It’s not easy being Sachin

It’s not easy being Sachin Tendulkar. As if the expectation of a billion cricket-mad Indians isn’t enough, he seems to bring out the crazed fan inside many of his compatriots. His manager, a fellow with more mobile phones than a Vodafone store, tells me that this makes normal life almost impossible.

“He went to buy a pair of shoes the other day,” he says. “He was only in the shop 15 minutes, but word got around and by the time he tried to leave, there were about 4,000 people in the street trying to catch a glimpse of him. We had to call the police.”

Such incidents are far from unusual. If Sachin wants to watch a film, he has to arrange a private screening. If he wants to drive his car – Ferrari gave him one of their finest – he has to go out in the early hours of the morning. And if he does grant an interview, it tends to be very brief. As a result, he spends quite some time at his home in London.

But today is different. SPIN – and only SPIN – have been invited to accompany Sachin to a coaching session and then conduct a full length interview.

It is a remarkable experience. Seeing at first hand the passion that he arouses – particularly among those of Indian origin – is eye-opening: waiters’ hands shake as they serve him; middle-aged businessmen giggle like star-struck schoolgirls and newspaper reporters ask questions so cringingly sycophantic that it makes the man himself squirm with unease.

When SPIN and Tendulkar are finally alone, however, he speaks with great humility. In one of his longest interviews for several years, he tells of the importance of last winter’s Chennai Test, betrays an ambivalence for Twenty20 cricket and hints that he will retire after the next 50-over world cup in around 18 months.

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To call the Opus productions books, is a bit like calling Harold Shipman a builder; true, but hardly the full story.

They are remarkable books. The Tendulkar version will weigh 30 kilos, stretch over 800 pages and include 150,000 words and over 1,000 rare and previously unpublished photos. He is the first cricketer to gain the Opus treatment and the book aims to be the definitive word on his life and career.

The Tendulkar Opus will not only feature original words and images, however. In an aim to give readers “the insider angle” on the man, Sachin also agreed to provide a DNA sample at a surreal press conference that was more Jeremy Kyle than Test Match Special. The DNA sample will be used, the Opus team say, “to create a stunning two-metre wide multicoloured artwork that will – quite literally – show the make-up of a sporting genius.”

The book is due for release in 2011.

Follow the making of the Tendulkar Opus, including exclusive preview material, behind-the-scenes stories and pictures, at tendulkaropus.com.

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It surely speaks volumes for the new world order that a fellow should come from Mumbai to London to help with a charitable cause. There was a time, not so long ago, when it would have been the other way around.

Yet perhaps it is fitting to find Sachin Tendulkar teaching cricket to youngsters at an inner city school on an artificial pitch laid directly under a flyover of the A40. For it was in street cricket where Tendulkar learnt the rudiments of the game. Without the sport, his life would have been very different and, even if it’s unrealistic to see others emulating his success, he is keen to help instil a lifetime’s love for the game.

The session was arranged through Capital Kids Cricket, a charity formed to bring cricket back into state schools in London. 20 years ago, the sport was played in just two dozen of the city’s 770 primary schools. Now, thanks largely to CKC, more than 500 of those schools.

For more information visit: www.capitalkidscricket.co.uk.

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Were you always going to be a cricketer?

I always wanted to be a cricketer. Always. When I was 11 I decided that I wanted to play cricket seriously. From 12 I started doing very well in my school matches and realised that, if I wanted to play for India, then I needed to focus and do certain things whether I like them or don’t like them. From there on life changed. I used to spend hours and hours practising. There were times when coaches used to tell me ‘enough, go home now.’ But I used to keep working for hours.

Nobody pushed me into cricket. I chose it. I’m proud where I am today. Without the support of my family, my coach and my friends it wouldn’t have been possible. So I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them. There were bus journeys with a huge kit bag in my hand, getting pushed in all directions. Those were beautiful days and they taught me a lot.

My coach wanted me to get as much match practise as possible. So I would just go around batting in different matches, playing two games a day. I didn’t field much – which was a good deal – but I did learn how to build an innings. You learn things you cannot in a net. It helped me develop a match temperament.

When I had done really well in my school matches, I was selected to play first-class cricket for my state. Sunil Gavaskar gave me a pair of pads. It was a huge encouragement for me. A small push can give a huge lift. That’s why I know how important it is to encourage young people now. I like to drop in at net sessions with young players and give them some thoughts or advice.

