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‘I love the game…I enjoy my cricket’

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WORTH CONSIDERING: Sachin Tendulkar reckons the next generation needs more exposure to Test cricket and suggests that a couple of stands be thrown open free for students on weekends.
WORTH CONSIDERING: Sachin Tendulkar reckons the next generation needs more exposure to Test cricket and suggests that a couple of stands be thrown open free for students on weekends.

S. Dinakar

Chennai: During times when the term ‘great’ is being thrown around rather loosely, Sachin Tendulkar is among the game’s biggest legends.

The year 2008 was a largely triumphant one for both India and Tendulkar. Cricket’s highest run-getter in Tests and ODIs is a quality human being as well.

The 35-year-old Tendulkar shared his thoughts with The Hindu after the Ranji Trophy semifinal between Mumbai and Saurashtra here on Wednesday.

The crowds for Test cricket are dwindling. What needs to be done to get the spectators back?

My suggestion is that a couple of stands in the stadium should be thrown open, absolutely free, to the school and college students on Saturday and Sunday. It is very important for them to get a feel of Test cricket. Their first memories of Test cricket will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Gradually, they will begin to appreciate the nuances of Test cricket. We have to focus on the next generation that has been exposed more to one-day and Twenty20 cricket.

Can you tell us about your early memories in Test cricket?

I still remember the first Test match that I watched. It was the India-West Indies Test in the 1983-84 season in Mumbai. Michael Holding was fielding at third man and I was right behind him in the stands. I did not know he was such a great bowler then but it still was such a thrilling experience for me. Then I saw Vivian Richards. Those memories inspired me.

What are your thoughts on the proposed all-night Tests? The cricketers will also have to make the switch mentally.

I really don’t know how this will play out. Will the white ball retain its colour all through? Or would they find some other colour for the ball? Then you have the dew factor at night... I have played all my Test cricket in whites. Difficult to imagine Test matches not being played in whites.

The switch-hit is an interesting innovation. What’s your take on this controversial stroke?

I don’t really know the leg-before call for the umpire once the batsman changes his stance. If his stance is that of a right-hander, I believe, the umpire should regard him as a right-hander irrespective of whether he changes his stance or not. (Then, he gets up, stands straight facing the imaginary umpire, holding the imaginary bat between his legs). What am I now? Am I a right-hander or a left-hander? The stance is extremely important and the umpire should ask the batsman the question at the start — “Are you a right-hander or a left-hander.”

You have various issues here. If I keep three slips for a batsman and then he plays the switch hit, he can claim a no-ball since the rules do not allow more than two fielders behind square on the leg side.

The over-rate has been under much focus in recent times. A lot of teams have been running into major problems in this department…

I think we have been doing fine here. Some other teams have got into trouble. It’s not just about moving to your position quickly during and after an over. The captain has to ensure that the bowlers complete their overs in time. There are occasions when the bowlers take a long time to complete their overs. The number of no-balls and wides also matter.

The great pace predators whom you took on in the early and the middle phase of your career, are largely missing these days…

Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were not Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, the greats, when they started. One generation ends and another begins. Eight years back when someone asked me a similar question, Brett Lee was a rookie paceman. Now, he has more than 300 Test wickets. I believe you have to give cricketers time. Some of the talented present-day pacemen might end up as great cricketers.

Do you believe the surfaces of the world have slowed down over the last few years?

Surfaces do change over a period of time. Again there are a number of factors involved here, the matches, the wear and tear. However, I am not willing to believe that pitches all over the world have changed. There are still some lively pitches around.

The dynamics of batting have certainly changed, particularly in Tests. Teams have been a lot more positive while chasing big totals.

Batting in Test matches has changed and this is the direct result of Test and Twenty20 cricket. The batsmen want to get on with the game. They are playing a lot more shots in Test cricket. Being positive is one way of countering the pressures.

What keeps you going even after 19 years in international cricket. Your motivation and hunger remain undiminished. You have on occasions conjured masterpieces under immense pain.

