He is adored by millions, yet he is a man utterly, completely, alone.
Year in and year out, he outscores everyone in the international arena -- and is deemed a failure.
There is no known means of calculating the pressure -- in pounds per square inch -- he has constantly performed under, ever since he came on the international scene as a chubby faced 16-year-old. So what makes him tick? What is this metal he is made of, that can take stress levels spaceships could crack under, and still survive and excel?
In a bid to find out, I went over to the MIG sports club in Mumbai one Friday afternoon last year -- and watched, while he lifted and pushed and pulled and tugged at weights with the same intensity he brings to his batting.
I then spent an hour talking to him. He took every question head on, answered without hesitation.
And through it all, he was still -- as still as when he addresses the ball. Occasionally, there would be the slightest of nods. Even more rarely, the barest hint of a smile.
And so he talked, till the tape in my recorder ran out. And then he asked me, have you got all you were looking for?
How does one answer that? How does one tell a Tendulkar that I could ask questions, and listen to his answers, for hours without even scratching the surface?
He shook my hand, he trotted off to his gleaming red sports car, he put his gym gear and music into the boot, and he slid away from the parking lot.
Alone, in a world of his own making.
Excerpts, from a conversation with Faisal Shariff:
How different is the Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar of today from the SRT who walked out 14 years ago at the National stadium in Karachi?
I think I am more or less the same, but a few changes have taken place. One is the experience I have gained – I have learnt to analyze the game a little more. Every player is a learner in this game and learning never stops at any age. That is the beauty of this game, and that is happening with me as well. I have learnt a lot of things, but it is never enough.
What do you remember most clearly of that first outing as a Test player in Karachi?
I remember taking my stance with the people jeering at us. I cannot forget that -- I was tense and nervous. I didn’t know what was happening around me.
How much have you changed as a batsman down the years?
I’d like to put it this way – the destination is still the same but one tends to use different avenues to reach there. Then I wanted to score big, now I want to do the same. But now I have got more options to solve the problems, and that happens with experience.
You score 1000 runs in a calendar year, and are told that you are out of form. How do you live with that?
It is very difficult to live up to people’s expectations, which are very high. I believe that if I can live up to my own expectations -- and I believe that I set reasonably high standards for myself -- then I am doing a decent job.
But does it upset you to be told that you have failed?
Yes it does. But I don’t blame them -- it’s their opinion, I can’t go around changing people’s views. I set my own goals and if I can reach my targets, then it is not a bad thing.
You live in a narrow world, bounded by 70 yards in the field and the four walls of your home or hotel room. You are a prisoner of your own fame. How do you live with that?
It’s not easy, but sometimes it is very interesting. It works well when you want to be away from people, to be by yourself or with your family and close friends. But there are times when I feel like going out and mixing, and that is not easy; there are times when my family wants to go out but we can’t, because there are boundaries for me. I don’t want to blame anyone for it. People wish you well and pray for you – and then when they see you in real life they get excited and want to come up and say hello. It is nice, but it does not allow us to live our personal lives freely.
When you walk through hotel lobbies and stadia, you have your earphones plugged in and your eyes are fixed on the ground. Is that escapism?
I accept that I do it. It may sound funny, but I’m still very shy. I can’t face people sometimes. Very rarely can I look back at someone and smile. That’s probably something that I’m still learning to do.
What do you listen to?
Everything. I love Pink Floyd and Dire Straits. I also like Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle. I also like the new singers. That keeps me going. I love (the Dire Straits album) ‘Sultans of Swing’.
Is there a personal vendetta involved when you bat against certain bowlers? You have taken on Henry Olonga, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Michael Kasprowicz and Fanie De Villiers. Is that rivalry for real?
I wouldn’t say it is an intentional thing. But yes, it does play on my mind. If ‘X’ bowler gets a batsman, he will then want to level the scores. People pick up on that and say, this is where he leveled scores. Sometimes you want to take charge, get on top of the bowler and show him that you can bat. Sometimes it just happens.
Lately, you seem to be more willing to give lip to bowlers who give you a mouthful. What’s with this new avatar?
I have always been aggressive. Sometimes it happens on the spur of the moment, and it only happens because I want to win. I never cross limits and I never start it myself -- it’s only if it starts at the other end that I give it back. And it is never personal.
Statistics show that as a captain, you failed...
I wouldn’t say I failed, because I’ve always had tough tours, tough opponents. I led against South Africa, West Indies and Australia in their respective countries. I wouldn’t say the team loses because of the captain or wins for the captain. It is always a collective effort. If the team wins, it is not the captain’s victory, it is a victory of the team.
As a batsman, whenever a bowler has looked to get on top of it, you have taken the challenge. For instance against Fanie De Villiers in 1996, when he kept getting you out. Have you felt similarly the need to prove yourself as a captain?
First, I want to clear this -- I got out to Fanie only twice. That happens to everyone, it doesn’t mean that if you get out a couple of times you stop playing that shot for the rest of your life. I don’t think that is the right way to look at it.
