Sher-e-Bangla stadium, Mirpur. Sachin Tendulkar had just scored his hundredth 100, and now only just finished the post-match media interaction. There was chaos all around, with everyone from the media, ground security, production crew and Bangladeshi administrators jostling to speak to the man. I knew it would be impossible to speak to him in that frenzy. Past 11 pm, there were still thousands waiting on the road to catch a glimpse of the players leaving for the hotel. The Indian team was not able to leave the stadium for another hour or so and I wondered if I would get my opportunity to greet Sachin at all that night. Then, at the stroke of midnight, I got a call from the man. We agreed to meet in the lobby of the Pan Pacific Sonargaon in Dhaka, the hotel where he was staying, and then go up to his room (No. 723). Disruption again. With hundreds waiting for the players in the lobby, the team had to make a backdoor entry. Hotel security wouldn’t let me go up. They finally relented only after Sachin made a personal request. The room, with all those balloons the hotel authorities had left for him as a surprise, looked dressed for a party Sachin must have wanted over—he looked exhausted. But game nevertheless for one last chat before he hit the sack. Excerpts from the interview:
Boria: So finally…
Sachin: Yes finally. Thank god.
Boria: What did you have to say to yourself when you finally got that run?
Sachin: You know I thanked god to start with and said to myself that the wait was finally over. Without a doubt it has been the most difficult hundred to get. I was feeling the pressure every day of my life and was getting frustrated with myself at not being able to get to the landmark. For a few seconds my mind was blank and I just felt relieved that I had finally achieved the three figure mark after more than a year.
Boria: How difficult was the wait? You have been saying to me in our many conversations over the past year that it had turned difficult with each passing day?
Sachin: Indeed it was. There wasn’t a day in my life when I wasn’t reminded of the 100. It appeared on occasions that everything I had achieved in the past had turned irrelevant and I’d only be judged by my ability to get the 100th 100. I was doing everything to not succumb to the pressure but it was hard and I have no issues in accepting that the pressure was indeed getting to me. I am human and it is difficult to stay insulated from all the talk around you and I am glad it is done finally.
Boria: Was there ever a doubt that you’d not get there? It is not as if you weren’t batting well in the period between March 2011 and March 2012? In fact the innings at Melbourne is the best I have seen you bat in recent years.
Sachin: Absolutely right. I was batting near my best if not at my best in Melbourne. I was playing and moving the best I have done in years. If you go back and see the footage of the innings you’d see I had a good few seconds to play each ball. For example I was totally in control when I played Peter Siddle over slips for six in the first over after tea at the MCG. I was able to see the ball and had a lot of time to play the shot. That is the best feeling you can get as a batsman and I was very much in control. Again at Sydney I was batting well for my 80 and should have just gone on to get the hundred and save the match for India. If you ask our masseur he’d tell you that I was looking to bat a full two days and I knew it was possible. The hundred was just not in my mind. I knew if I batted for two days the hundred would surely come but more importantly I’d be able to save the game for India. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Michael Clarke’s delivery just turned and bounced and I got an edge. In fact, I had given myself just that over before I attacked Clarke. There was a very strong wind from the other end and I was just waiting for the wind to die down before I stepped out to Clarke but as I said it wasn’t to be. I am telling you all this because I never had a period of self doubt while batting in recent times but was just not able to convert the starts into a century.
Boria: For a man who has reached the landmark figure 99 times how is it that the final hurdle was more difficult than any of the rest?
Sachin: Firstly there’s no doubt it was. The 100th 100 was the most difficult to get. I really don’t know why but it was. May be because it had turned into a national obsession. May be because I wasn’t able to escape the talk of the 100th hundred and it was affecting me at a subconscious level. May be god was actually trying me harder than the rest.
Boria: And the period in the middle wasn’t easy for you either. For the first time in your career since the 2007 World Cup, critics were actually saying you were perhaps stretching things a bit too far and that you were playing on past glories. There were calls for you to give up. Your thoughts?
Sachin: Boria, you know me well enough to know I’d never take those people seriously. I have played the game because I love to play it and there’s nothing better than playing for India. I still get goose bumps when I stand with my teammates when the national anthem is on. I still feel the same passion when I pick up my bat and go out to bat. Critics haven’t taught me my cricket and they don’t know what my body and mind are up to. They can ask questions but none of them have answers to their own questions. None of them have been in my predicament and it is impossible for them to understand what I have been thinking or feeling. I can tell you that the day I feel a little less passion when I walk out to bat for India, I’ll give up the game. Critics don’t need to tell me to do so. I will come to them and say ‘My time is up’. Till then, I’d not bother about these opinions, for these are nothing but opinions and everyone in the world is entitled to one. Also, I feel when I am batting well, it is important that I continue to serve the country and not give up. It is extremely selfish to suggest that I should give up when I am doing well. That’s the time to serve the country. And when I am not doing well and am unable to serve India, I will stand down and give it all up.
Boria: With that answer you have also answered the retirement question, I think. So can I please write that we can continue to enjoy seeing you bat for some more time?
Sachin: All I can say is I am enjoying my cricket, and as long as I do, I’ll play the game. There’s no need for me to hide my retirement from the media. Of course I’ll tell them; they have been with me for the past 24 years of my life. But for the moment, I am enjoying my cricket as much as I have always done and retirement isn’t something I am thinking about.
Boria: When did the pressure of the 100th start getting to you?