I can’t imagine what I would have done had I not been a cricketer. I wouldn’t want to imagine, either. Cricket was always my passion and to play for India was my dream.

I started at a fairly young age. I played first-class cricket when I was 14. I thought it was fine because I was doing well. I was confident; I was fearless. I had confidence in my batting; it didn’t matter who the bowler was.

Did you ever doubt that you would make it?

Not really. I knew there would be obstacles, but I thought that, if I worked hard, I could overcome them. My fourth Test was a big turning point in my career. We were pushed badly in the corner. I was hit (by Waqar Younis) and broke my nose when I had scored one or two. I continued batting and I saved the game for India. I went on to score 57. I realised that such things are going to happen at a competitive level and that nothing worse than this could happen. It made me stronger. I took it as a challenge and it brought the best out of me. I was even more determined to show them what I was made of. It sort of helped.

Have you watched much of the World Twenty20 and could you explain your decision not to play for India in that form of the game?

I’ve not watched all the games, no. I’ve not missed it. I took the decision (not to play) a couple of years ago and I’m glad I’m not missing it. It was the right decision.

It’s not about the next generation, it was about how I feel. I felt I was not in a position to give my best. I had twisted my ankle and it was troubling me quite a bit at that stage. I felt the best thing was to pull out of that tournament and allow 11 fit guys to take part. I didn’t want to be a liability. I told the BCCI to leave me out. The team has done well so I don’t want to disturb this combination. I won’t be changing my mind.

What did you think about Chris Gayle’s comments suggesting he preferred Twenty20 to Test cricket?

I know about Chris Gayle’s comments. You speak to ten people and you’ll get 10 different opinions. If you ask me, it’s got to be Test cricket. 2020 is fun, but Test cricket is far more challenging. So many factors are involved. You have to play well for five days. In T20 you have an hour or 45 minutes to seal a game. There are so many players who have not done well in Test or ODI cricket yet are still successful in T20.

Is Twenty20 cricket pushing the game forward from a technical point of few?

I wouldn’t say the game is moving forward from a technical point of view. It’s getting more and more innovative, but that‘s not the same thing. As far as globalising the game, T20 has made some huge progress. The format is ideal if you are trying to enter the non-cricket playing nations. Who knows, maybe 10% of those people introduced to cricket by T20 might find Test cricket interesting.

I don’t think T20 has changed my batting. I’ve not played that many games; a couple of ILP seasons and that’s it.

I haven’t thought about trying to copy the shots that Kevin Pietersen might play. Each player will have his trademark shot. There will be certain shots that other batsmen hit that Kevin Pietersen will not. You’ve got to stick to your plans.

Was your experience of county cricket beneficial?

My experience of playing county cricket for Yorkshire in 1992 was very useful. Not just as a cricketer but as a person. I think I was the youngest member of the team. At an early age I lived on my own. I got to mix with different players and play in different conditions. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The way they treated me was fantastic. When I went back and played with India I could feel the people of Yorkshire had a soft corner for me. They wanted England to win and me to do well. That’s good. I’m not really in touch with many of them now, but I do see them around.

I’m past the stage (of returning to county cricket) now . Whatever cricket is left in me will be played mostly for India.

What will you do after your playing career?

I haven’t thought much about the future, but it will have to be something to do with cricket. That’s what I’m good at; that is where I have a lot of experience. I’ve spent so much time away from my family, so for a time I won’t want to do anything but be around them.

You spend a lot of time in England?

I like England because I can move around. I have a lot of freedom to do the normal things a father would do with his children. I have gone out wearing disguises – wigs and bears, things like that – in India, but it’s more for fun, really. But it’s not just me (that attracts attention from fans). It’s most of the cricketers. Cricket is such a big sport in India.

Ian Chappell is among the former players who have said you should retire. How do you react to such statements?

Many guys have said I should retire. I’m glad I have proved them all wrong. I never really considered it. So many guys have had opinions -mainly ex-players – but they’re not always right. People who know me well would pick up a phone and have a chat rather than writing an article. Guys who know me don’t indulge in these kind of things.

Ian Chappell’s comments didn’t make any difference to me. I don’t think I should be reacting to every statement made about me. It was a coincidence that Greg Chappell was India’s coach at the time.

Have you noticed any deterioration in your body as you grow older?

You have more options as a batsman as you grow older. You know more about this game. Like anyone else, I’ve tried to get better and better each day. That process continues. I’m fine (physically).

Are we in a weak age of bowling?

