The unexpected shower hasn’t helped. And that the rendezvous is not much of a landmark doesn’t make things any easier. “It’s the new MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) stadium at Bandra Kurla,” Sachin Tendulkar had explained. Now here, half soaked, at a stadium which is an oval patch of flaming green with labourers pottering around and a tin-roof shed, which I share with some masonry troupe, I am not sure this is what Sachin meant. After fifteen minutes of worrying and then putting my mind to rest by another call to the Tendulkar home I see him, kitbag and entourage in tow. Whew! “Should we get started?” he says, asking at the same time if I’d like water or tea…
You are in great form. The shoulder injury seems history. Nevertheless I am sure you realise that the time has come to make retirement plans.
The injury was blown out of proportion. It was less than five months that I hadn’t played and people were writing my obituary. I knew all along that I’d get back with full force. And the reason behind my implicit faith is that I’ve never thought beyond cricket and playing for India. Yes, maybe retirement is round the corner but I just can’t get myself to think or plan about it. It muddles me. Somehow I am programmed only to think cricket. Right up till the very last time I walk out on the pitch my focus will only be cricket.
Once I retire I should be content. Not repentant that in those crucial final years my focus was elsewhere. I don’t want to retire with the feeling that in wasting time planning life post-retirement I missed out on bigger cricketing achievements. Now in fact is the time for me to focus like never before. Also cricket is forever evolving so it’s not that difficult. In ’89 when I started out, cricket was different and I don’t know what might change next – I cannot lose focus at all to keep in step with the game. Let my agents look after opportunities beyond cricketing years while I play.
Are you saying that you don’t spare a thought for your endorsement deals, your restaurants and probing other business propositions?
You may not believe me but the answer is no. Where Tendulkar’s is concerned, yes, I was involved in the launch phase. But again the extent of my involvement was in ensuring the restaurant is a reflection of my tastes in food and décor. But beyond that no, not at all. I do go there when I have the time because it’s my kind of place and I like it. But I will not get involved in the details. If it makes a profit I will not work on doubling the returns and if it makes a loss I will not sit with the management and work out a revival strategy. I won’t. To do that I have hired agents, partnered with people proficient in these matters so that my focus is 100% cricket. Even in my endorsements – all preliminary work is done by my agents. I don’t get involved at any stage and they only bring things up to me for the final call. I have to ensure my focus is unidimensional, and that is cricket.
Surely at times you feel a sense of power beyond measure? Your endorsements are heftier than even Amitabh Bachchan. Global icons like Michael Schumacher and Dire Straits are your admirers…
I have never been after power. It means nothing to me; being recognised, being paid handsomely… I don’t allow things outside of cricket to affect my psyche. And that was ingrained in me right at the start. My family grounded me; they never allowed success to go to my head. If there was an achievement we would all be happy, there would be a small celebration but it would never be loud. It was like a lesson on how to dilute the heady feeling of success. The talk in the house, after the pat on the back, would immediately be of the next goal. My father would close the earlier chapter and look at the possibilities ahead. Similarly my brother, who saw the spark in me and merged his goals with mine, was a huge driving force. Whenever I scored it would be what’s next, he wouldn’t go gaga, and that set the boundaries for celebration. That helped me a lot, really. If I play well automatically my focus is on the next 20 overs, the way my father would want it to be. Half my life I have been playing for India (takes a few seconds to calculate) nearly 55% of my life. Things have not happened overnight, it has taken long… There’s a saying, which probably explains me the best, ‘even if you are on the right track, you’ve got to move on’. I might be on the right track at the right place but my endeavour is always to move forward.
Your dream was to play for India and you’ve more than lived that dream for over 17 years. What keeps you going now?
Yes, I have lived my dream, my dream to play for India. When I was in school and my brother would coach me I would ask him, “When will I get to play for India?” I was so young, I didn’t understand what playing for India meant and it was more like a nursery kid saying he wants to be a doctor. But from the day I picked up my bat my target was to play for India. And there was a second goal, to play as long as I could. It’s that second goal that keeps me going, and with it the benchmarks that keep changing. When we were in school the benchmark was Gavaskar, all good and bad was measured against him. From thereon it’s been a wonderful journey… I crossed the 34 100s benchmark set by him.
What also keeps me going are the people around me who’re just as involved in my game. When I was yet learning the ropes there were days when I wouldn’t show up for practise and Achrekar Sir would come all the way from Shivaji Park looking for me. He’d find me and then take me back on his scooter. Behind my achievements have been tremendous efforts by Sir. Similarly my family always prods me on such that I never lose focus. My father, despite being a professor, accepted my passing marks knowing my focus was cricket. He would also ensure the right environment for me to grow as a cricketer; so right from the start the talk at home would always be cricket. Even today we rarely discuss anything else...
Is Anjali okay with talking cricket 24/ 7? Does she understand that she comes second after cricket?
In 1990 we met for the first time and yes, then she didn’t know A, B, C of cricket. But 17 years is a long time to learn. She understands the game completely now and is very involved. In fact, more than my skill being put to test when I bat it is her nerves that take the strain. She gets really tense and can’t move; she doesn’t even drink water or eat while I am batting. She has played a momentous role in my life and I can’t imagine an existence without her. She is the only one who understands me, she knows when I am stressed, when I am happy or when I am disappointed and knows just what to do. I share all my thoughts with her since she is my support system.
Coming second to cricket? I think she has tolerated it all. She is a gold medallist pediatrician but she’s given up her career for me. It’s not easy handling the pressure that comes from being my wife, handling the home front since I am always travelling, bringing up the kids… She has never complained.
I am sure your children are not as understanding…
I think I make an ok father, I am not strict at all and more like their friend. I try my best to spend as much time as I can with the two of them. I realise that it’s important that I am a part of their childhood. But they know that my priority is cricket and I have to sacrifice their time for it, and they seem to understand. Sara will soon be nine and is quite mature, never complains. But Arjun is not yet seven and often gets upset. Each time I have to go away he becomes quiet, or doesn’t talk to me normally. He tries to cope with life without me but not without putting up a fight. This time he told me that he is tired that I am always going away from him and he’ll lock all the cricket stadiums so I stay home. I’ll make it up to him though…
Do you feel then that there’s too much cricket these days? Giving players no time for family… And do you find the time to head to London as you generally do?
I have always said that the emphasis should be on quality and not quantity of cricket. There has to be enough time in between to recuperate such that players can perform to the best of their ability. Yes, for me that recuperation time is generally in London, we were there for six weeks this summer. I like going there since I am allowed to breathe. I mean, people do recognise you but they let you lead a normal life. And I need that.