The impressionable mind may not have been able to delve into the intricacies of technique, but even as he was starting out, Sachin Tendulkar knew the path to tread. In an exclusive interview with HT, the master blaster reminisces how he overcame the challenge after being thrust into the international arena as a 16-year-old.
How would you define the art of batting and how do you approach your craft?
I have never gone so deep thinking about it. I have just gone out to bat in the nets and whichever areas, looking at the opposition, I feel I need to work on, I have tried to replicate those situations, getting the bowlers to bowl to me in those areas.
We played a practice game against the Australians in Mumbai and in the entire match Warne did not bowl round the wicket to me. I got a double hundred, everyone said well played, but I knew for the Test match, in a crunch situation, he was going to come round the wicket. And it did happen like that in the second innings, when the match could have gone either way. I took him on, not that I had planned the attack because there was also an element of risk involved. The wicket had uneven bounce from the rough, so one had to be selective and also figure out what were the areas to attack. I had practiced that in the nets, so it worked. This could be one of the examples of how I approach the game.
What about the earlier part of your career?
When I began and was learning from Achrekar sir, I would focus on technique but was too young to know what was happening. I would listen to him and my brother Ajit, who would be watching me. Then, we would discuss the areas I needed to improve on.
What were those areas?
Many. It could be to step out to cover drive or on drive. I practiced a lot, and we batted on worn out wickets. They were turning tracks and even fast bowlers got a lot of uneven bounce. The odd ball took off and we got hit so many times. When I look back, I realise that it also taught us how to take blows and get on with the game. Who in your view is a perfect batsman and what all does he need to qualify for that?
If you talk about batsmen getting perfect, then you have to get into technique and all those things, but eventually I think it has also got to do with how to score runs. There may be certain areas where a batsman may not be perfect but as long as he knows how to score runs…
How would you describe knowing how to score runs?
You see, if you take 10 match situations, you would get 20 different situations. The same bowler would be at his best and not at his best, whatever. Eventually what matters is your contribution to the team, how you have managed to get runs. To me, that is important and to do that on a consistent basis you need to be technically correct or close to being correct.
Has technical perfection been your strength right from the beginning?
Well, at the start of my career, the one thing I really needed to work on was shot selection. The shift from first-class cricket to playing the best in the world is huge. I played my first series against the likes of Imran, Wasim, Qadir, Waqar and Aaqib and the next against Hadlee and Morrison. They were all top-class bowlers and against them shot selection becomes really important, which as a 16-year-old I lacked. I spoke to a lot of guys and they said it comes with maturity, it is not going to happen overnight as you are used to reacting to a particular bowler in a certain manner. But that will change as the standard of bowling is going to get higher, and you have got to start playing differently. I felt, as time went by, my shot selection became better.
Explain shot selection, is it being able to read the bowler well and respond?
I would say it is about knowing when to attack and be successful and also knowing when not to attack.
Any example of when you failed as well as succeeded because of shot selection?
At the start of my career, I would look to punch off the back foot anything short of length outside the off-stump. But I realised you can't keep doing that every ball. There are certain deliveries you need to let go. They may not be the best of deliveries but you need to leave them alone sometimes. And when you are set, it is all about knowing when you can attack and when you can let it go. I thought that came to me with experience. I felt in Australia, where I went in 1992, which was a big tour for me, and before that in England, scoring my first Test hundred in the second match was a big boost. I realised I was good enough to score big runs at this level. That hundred I scored kept the series alive, as we had lost the first Test and were about to lose the second as well. That confidence, having scored big and kept the series alive, was a perfect dose for my confidence.
Confidence which you lacked until then?
No, I was confident, only that I wanted to contribute more. After the second innings of my Test career, where I scored 59, I was confident I could score, something which was not there after the first innings of my Test career. There was a question mark. Am I good enough? But the moment I decided to hang around, get the feel, things became better.
You were referring to Australia 1992?
Well, England gave me the solid foundation that I could score a hundred and now I wanted to repeat this. In Australia, I scored two hundreds. I played consistently well in the tri-series where West Indies was the third team and both of them had some big names. And it was on those wickets that I picked when to play my back-foot punches and when not to. It is here that I felt my game had changed. On wickets like those you had to let a few balls go, you could not possibly attack every short of length ball and punch it. I figured out my shot selection on that tour and from there onwards it started changing.
Is your great strength, the back-foot punches, the off side play, god-gifted or are they the result of a lot of hard work?
I liked playing drives, straight drives and I used to practice them quite a bit in the nets, make bowlers bowl at me, and even after nets, get them to chuck the ball at me and hit the ball straight. Just to see the ball going past the bowler and racing towards the boundary was a great feeling.
Also, while doing that I figured out that this is possibly the safest shot to play because you are showing the full face of your bat, you are playing straight and if you punch well enough and beat mid-on or the bowler, it is a sure shot boundary.
The drive is supposed to be a top-hand shot. Didn’t your bottom-hand grip become a hindrance?
When I started, Achrekar sir did try to correct it. Then he realised the moment he changed my grip, my whole game was falling apart. He also called my brother and they discussed it and the final outcome was ‘we won’t change the grip because when it comes to adjustments he is able to do it well’. They felt ‘it really does not matter even if he looks like a bottom-handed player; as long as he is hitting the ball along the ground, it is fine. Let us wait for a while and see what happens and then we can think of changing his grip’. Fortunately, they decided to stick with my grip. I scored a lot of runs in school matches and after that there was no discussion about it.
You need to thank your coach, brother…
Yeah, it is also about vision, about thinking whether it is going to suit a person or go against him.