London: Thursday will see yet another Sachin Tendulkar milestone and, with such a momentous landmark around the corner, the otherwise intensely private icon has been having even less time for himself. Sachin, however, did speak to The Telegraph for a shade over an hour on the eve of his 100th Test.
The following are excerpts
On ambitions as a kid
I was fond of tennis and soccer, especially the former, and probably wouldnít have been unhappy had I seriously taken to one of them... I was, then, a huge fan of McEnroe and Borg. As it turned out, our 1983 World Cup win changed everything. From then on, it was just cricket... As Iíve said, though, I didnít look to becoming a cricketer right from the time I became aware of everything that happened around me.
On whether his family wanted him to focus on studies
My late father (Ramesh), in particular, appreciated what I should be doing in life and never put pressure... Never tried to impose himself. Rather, he often said I should do what I wanted to ó only, I shouldnít ever be found wanting in effort... I recall he once said Ďdonít do anything which, in the later years, you could regret.í That one piece of advice keeps guiding me, remains a source of so much strength.
On his family
(Emotionally) Has always been the single biggest influence... I doubt if thereís something more important than what the parents teach a child... I learnt quite a bit from my father, merely by watching him lead a simple life... Really, he didnít have to keep saying Ďdo thisí or Ďdonít do that.í The values he held dear rubbed off on me ó honesty, sincerity... Itís given me strength.
On elder brother Ajitís influence
Where cricket is concerned, yes, he has played a big part... Generally, Iím indebted to the entire family for support ó my mother (Rajani), eldest brother Nitin, sister Savita and, of course, (wife) Anjali.
On the sacrifices made
As a kid, there were days when I thought of having an evening out, of simply enjoying bhelpuri... Of watching a movie, perhaps... But, I couldnít because I had to be regular at the nets... However, as I enjoyed my cricket, I wouldnít really term missing all that as a sacrifice. Nobody forced me to skip movies or bhelpuri.
On his idol
Vivian Richards... I wanted to emulate him and him alone... (Adds laughing) I remember asking Manjrekar to introduce me to him when I learnt he was in the same hotel as our teamís, in Melbourne, during the 1992 World Cup... I also recall getting tongue-tied... Didnít know what to say. In more recent years, Iíve had occasions to actually speak to him. ĎKeep hitting the ballí has always been Vivís advice.
On whether, as a kid, he dreamt of owning something in particular
(Smiles) Cars fascinated me... Wanted to own many... In fact, still want to!
[Sachinís favourite, predictably, is the recently-gifted Ferrari.]
On being a role model
Iíve done what I thought was right and what my family thought was correct... Iíve never tried to cultivate an image, have never tried to be different... Iíve been genuine and, at no time, have I thought of either behaving differently or doing something differently only because Iím seen as a role model. Iím aware of my responsibilities.
On not endorsing liquor and tobacco
Yes, itís been a conscious decision... My father, too, would feel I shouldnít lend my name to certain products... My stand isnít going to change.
On his association with Apnalaya, a Mumbai-based charity
As often as possible, I try and help... Thanks to friends across the world, Iím regularly able to auction my clothes, cricket gear... Every single paisa goes to the charity which is devoted to the betterment of children in the slums of Mumbai... Recently, even TVS-Suzuki, one of my sponsors, chipped in by donating a bike which I could auction.
On the commercial side of Sachin Tendulkar
The spin-offs have come about because of cricket and, as long as I keep playing, the spin-offs will continue... The point Iím making is that I donít have to think of money or whatever. I just need to think of my game, need to think of helping Team India. Cricket will remain the No. 1 priority and, if a situation arises where I have to compromise with my first love, I wonít.
On his thoughts on the eve of his 100th Test
Iím treating the occasion normally... Iíll play my natural game... Iím aware not many have got to play 100 Tests... Yet, at the same time, Iíll still only be playing cricket. The milestone isnít going to change things... Iíve given the game my best shot, have always wanted to be remembered as someone who consistently gave everything for the country.
On whether, today, he is especially indebted to somebody
My coach, Mr Achrekar... Without him... His attention towards me was so complete that if, on some days, I got late for nets, he would himself drive over in his scooter and take me to Shivaji Park... Then, Sunil Gavaskar... Whenever Iíve had some doubts, Iíve gone to him. Itís been the same with Shastri.
On whether he still interacts with Achrekar
I seek his blessings before every tour... We talk generally (in Marathi), the interaction isnít cricket-specific.
On his debut innings and Test (November 1989, Karachi)
I didnít get many (15) and the first thought was whether I was good enough for Test cricket, whether I had it in me to come good among the best... Not having played anybody as quick as Imran, Akram and Waqar, I thought I was out of place... For a while, I did think it could be my first and last Test.
On how long it took him to settle down
Fortunately, I got another opportunity and, in the very next Test (Faisalabad), got 59 in the first innings... By the end of that knock, I was fine... I had been determined not to give it away and, to an extent, succeeded. As you may remember, I didnít leave the field even after being hit on the nose by Waqar in Sialkot (last Test)... Had I gone off, at that crucial stage, it would have meant admitting defeat. I couldnít have done that.
