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'I could not talk after the 35th ton...'

I tried to keep things simple. Focussing on the current given moment and the ball. But from all sides it was being conveyed to me that I have to do this.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2006 12:41 IST

Why did the 35th hundred make you so emotional?
When I was getting there, there was this build up and the subconscious mind was hearing all kinds of comments. People would give their good wishes and say 'we want you to score this hundred as soon as possible'.

I just tried to keep things as simple as possible. Focussing on the current given moment and the ball. But from all sides it was being conveyed to me that I have to do this.

So the pressure was getting unbearable?
In a way it was. Constantly, people were talking only about one thing. There were very few guys who were not talking about it. I mean very few in the sense, I could literally count them on my fingers.

What did they say?
They said it was only a number -- 33, 35, 36 or whatever. I know it is. And eventually, people look at it statistically and 34 is also not bad. Those few would tell me whatever you have done so far is wonderful. You should keep your mind as calm as possible and go out and enjoy your game. And it will happen.

There were very few people who were telling me don't worry about it, it is not important, in the sense it is not more important than enjoying the game and going out there and living that moment. That really helped. When I had these people around me the atmosphere was different. It was my close friends and family members who kept me calm.

Personally, how important is this record?
It is surely important when you manage to break the record of a great, great player. When you know you can get there, it means you have done reasonably well for your country.

There must have been pressure created by your own desire as well?
No. I always knew I would get there at some stage. Like I got close to it and then I was on 34 for over a year.

The pressure only built up because out of 100, 99 people were talking only about it, reminding you. It was getting too much as all I wanted to do was to go out and play.

In a way, did the record become a burden?
I wouldn't call it a burden but people made it out to be like that. Every time I walked in I told myself I am going to score runs. I never walked in and said I am going to get my 35th hundred. No.

Post injury, many things must have crossed your mind. Will I will be able to play again and will I be able to play in the same manner. Did that also create pressure?
Yes, I mean I was a little worried. Actually, worried quite a bit. The elbow is such an important factor when it comes to batting. If you can't hold a bat, you have got to look at some other profession. It had reached a stage where the doctors told me this operation was the last option, that we had exhausted all others.

If they had not succeeded, you wouldn't have been able to play?
They said if it did not work, your injury would stay just the same and you would have to bear with this pain. And the pain was a lot. A few of my friends have had tennis elbow and now they realise what it means. Even lifting a cup of tea becomes difficult. Here, you have to take the impact of the ball.

For you, cricket is everything, It must have been terrible?
It was bad. There were some very, very difficult patches in between. But my family stood behind me all the while. My brother, my mother, my wife. My wife played a bigger role because she spent more time than anyone else with me. She always kept telling me 'think positive, don't worry, it is going to get better'. Thinking also helps you heal better. And I did all these things.

You know I did yoga and visualisation. You visualise good things are happening. I mean, they say that if you visualise that your elbow is getting better and stronger, it works. I tried that and felt better. I continued to do that. And then there was physiotherapy. Strengthening sessions.

So because of all these combined factors the relief was greater. You had tears in your eyes.

Yes, I said in the dressing room also that I have never felt like this. There was a moment when I just couldn't talk. I called up my wife, mother, brothers, sister, coach, two or three of my very close friends right after. I just couldn't talk. I was finding it difficult. The same thing happened with my wife too. My friends also found it difficult to speak. It was a different moment and I have never experienced anything like that.

How important are records for you?
Records are important but they cannot take the place of the team's interests. The teams interests will always be on top of the list and what ever the team is planning to do, comes first. In trying to achieve the team's goals, if records are broken, then that is wonderful.

But you know, one has never played thinking that one has to achieve this record. No matter what happens, I am going to get mine. No, it never works like that. I have never, never played my game like that. I have not even gone in the direction of that kind of thinking. I have always felt about team-mates.. it should be a joy to have them around. The greatest respect you can ever get is from your team-mates. If they respect you, that means you have really done well for the country.

Your batting changed over time. The injury probably didn't help. You batted like, say, a Richards at first, then it changed.
During that period I damaged my elbow..

Back also. Did that also affect you in terms of playing horizontal shots?
The back was actually bad. I went all the way to Australia. It got better in cooler climates and did trouble me but did not affect my batting style.

Obviously, because I did not have enough strength in my left arm. I wasn't allowed to lift weights.

Surprisingly, you keep driving more now, or bending your back and driving off the back foot. But in Sydney (against Australia where he hit double hundred) you did not hit on the off-side at all. One can understand that because of the elbow problem it would have been difficult to play those shots. But post-injury, you are driving more?
I do. The mind is much, much more free now. It has been sorted out. There's a bit of stiffness but that is just natural.

Why did you not play on the off-side in Sydney? Was it because you were getting out there playing outside off-stump?
Sydney was different. There, the strategy was to bowl away from me all the time, to force me to play away from my body. I just said that 'okay, fine, if you are going to bowl there, I am not going to play any shots'.

What gives you this amazing mental strength?
I think it was the will to do well in Australia. And obviously we had a wonderful chance to win the series. And it became so important, that last Test.

This not driving had nothing to do with any technical flaw having crept into your batting?
Yeah, a couple of occasions may be. Like we always say, in batting, you shift gears. Sometimes, somebody is bowling well then you stay in second gear, and you feel sometimes you can play your shots. I said I am not going to get out. I just decided runs don't matter at this stage. If I stay, runs are going to come at the other end.

But the scoreboard was not bothering me. If I stayed on 29 for ages it didn't matter.

In New Zealand in 1994, when you opened for the first time in a one-day game and after playing a terrific knock, you were asked why you played a terrible shot to get out. Your answer was look, if the same shot had gone for four, you would not have been asking this question. You gradually became more cautious in your batting as time went by. Was it because too much pressure was put on you by everyone? Make more runs, succeed more?
It is also to do with expectations. The expectations kept getting higher and higher and if others' expectations are higher, obviously my own also go up.

Why bother about expectations, why not go out there and play the way you enjoy the most. Say 'Let me play my game'?
I played my game, but I think it is just part of maturing and experience. With experience, you try and do things differently.

Suppose this pressure was not put on you by people. Wouldn't you, as Sachin, still love to explode, play your shots?
I don't know. It is hard to say. It is hard to think like that. I don't think it is to do with people. It is a lot to do with me as a cricketer, as a growing person, more than just a cricketer. But even as a person.

Personally, what would you like to say -- 'don't burden me with expectations, let me go out and enjoy my cricket?'
Yeah, but like…. Like, I have always said every player has a different role to play. There are different, different stages in our lives, and you play different, different roles accordingly. I was playing that role some years ago, like someone else is doing now...

Suppose that different role was not assigned to you. Are you forcing this role on yourself?
Yeah, I think again here, it is not that I have chosen to do this forcibly. I mean these subtle changes take place. You know, you realise your style has probably changed a little bit here and there and there have been so many subtle changes over a period of 16 years.

Subtle in what way?
I mean sometimes you feel 'okay, if the bowlers want me to hit the ball in the air, why should I'? But earlier, as an 18-year-old, you say 'okay, you are challenging me, I will take you on'.

You still do that but now you take them on at the right time, when you feel the success percentage is higher and is in your favour. When you are a teenager , you feel fine even if 20 per cent is in your favour. Say, I will take you on come what may.

This is the first of a two-part series of interview with the master blaster. The second part appears on Sunday.

First Published: Dec 26, 2005 19:07 IST