in India after the 2007 World Cup was not helped by armchair experts who were sitting thousands of miles away but still passing judgement on Indian cricket and suggesting I should 'have a good long look into the mirror' and think about retiring. Such opinions, which were published in Indian newspapers, provoked fans across the country. I have never quite understood why Ian Chappell, who was merely reporting on the game, should have got a headline in the Indian press.
I remember meeting Ian Chappell in Durban in 2010 during the CLT20... I bumped into him as I was coming out of a health club after a session in the gym with my physio, Nitin Patel, who was party to the entire exchange. Ian started the conversation by saying that now he knew the secret behind my scoring big runs. I reminded him that he was conveniently changing his stand, considering what he'd written in 2007. I said to him that I had not done what he suggested back then because I was well aware of what I needed to do and how much cricket I had left in me.
I also said that critics like him change with the wind. When the going is good, they write positive things and when the going gets tough, they start making a lot of negative comments without ever trying to find out what actually is going through a player's body or mind. He then asked me if I had changed the weight of my bat. I told him that I hadn't changed a thing and was doing exactly what I had been doing for twenty long years. He was the one who had conveniently changed his opinion because I had been scoring heavily between 2008 and 2010.
Finally the conversation moved to Greg. I told Ian bluntly that Greg had not been popular and I would not want to share a dressing room with him again. Ian attempted to argue that Greg had always had a problem trying to understand failure... I said that that was not my concern and all that mattered to me was that he had failed to take Indian cricket forward. Ian was most surprised to hear all this. In fact, Nitin Patel told me soon after that I was the last person he had expected to lash out like this.
The Multan declaration that hurt the most
…Disappointed and upset, I made my way back to the dressing room and could sense that the whole team was surprised at the decision (Rahul Dravid declaring with me stranded at 194). Some of my team-mates perhaps expected me to throw my gear about in the dressing room in disgust and create a scene. However, such things are not in me and I decided not to say a word to anyone about the incident. I calmly put my batting gear away and asked John Wright for a little time before I went out to field because I was feeling a little tight after batting for so long. Inside I was fuming.
Just as I was washing my face in the bathroom, John walked up to me and apologized. He was sorry about what had happened and said he had not been party to the decision. I was surprised and said to him that as coach he was one of the decision-makers and there was no reason for him to be sorry if he believed in what had been done. I also said that what was done could not be reversed and it was best to leave it alone.
Finally, I couldn't help reminding him that the declaration was contrary to what had been discussed at tea and it was strange that I was not given even one ball to get to my double hundred after a message had been sent out asking me to get there as quickly as possible.
Rahul said that the call was taken with the interests of the team in mind. It was important to demonstrate that we meant business and were keen to win. I wasn't convinced. First, I said to him that I was batting for the team as well. The 194 was meant to help the team and it was my individual contribution to the team's cause...
Learning from history
A similar situation arose in December 2008 when we were playing England at Mohali. It was the last day of the Test and Gambhir and Yuvraj were both in the seventies... It was being argued that we needed to declare immediately and put the English in for some thirty overs so that we could try and force a win. I intervened. Dhoni was our captain and Gary Kirsten our coach. I said that I had been in this situation before and did not want a repeat of what had happened to me.
Monkeygate: Was surprised Aussies complained
... Bhajji had gone past 50 when it all started. For a number of overs he had been telling me that Andrew Symonds was trying to get him riled. …Bhajji had playfully tapped Lee on the back after completing a run and Symonds at mid off took exception to this. He apparently did not want an opposition player meddling with Lee and once again hurled abuse at Bhajji.
Bhajji is an impulsive and passionate individual and it was only a matter of time before he would retaliate, which he soon did. That was the start of the controversy that almost caused the tour to be called off.
I want to state very clearly that the incident arose because Andrew Symonds had been continually trying to provoke Bhajji and it was inevitable that the two would have an altercation at some point. While walking up to Bhajji to try to calm things down, I heard him say 'Teri maa ki' (Your mother…) to Symonds. It is an expression we often use in North India to vent our anger and to me it was all part of the game. In fact, I was surprised to see umpire Mark Benson go up to Bhajji and speak to him. While the umpire was talking to Bhajji, some of the Australian players started to warn him of the dire consequences of his words, presumably to rattle him and disturb his concentration. The ploy paid off when a few overs later Bhajji was out for 63.