The same goes for captaincy – it is not an individual thing. I am in total control when I am batting or bowling. But in captaincy, you have to look after the other ten players. You can tell them what to do but you can’t do it for them. So these are two different issues. You can’t compare them. As a batsman I can plan things and make them happen just the way I want them – I can’t always do that as captain.
As captain, you believed that all 14 players should be ready to play the next day, whereas others believe that those who are not playing should be told the previous day...
If you pick a side of fourteen, then all fourteen should be ready to play. There are times when you look at the wicket on the morning of the game and then decide the right combination – it is not like you have to announce the combination the previous evening itself. If you have come to play, then you should be ready to play – how does it matter if you prepare yourself on the eve of the game and the next day the captain tells you that you’re not playing? You are here to play cricket, you have to be prepared for all these things.
Sachin, you will probably never understand what insecurity means – your name is the first that is penciled in, so how can you understand what the fringe player in your squad feels like?
Of course I understand what it is to be insecure about one’s place. I have also started out as any other player. I was dropped on a couple of occasions in New Zealand. One should never think ‘what if I don’t play?’ That is a negative attitude, and that should not happen. If you have been picked to play in the fourteen then you should be ready to play anytime. Someday your turn will come.
What is your vision for Indian domestic cricket?
The first thing that I would like to change is the wickets. We should play on good tracks, where there is enough help for the seamers early on, then the batsmen take over, then the last two days, spinners get a chance too. If we play on tracks like that, it will help us when we travel abroad.
What are your views on the contract system?
The contract system is just another form of security for the player. If something happens to a player when playing for his country, then there should be someone to look after that player. A contract system will help the player know that if something does go wrong, he will still be able to look after his family. I am sure that even you are here interviewing me so you can look after your family. Everybody has an ambition -- but if you go deep inside you eventually want to look after your family.
Did you get the support you wanted when you led?
There are times when you desperately want something to happen, but it doesn’t. So I won’t say that I got it completely, but sometimes one tends to expect little more than what you get. The players tried, but somehow the luck was not enough maybe? We needed 120 runs to win a Test match in Barbados and we lost; we had more than half a day to get three wickets in Johannesburg and it rained; we had a day and a half to get the Windies out in Trinidad and we couldn’t… Sometimes it was luck, sometimes I felt it was not the right kind of effort in the right direction.
Were you always given the team that you wanted?
No, I wouldn’t say that. I didn’t get the players that I wanted. And that was pretty obvious because the team is selected by the selectors and never by the captain.
But the captain always has his say...
The captain can given an opinion. The selection committee was more co-operative during my second stint as captain.
How come Sourav fought and got Harbhajan Singh into the team despite the selectors’ reluctance to pick him?
It wasn’t only Sourav and John Wright who fought for him. It was all of us. All the senior players fought for his inclusion. We pushed for him because we knew that Harbhajan was a very good bowler and that he should be given the right opportunity at the right time. And if somebody doesn’t perform in a game or two, then he shouldn’t be dropped he should be given a reasonable opportunity.
Would you ever want to lead India again?
I haven’t thought of that yet. I just want to enjoy my game. I am open to it but not right now. The door is not shut though.
How does it feel not being captain? Standing at deep in the field at third man or fine leg?
It’s okay. I am enjoying the game. It is a view that I haven’t experienced in a long time. You can read the game better from there too and an odd suggestion or two can always be given to the captain. I might tell him this is how I feel the batsman might play or this is how we can stop the flow of runs. Maybe talk about getting a particular bowler on and changing the field. I do make my suggestions -- then it is up to the skipper to take my advice or not.
You love to bowl...
I always felt that I should have been a fast bowler. I was always attracted to fast bowling. Basically I have always liked players who have been attacking. I love aggressive bowlers and attacking batsmen. My physique does not allow me to become a fast bowler, that’s why somewhere down the line I made a lot of compromises. And this is what I have to live with -- bowling gentle seam-up, sometimes leg spin. I bowl in the nets all the time. There is no pressure on me as a bowler and that is why I can do what I want to do.
What does money mean to you?
Money is important in life – anyone who says it is not is not speaking the truth. I think money is important but it shouldn’t reach the extent where it dictates to you. Take care of the runs and the money will follow you, because whatever is happening is because of cricket. For the last 11 years I have only worried about how to score runs, not about how to make money. And my family has played a big role in that -- they have supported me and shown me the right path; especially my elder brother Ajit and another brother Nitin, who is the eldest amongst us.
Has fame ever gone to your head?
No, and that is another area my family has played a big role in. My brother always tells me, whatever I have achieved, I could have done better. So I always feel incomplete, like whatever I have done is not enough.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I will still be in Bombay with my family. I like to live in the present. Whatever has happened has happened; I don’t want to think about it, or about what will happen. I want to score as many runs as possible and win as many matches.
Who do you compete with?
I am not competing with anyone in particular, only with the opposition – I always want to score one run more than the opposition, take one wicket more. I have never ever competed with an individual.
What is the one lesson that cricket has taught you?
Don’t take anything for granted. I think that is the biggest thing in life. Never to take anything for granted. If you do, then you will be on the right path.