I don’t think the figures support the view that this is a weak age of bowling. Just look at the spinners: Warne, Murali and Kumble. These three are world-class. And they’ve all played in this era. I’ve played against McGrath, Wasim Akram, Ambrose, Hadlee, Walsh, Botham; all great fast bowlers. There might be some bowler starting now who is seen as great in eight years. There are talented players now. No-one turns into Glenn McGrath over night. As for the future, Ishant Sharma has developed brilliantly. Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma are two other guys who are doing really well.

Is it true that you originally wanted to be a fast bowler?

I always had a fascination with bowling. I wanted to be a fast bowler, too. I wanted to bat and bowl fast. I did at school level. I opened the bowling. I did everything in that side. Fast bowling, off-spin, leg-spin. It was good fun. I did go to Dennis Lillee’s fast bowling camp (in Chennai) when I was about 12, but he told me to forget bowling and concentrate on my batting. He was probably right.

You’re involved in several charitable causes. Tell us about them?

Charity is important. I don’t get enough time. We play cricket virtually all year, but whenever I get time I might join nets where kids are practising and give them my views. I’ve been sponsoring poor kids in India for about 10 years. There are about 400 of them. I think I’m in a position to do that. We given them education and clothing. It’s nothing to do with cricket. My mother-in-law has been involved in a charity for almost 40 years. It helps children from slums have better lives.

If I had to press you for one career highlight, what would it be?

There have been bright points in my career. The one I’d feel is the best one came last year in December when we played England in the Test at Chennai.

It was just after the incident (terrorist attacks) in Mumbai. The mood of the entire nation was low. It was a disaster. So many near and dear ones were lost. That cannot be replaced by anything, but at least after we won, and at least for a few seconds, we were able to bring a smile back on faces. That was a big achievement. As one of the members of that Indian team, it means a lot to us. It changed the mood of the entire nation for a while. Something like that was needed.

I’d like to thank the England cricket team. Without their effort this wouldn’t have been possible. It was tremendous of them to come back and play two Tests. It means a lot to all of us.

England used to bowl a leg stump line with the aim of frustrating you; were they annoying to play against?

I don’t find England frustrating to play against. Yes, they try and frustrate me, but that’s what Test cricket is all about. It’s not just about hitting every ball, it’s about playing with patience and it’s about the mind. It’s challenging. Funnily enough I caught up with Nasser (Hussain) a while ago and he was talking about that. He said ‘we had you in trouble in that series.’ I said, I scored nearly 300 runs in three Tests; if you want to have me in trouble every day I don’t mind. England play good challenging cricket and they play it in the right spirit. Any cricketer would want that.

Any regrets?

I don’t have any regrets. Absolutely not. Ups and downs are part of this game and any sportsman‘s life. I may plan a lot of things, but they don’t always work out. There have been successes but there have been failures in between. There have been up and downs. There have been tough times and there have been some wonderful times. That makes the journey exciting. I’ve really enjoyed every bit of it. It’s taught me a lot in cricket and in life. Not every day is wonderful; sometimes you are faced with challenges. But if you are mentally strong then you can deal with such things. I’m proud to be a cricketer and I’m proud to be Indian. No regrets.

Do you still get nervous?

I still get nervous. I care about cricket and I care about my performances. It’s good to be nervous. It’s part of my preparation. Even if I’m playing in an exhibition match, I know I need to be on my toes.

India have been much more successful in recent years. Why do you think that is?

I think the Indian team definitely has more talent today (than when I started). We definitely have more match-winners in our team. That was possibly missing (before). We had some, but not as many.

When you do well, you play fearless cricket and that’s what we’re doing today. It’s a lot to do with results, too. In 2000, 2001, we started winning Test matches abroad. Wherever we toured we could beat the opposition in their backyard. That gives confidence. Gradually that has transformed into a fearless attitude. We have an excellent team. We have very good balance and we have ammunition to win the World Cup.

Are there any goals left to achieve?

The World Cup is the only thing missing for me. It’s the only thing left. It’s a massive ambition. Ask any cricketer: the World Cup will be right up on their list. Would I retire afterwards? I’ll play as long as I’m enjoying the game and I feel excitement. It’s like Graeme Hick said when he retied – if you stop feeling nervous before a match then it’s time to stop. The moment that reason is missing then it’s time to go. But the World Cup is definitely the massive ambition I have left.

What will you miss once you retire?

The day I stop I will miss the dressing room (camaraderie). We’ve had some wonderful times and the atmosphere is terrific. There’s a special bond among those who have played together.