Sachin and I came into Indian cricket at around the same time, a season apart perhaps. There was just one difference — he had to prove everyone right and I had to prove everyone wrong!
It had always been predicted that he would be destined for greatness, that he would go on to be the highest run-scorer for India, beat every batting record there was to beat, create history. He did all that and more.
Speaking from the vantage point of having done almost 20 years of international cricket myself, it just isn’t easy. Managing your time, your body and the expectations of millions, it takes a toll.
But Sachin’s dealt with it all with grace and determination. For instance, take his battles with injury. Shoulder, elbow, groin back... you name it, he’s had it.
Let me give you a little insight into injuries. The coming back process is painful and time-consuming and you need to have an unshakeable desire to succeed. You go through one rehab, two, three but where do you call the line?
Some injuries take two months, some four, some stay on as constant niggles and others become more serious as you keep playing. You manage it all, often live with the pain and just focus on your game. Sachin’s done that right through.
Sachin has this uncanny ability to take in, analyse and assess things very quickly, much faster than others. That therefore, gives him more time to play a shot. That’s why he’s No 1.
And he’s enjoying himself. The last three-four years especially, he’s been really enjoying his cricket and it shows in the way he interacts with the team.
In terms of his preparation, he’s always seriously involved. If there are a couple of innings where he’s not scored, or if he feels he’s not hitting the ball well, he invariably spends extra time working on whatever’s wrong.
The other thing is that despite who he is, he’s always ready to listen to any advice. He’s often gone up to a rookie and asked if he could look at his batting — he has no hang-ups whatsoever.
So what keeps you going through 20 years of playing a sport? Simply that when you go onto that field, you want to excel. I felt that way and I know Sachin does too. You put him in gully cricket, any cricket, even a TT match — he doesn’t like losing.
You also have to shut out the burden of expectations and opinions about yourself. It is a no win situation. At low times, under-fire, you ask yourself this: Am I giving a 100 per cent? If you are, forget about the rest. It gets to you but you need to look ahead. The more you react to things people say, the more you feel like saying ‘I’ve had enough’.
Sachin clearly hasn’t, even through all he’s faced as the man who’s the answer to a billion prayers. I also think what keeps him going is an unwavering pride in performance and an ability to put the team’s cause before his own. When I decided to call it a day after almost 20 years in the game, it was a decision born purely out of the fact that my body couldn’t take it.
Sachin was one of the first guys I told. I went to him and said, “My time has come”. He said ‘No, you can’t quit, you can play a bit more’. I had to convince him that I couldn’t go on.
Finally, to stay on top of your game, to be able to handle everyone — players, teams, public and sponsors — wanting a piece of you, you need lots of support. He’s had that in a wonderful, supportive family. They’ve been the key.