Sachin: Look, no one spoke of the 99th hundred or the 100th during the World Cup. When I got my 98th against England or the 99th against South Africa in the World Cup, there was absolutely no mention of the 100th. I hadn’t even given it a thought. The only thought was to win the World Cup for the country and it was only before the first Test match at Lord’s in July that I realised there was this huge build-up about the 100th. It turned into an obsession with every passing game and people started calculating my scores from 100 backwards. I played well for a 76 in Delhi against the West Indies and more importantly won the Test match for India. But in people’s perceptions, I had fallen 24 short. Again, in Mumbai I played really well for my 94. However, I was told I hadn’t scored 6 more runs. If I was not out overnight on 30, people would say I needed 70 more. I understand where they were coming from, but it is difficult to cope with that kind of pressure. That’s exactly why I say the 100th was far more difficult than any of the rest.
Boria: Sachin, there is this feeling—and I don’t think it is totally unfair—that you may have retired from one-day cricket soon after you won the World Cup. It was the pinnacle in the shorter format and you had little left to achieve in the 50 over format after winning the World Cup. Did such a thought ever cross your mind?
Sachin: Good you asked me this question. A number of my friends have also asked me why I did not retire from one-day cricket after winning the World Cup. They may well be right. It would indeed have been a grand exit. Emotions were running high and the timing could not be better. But to be honest such a thought had never occurred to me. The World Cup was about India and I had no right to make it an event of my own. My retirement was a non-issue, really. Had I announced my retirement soon after winning the trophy, the focus would have shifted from the Cup triumph to my retirement. Frankly, retirement isn’t of any significance when pitched against a World Cup victory. It was never about Sachin Tendulkar; it was about India and India only. It was not the time to turn selfish. In fact, it was important I celebrated the occasion as a member of the World Cup winning Indian team, a team that had stuck with one another through the most difficult times to make the world stage their own. Each of the players had sacrificed a lot and each of them deserved to make the most of the moment. Announcing my retirement would have robbed them of that opportunity. The Cup triumph was a collective achievement and the announcement of my retirement would have turned it into an acutely personal one. It would not have been right by my teammates, and I could never justify such an act to myself.
Boria: You are hailed as the greatest ever by many of us. Some say you are the God of Cricket. Is there something this journey from being a middle-class Mumbaikar to the greatest ever to have played the game has taught you that really stands out, that you want to share?
Sachin: First, I have never thought of myself as the greatest ever. And I am no god. I am Sachin Tendulkar, that’s all. Yes, I have always wanted to be good and always wanted to strive for excellence, but to be labelled ‘The Greatest’ is the doing of people like you. I feel humbled and embarrassed at the same time. There’s Sir Donald Bradman and Sir Garfield Sobers, two of the greatest ever cricketers to have played the game. In my time, there have been Brian Lara, Shane Warne, Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid. Each of them is a great player. The one thing my journey has taught me is that however good you are and however talented you are, you have to be ready to grind it out in times of difficulty. You must be prepared to work hard. Keep working hard. And harder. There was never, and will never be, a shortcut to success and it is important to know this and pursue your dream with passion, determination and intensity. That has been my belief right through my career.
Boria: I know you often play cricket despite being in serious physical discomfort. In fact you have been in serious pain on occasions even in recent months. What explains this madness to play on in spite of all kinds of adversity?
Sachin: If you don’t endure pain, you will never be a good sportsman. Period. Cricket has given me a lot. In fact, you’d not want to do this interview in the first place had it not been for cricket. Playing for India with passion is all I have done in my life. Play the game I love more than anything. If that means I have to endure pain, so be it. No pain can beat the pleasure of playing for India. When I saw all those fans after winning the World Cup or got to know of the celebrations back home after the 100th hundred… you feel it is indeed worth it. It is important to know if I’ll be able to give my 100 per cent to the team. If I can’t, I have no right to be there. If I can, and I am enjoying the game, I am happy to endure a little bit of pain (Laughs).
Boria: So where does Sachin Tendulkar go from here?
Sachin: To bed, first! More importantly, I want to see India start playing well in Test matches, and I’d want to play a part in the resurgence. We played very good Test cricket for five to six years on the trot before we lost the series to England and subsequently the series to Australia. I can tell you the losses hurt, they hurt really badly. The entire team is keen to stage a turnaround and give fans a lot more to cheer about when we play England in October-November this year. It is important to overcome the really bad phase and move on, and I’d want to do my bit to ensure Indian Test cricket is back on track.
Boria: Two last questions. First, the one quality everyone everywhere has hailed in you is your modesty. Despite being India’s greatest sporting icon of all time, you continue to be humble. How can you do that? And second, your personal life is a closed chapter. How much credit would you give your family, especially Anjali and the kids?
Sachin: I am glad you asked me this question. I must confess I am the human being I am because of my father, and I am the cricketer I am because of my brother to whom I dedicate this 100. My father and mother were/are simple people and taught all of us, Nitin, Ajit and me, to follow certain simple values in life. I come from a middle-class Mumbai family, and that is exactly what Anjali and I have tried to teach our kids, middle-class values, which are at the core of our existence. No credit can be enough for Anjali. She was an exceptional student and could have made an exceptional career for herself. But she decided to stand by me and has been with me every moment over the past two decades. There have been occasions when I haven’t seen Sara or Arjun in months or I haven’t even spoken to them. In fact, soon after the World Cup I had this feeling that I hadn’t even noticed that Arjun had grown so tall. These are precious things in life and I have missed out on some really beautiful moments with my family. At the same time, I know that my family will always stand by me and are proud of what I do or have done. The children know why their father has been away and what cricket means to him. Without their support, I’d never have been able to go the distance I have.