It basically boils down to your passion for the game. Without passion you cannot play. I have retained my passion for the game. I have asked myself the tough questions. I love the game. I enjoy my cricket.

Given the amount of money and instant fame in world cricket today, how difficult is it for the younger cricketers to stay away from the distractions?

There are a lot more distractions and how the young cricketers handle them depends on the players themselves. I think the young cricketers must respect the game. By this I mean, your teammates, the opposition, the fans, the officials, the umpires and the ground-staff. If you develop that respect for the game, everything else will fall in place — your discipline, sacrifice, integrity.

You should not count the number of deliveries faced or the hours spent at the nets. I also feel you have to be a good human being to evolve as a cricketer. Cricket is just a part of your life. Your life is a much bigger canvas. If you are a good man you will handle your life and cricket better.

You interact so well with the younger bunch…

I have always been very comfortable with the younger cricketers. I love the exchange of ideas. Some years ago, when Greg Chappell was the coach, there were some reports of a rift between the senior and the younger cricketers. This was completely untrue. In the Indian team, there is no senior or junior. We are a single team fighting for a single goal.

India is a country of extreme reactions. Do the speculations bother you?

They do. Sometimes it does leave you a little hurt. You learn to live with it and respond on the arena. A cricketer should not be swayed by the emotions of the moment. He should stay focussed. Eventually, the love of the people keeps you going.

The year 2008 witnessed some ugly on-field incidents. A few teams crossed the boundary between aggression and bad behaviour.

Aggression to me is a quality that is within you. Aggression should be felt, not seen.

Your match-winning century in Chennai and your stirring efforts in the tri-series finals Down Under must have been immensely satisfying…

It indeed was a special feeling. I concentrated very hard during the innings at Chepauk. I was not looking at the scoreboard. I realised we had won only when I watched Yuvraj Singh’s expression at the other end! The effort was dedicated to the victims of the Mumbai terror attacks. My teammates inspired me. Nothing can match the feeling of playing for the country. It lifts me. I would also like to thank England for agreeing to tour India.

In Australia, we came back from a difficult start, fought hard as a team. We showed a lot of character.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order and Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, the pace duo, were crucial elements in a largely successful 2008 for India. Do you believe Harbhajan Singh can slip into the role of Anil Kumble as the spin spearhead?

Sehwag and Gambhir were tremendous up the order, played a great role with their starts. They understand each other, run between the wickets so well, provide the innings momentum. Sehwag is a special player. And I think Zaheer and Ishant are among the best pace combinations India has ever had. I am sure Harbhajan will enjoy the responsibility of being the spin spearhead. There is a lot of fight in him.

India has shown much belief as a team in stressful situations…

A team’s strength cannot be judged when it is doing well. It should be judged in how it comes through a period of struggle. England dominated the Chennai Test for three and a half days. We won the three sessions that mattered. There is strong belief and resilience within this Indian side.

What are your impressions on India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni?

Dhoni has been a very balanced captain. He is calm and composed. A lot of credit for our success also goes to coach Gary Kirsten. He’s quietly efficient. The support staff has contributed immensely. Paddy Upton, Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad have played their parts. Dhananjay, our video analyst, has chipped in. Russell, who organises our travel, has been running around for us. So it’s not just about the players.

India has also been flexible with its tactics. The packed off-side field with the pacemen bowling outside the off-stump frustrated Australia…

We controlled the pace of the game. We were ahead in the series. They were 1-0 down in the series and I was pretty surprised that they did not do enough to counter our plans. In fact, they were a little passive and played into India’s hands.

There has been a shift in the balance of power in world cricket.

The Australians face a difficult period. India and South Africa have played some good cricket and are extremely competitive. The gap has narrowed and this is good for the game.

How much does the No. 1 spot mean to the Indian team?

We are looking at the process rather than any goal. It is like constructing a building. You build it brick by brick, slab by slab.

The present New Zealand side is not the strongest of teams. Yet, a tour of New Zealand has always been demanding?

It should be an interesting challenge. It could be freezing cold out there and the players might have to cope with icy winds.

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