On the huge gulf between Test and purely first-class cricket
The pace of the quicks is so much more, the wickets are different. Moreover, unlike the domestic scene, where you are up against the best in a state or zone, Test cricket pits you against the very best of a country... Itís only at this level that you have three-four quality bowlers constantly coming at you. With no easy runs, itís tough.
On how conscious he is of records
Look, I do know when Iím either close to a record or have broken one... I would be lying if I said I wasnít aware. But, then, I donít keep thinking of records... When I took to cricket, my only ambition was to play for India, not break records. That hasnít changed. Iím neither obsessed with nor am I driven by records.
On his mental preparation before either a Test or an ODI
Very early on itself, Ajit suggested I visualise the bowlers, mentally Ďstudyí the wicket and conditions... The possible field settings... Right through, Iíve been doing that.
On whether he agrees that the pressure-factor, brought about by such high expectations, has often made him curb his natural game.
As with life itself, there are stages in cricket... Then, Iím part of a team sport, Iím only one of 11 individuals with a role to play... Therefore, while I could be in the first gear on some days, I could be in the fifth on others... I canít keep doing my thing all the time and, clearly, Iíve got to respect the demands of the team. Of course, experience helps.
On his most significant innings in recent times
The 117 in Port-of-Spain, earlier this year, and the 92 at Trent Bridge... Probably even the 79 in Georgetown.
On the bowlers who have made him concentrate that much harder
So many! Obviously, while preparing, I tend to think more about the strike bowlers... While itís difficult to pick one quick, I would certainly name a few spinners ó Warne and Murali, for sure, and someone who is constantly underrated ó Vettori.
On whether he, too, agrees his explosive performance in Sharjah (April 1998) remains his best in ODIs
Yes, perhaps... I was in very good nick and everything I hit went in the desired direction.
[Sachin totalled 435 runs in five matches, at an average of 87.]
On his favourite Test innings
(Pauses) The 114 in Perth (1991-92)... Even the unbeaten 155 against Australia at the Chepauk (1997-98).
On his biggest disappointment
Our not winning the Chennai Test versus Pakistan (1998-99)... Because of a back problem, I couldnít continue beyond 136 and we fell short by a few runs. Had we won, I would have picked that hundred as my best knock... Itís only later I learnt I had a stress fracture.
On whether, during that back problem in 1999, he feared a premature end to his career
Not worried, but till I took a break later that year, I couldnít concentrate in the usual manner... The pain would be too much... It was much the same when I suffered a crack beneath my right (big) toe last year... Again, I had to take a break... Forget playing, I could barely walk then.
On his phenomenal concentration
It has much to do with priorities, of knowing where I stand (vis-a-vis the bowlers)... If you want something in life, youíve got to stay focussed on achieving that. If I want runs, well, Iíve got to concentrate.
On whether he sets goals
Yes... It could be match-by-match, could even be for every series.
(Interrupting) Letís leave this out of the interview...
[Sachin also didnít wish to speak on the Mike Denness controversy.]
On Sourav Ganguly as captain
Heís been doing a good job... If I may add, in passing, it canít just be the captainís task to keep the team together. Believe me, every player has this responsibility. The great thing about this team is that everybody gets along with each other. We enjoy each otherís company... Thatís how it should always be.
On what makes a good team
Talent... Once the talent is there, other things fall into place... The hunger, though, must also be there.
On whether he reads much of what is written about him
Good or bad, I try and avoid... In the middle of a match, for instance, Iíve got to think of the bowlers and field settings, not get concerned about something which may have been written that morning.
On whether he is deeply religious
I do pray daily, itís a tradition in our family.
On heroes outside cricket
McEnroe, most definitely... Among contemporary sportsmen, I admire Sampras and Schumacher. Should Sampras quit' The decision has to be his and his only... Heís a great and, instead of speaking about the lows in his career, people should remember the absolute highs. Whatever Samprasí present form, nobody can take away his achievements.
On what separates a champion from the run-of-mill performers
Itís a difficult question... I suppose mental toughness and the hunger to consistently do well.
On his reaction when people keep treating him like a champion
Does feel nice but, because I still am rather shy, I may not respond very openly... Frankly, Iím a little reluctant to even say ďhelloĒ to people I donít know. I feel uncomfortable and will prefer to look down and walk on instead of looking up and responding. Thatís the way I am.
On his ideal vacation spot
(Laughs again) If I tell you, it wonít remain ideal! But, yes, my understanding of a vacation is spending time with family.
On whether he treats both daughter Sara and son Arjun evenly
Oh, absolutely... As a parent who canít get away from the limelight, I want them at least to lead a normal life.
On the future
(Smiles again) I havenít, in the past, thought much about the future... I donít wish to do so now either... If I do, thereís the risk of putting myself under more pressure... In any case, why should I today be different'
Finally, if he has a message
I wish to thank fans across the world for so much love and affection... I know I canít repay that... However, I hope Iíll continue getting the same treatment. Itís nice to feel so wanted.