Playing It My Way

“My father’s sense of reason was his biggest virtue and I try to act in the same way with my children.” As a child, Tendulkar became obsessed with owning his own bicycle. He did not understand that his parents could not afford to buy him one and sulked till they did. Within hours of owning his first bike, Tendulkar rode it into a vegetable cart. This was followed by several other accidents, but his father never shouted or screamed at him. “He’d try to set out the reason why I should or shouldn’t do certain things, and his explanations left a lasting impact.”


“We played on half-baked and overused pitches and our coach [Ramakant Achrekar] insisted we should bat without helmets and learn to leave balls by swaying out of the way. On such wicket, injuries were a certainty, but they hardened us for the grind in the future and as a result I was never scared of getting hurt.” Even when he was trying out for the Mumbai Ranji Trophy side at 14, just two years before he made his international debut, Tendulkar was batting in only a cap. This upset Indian fast bowler Raju Kulkarni, who had to bowl to the 14-year-old Tendulkar in a match at Wankhede Stadium, as he thought Tendulkar was being arrogant and defiant. He bombarded Tendulkar with bouncers. Only later, when Tendulkar was Kulkarni’s Mumbai team-mate, did he explain that his coach wouldn’t allow him a helmet.


“I was unable to figure out what I was doing wrong [as captain]. I was failing to get the team to play to their potential and it was all starting to get to me… [My family] were all in agreement that the frustration of not achieving what I wanted with the team was affecting me badly and that I was pushing myself too hard.” Tendulkar says he had to accept that he was not quite made for captaincy. After leading India on a dismal tour of Australia in 1999-2000, he went through “serious mental turmoil”. He was thinking of the losses even when he was with his kids. He could not cope with being responsible for the actions of his team-mates but not being able to control them, like when his fast bowlers bowled slower balls to Pakistan’s batsmen in the tri-series of that Australia tour despite his explicit instructions not to. Tendulkar recommended to the Indian board that Sourav Ganguly take over as captain after that tour. He was offered the captaincy twice after that in his career, but declined both times.


“I was in a bad state after the 2007 World Cup. I was not enjoying my cricket at all and was thinking about retiring – until I received some encouraging words from Viv Richards. He assured me that there was a lot of cricket left in me and insisted that I shouldn’t even think about stopping.” The reaction of the Indian fans and the media to India’s first-round exit hurt Tendulkar. Reading newspaper headlines such as ‘Endulkar’ made him consider retirement. He was also agitated by armchair critics, Ian Chappell among them, suggesting he should “have a good look in the mirror” and think about retiring. When his childhood hero, Viv Richards, called and spoke to him for about 45 minutes, it was the pick-me-up Tendulkar needed. When he regained form with a century in Sydney in 2008, he made it a point to call Richards and thank him.


“I wish I could have let every supporter at the Wankhede pose with the [World Cup] trophy.” Tendulkar was overwhelmed with people’s reaction to India winning the 2011 World Cup. In the dressing-room after the final, Tendulkar asked Sudhir Gautam, a loyal fan famous for painting his entire body in Indian colours, to come in and hold the trophy. He wanted to show the fans he cared. Later that night, he and his wife, Anjali, poured themselves a drink each in their hotel room, put flowers in their hair and danced. The party went on till 7am.


“I wanted to get it out of the way. I was spending hours at the nets and felt good about my batting, but gradually the 100th ton was starting to play on my mind.” Tendulkar admits that the hysteria that surrounded the wait for his 100th international century put him under extreme pressure. When he was 94 not out against the West Indies in a Test in Mumbai in 2011, his feet felt heavy. He says he had never felt so nervous in his entire career, not even before his first Test hundred. When he managed to get the elusive 100th ton, in Bangladesh in 2012, he “felt 50 kilograms lighter”.


“[When my retirement was announced] I felt remarkably calm because I was convinced I had made the right call at the right time.” Tendulkar began to think about retirement during the 2013 Champions League, when he started having to force himself to go to the gym and missing practice sessions without regret. When he decided to retire, the hardest thing was telling his children. His son, Arjun, was in South Africa, and when he told him over the phone, Arjun began to cry. His daughter, Sara, came home from school early on the day his retirement was made public and ran up to him and hugged him tight. Tendulkar was touched to see how much his achievements meant to his children. He hoped it meant they understood why he had to miss so much of their childhood.

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