‘The century at Perth in 1991 changed me as a player’
Mumbai: “I have all the bats with which I scored my 81 centuries (39 in Tests and 42 in one-day internationals),” said Sachin Tendulkar during the course of an interview to The Hindu on Wednesday. “I would pick the two shots I hit off Mitchell Johnson over the wicketkeeper,” he said when asked what would be the defining moments of his batting on the tour of Australia.
You have not ceased to surprise the cricketing fraternity. It has been another great tour of Australia.
First of all, I don’t play to surprise people. My ultimate dream was to play for India and I am living it. I just want to go out there and enjoy.
You have often said that Australia is a special place you like to visit and play.
Right from my first tour to Australia in 1991, it has been tough, but fantastic. It was challenging for a 17-18 year-old youngster. The hundred at Perth in 1991 changed me as a player and I felt I had arrived in international cricket. The people there are friendly. It’s also a cricket loving nation. I also like the weather there.
After four tours to Australia you must be extremely pleased with what you have achieved, more significantly in terms of India having proved to be a competent side there?
In the 2003-04 tour we beat them in Adelaide. Then in Sydney we came close to winning the Test. But the recent tour was a special one because we beat them at Perth. If one looks back at the series we challenged them more than they did us.
What challenge does Australia pose? Wasim Jaffer and Yuvraj Singh could not find their bearings?
It’s not that Wasim or Yuvraj have not scored runs on seaming or bouncy tracks. Australia is not the only place in the world where there is pronounced seam and bounce and both these batsmen have scored runs on those tracks. It’s a case of ups and downs and it was just a coincidence that it happened in Australia.
Would you say cricketers should not be judged by setbacks in a single series?
They should not be, especially batsmen who have scored runs in international cricket. Wasim and Yuvraj have been around long enough and have scored big runs.
What difference do you find in the Australian teams of 1991 and thereafter?
Australian teams have always been competitive. Probably in 1991, they did not go on the defensive if an Indian batsman played a couple of shots. In the recent series, however, they immediately posted a deep point. This did not happen in 1999 and 2003 either. This was the first time they set a scattered field. This has been the big change.
You have faced various top class Australian bowlers. Have all of them been very intense and skill-wise testing for the batsmen?
Skill wise I would put McGrath and Warne at the top of the list. Just below them would be Lee because of the way he bowled in the recent series. McDermott was also very good. Yes, they have been very intense.
How about the Australian batsmen? Have they posed a typical Australian challenge to Indian bowlers?
Australia’s batting approach has been more or less the same. This time, India’s bowlers challenged them more often. On various occasions their temperament was tested. We created and sustained the pressure and the intensity was great.
India fielded different bowling attacks for almost all the matches? What signs do you see in this?
We wanted to surprise the Australians with certain strategies. Piyush Chawla had not played a single game until the finals. The idea was that the Australians, who had not faced him, would not know how to react to him. Praveen Kumar is a smart cricketer; he knows what he is doing.
Would you say the Australians are different from the rest?
They have always been aggressive and attacking in their approach. It’s nice to play against them because the game is always moving at a different pace altogether. I have not had a look at their juniors, but from the look of it that’s how they play. The bowlers like to challenge the batsmen even in their domestic competition. I saw a couple of matches. There were verbal exchanges as well.
Many former cricketers have said that Australia’s days of complete dominance are over?
McGrath and Warne, both world class bowlers, left at the same time. They were real match winners. It makes a huge difference to any team when match winners leave at the same time. That’s probably one of the reasons one can actually put them under pressure.
How can India take advantage of the present situation having won the ICC under-19 World Cup and a splendid series in Australia?
These are encouraging factors. We need to strike that balance between staying in the present and also looking at the future. But one cannot forget that the Test team has also tasted success. We should not forget that what the seniors did in the Tests laid the foundation for the tour.
After nearly two decades of international cricket your mind must be as intense as it was in 1989, but is the body complaining now. In England you said two days between one-day internationals is not enough time to recover?
In Australia we had just a day’s gap and spent the day travelling. These are the demands cricketers have to prepare for. It’s tough, when one plays a day/night match, gets back to the room, packs the bags and takes the morning flight, settles down again and be mentally prepared for the next match.
Would you say things have dramatically changed with a number of teenagers getting into Indian cricket?
That’s good and in a way bad as well. We need to look back and find out how many youngsters have made it to the Indian team as teenagers and have gone on to play for a long time. Ishant Sharma had a terrific tour, his future looks very good. But it’s equally important not only for him, but everyone else not to get carried away.
Ishant knows what he requires to do at this level. The physio and physical trainer will make sure that he’s in top condition to perform. It’s up to the individual to look after himself.