I thought the matter had ended with Bhajji's dismissal and later I was surprised when I was told that the Australians had lodged a formal complaint at the end of that day's play, apparently alleging that Bhajji had called Symonds a 'monkey', which was being treated as a racial insult. What surprised me most was the haste with which the Australians had lodged their complaint. I was later informed that it had apparently been agreed between the Australian and Indian boards during their tour of India in October 2007, following an incident in Mumbai, that the respective captains were to report to the match referee any incident with a racial element. Even so, I still believe that the matter would not have been blown so out of proportion if Ponting had discussed it with the captain Anil Kumble, Harbhajan and the Indian team management before reporting the incident to Mike Procter, the match referee. In turn, Mike Procter could also have handled the matter with a little more sensitivity…
In the IPL
In the fourth season of the IPL in 2011, Symonds and Bhajji played for the Mumbai Indians. I clearly remember our first meeting with Andrew when he joined the team. I told him that the Sydney controversy of 2008 was in the past and that neither I nor Harbhajan would ever refer to the incident... Andrew, on his part, reciprocated the camaraderie and we became good friends.
World Cup celebrations, a night to remember
Marine Drive was quite a sight. Although I remember dancing and celebrating as a kid after India's first World Cup win in 1983, the memory is a bit of a blur.
This was our moment. It was liberation. I had finally scaled cricket's Everest and each and every soul on the streets of Mumbai was celebrating. We had brought joy to their faces and that's all we could have asked for as Indian cricketers.
In the confines of my room, Anjali and I poured each other a drink and let our hair down. We plucked flowers out of the bouquets that were piled everywhere and put them behind our ears and started dancing to the music.
This was the night of a World Cup triumph, so why should we restrain ourselves? In an instant all that time away from my family, missing out on seeing my children grow up, seemed worthwhile. Their father had finally become part of a World Cup-winning team, something he had strived for all his life.
I have enjoyed playing under all my captains
All of the people I recommended or played under after giving up the captaincy - Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble or MS Dhoni - I had a good relationship with, and when I felt it necessary I would give them my opinion and then leave it to them to take the final call….
Every captain I played under had his respective strengths. Sourav was an excellent strategist and had a very good understanding of the game. He was an aggressive captain and wasn't afraid to experiment in difficult situations. It was under Sourav that we started winning overseas Test matches consistently.
Anil Kumble was an excellent communicator and clearly explained to the players what he wanted from each of them. He was aggressive and trusted his instincts. Sourav and Anil were both great players and equally capable leaders.
Rahul was more conventional. He was more methodical and his mental toughness was an added strength. He was committed to the job but stayed away from experimenting too much. Dhoni, in contrast, was impulsive and loved to back his instincts. He has a really good grasp of the game and is not afraid to try something different. He is never flustered and handles pressure well... I enjoyed playing with them all.
Tendulkar wrote in his book that his "unceremonius" removal from captaincy in 1997 was "humiliating".
"... I was unceremoniously sacked as skipper. No one from the BCCI managed to call me or inform me of my removal as captain before someone from the media called to say I was no longer captain," he writes.
"I told myself that the BCCI mandarins might be able to take the captaincy away from me, but no one could do the same as far as my own cricket was concerned."
"During my tenure as captain some of the players used to call me 'skip', so when one of the players shouted out 'skipper' in our next engagement in Dhaka, I automatically turned around to answer the call. That's when it really hit me that I was no longer the captain of the Indian cricket team.... Now I simply had to focus on my batting and win some matches for the team. So that's what I did."
When 'muscles' risked his life
The story of the Australia tour is incomplete without a story that has stayed with me over the years. It involves Venkatapathy Raju, our left-arm spinner, and Merv Hughes. They were great pals and on a flight to Perth, which is a little under four hours from Sydney, we dared Raju, one of the skinniest cricketers in the team, to go and grab Hughes's famous thick moustache. Merv, a huge man, was known for his volatile temper and most of us were convinced that Raju would chicken out in the end. To our surprise, he boldly went up to Merv and pulled his moustache, a feat of incredible bravery - or foolishness. Merv took it all very sportingly and the act was applauded by everyone on the flight, making Raju a hero.
When Sourav ducked for cover
Off the pitch, one incident from this tour is difficult to forget. Sourav Ganguly and Navjot Sidhu were travelling on the Tube in London when a few young guys, who'd probably had a bit too much to drink, boarded the train. For some reason they started making gestures at Sourav and Navjot and eventually one of them threw a beer can at Navjot, who promptly stood up to confront them. It turned ugly and a fight ensued, until the train reached the next station, where their attackers staggered off - but then one of them came back onto the train and started waving a gun at Navjot. At this, Sourav's first reaction was to drop to the ground and cover his face in fright, but then he started pleading with the boy and dragged Navjot away as quickly as he could. Looking back at the incident, it seems a funny scene in some ways, but it must have been pretty scary at the time!