The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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'I'm probably going at the same pace as before, but playing safer shots'
- Sachin Tendulkar, who completes 15 years of international cricket tomorrow, speaks exclusively to The Telegraph

Calcutta: Thirty-three Test hundreds, 37 in ODIs... A string of enviable records... Sachin Tendulkar's 15-year run in cricket's premier league has been phenomenal. The icon, 31, spoke to The Telegraph for over an hour the other evening, reflecting on an India career which began in Karachi (National Stadium) on November 15, 1989.

The following are excerpts

On the defining moments

Being selected for India, November 1989: It was a dream come true, though I can't express my feelings well enough... The significance can't be appreciated by anybody else either... The excitement was so high, on that maiden tour, that time just flew...

The second Test innings (59), in Faisalabad, November 1989: A big moment as my debut (15 in Karachi) had sown doubts... I actually did ask myself whether I was good enough for international cricket... I'd been nervous and stiff on debut... My feet hadn't moved properly and I wasn't comfortable. I found myself overwhelmed by negative thoughts and, at that point, was only looking for another opportunity... I was determined to put a price on my wicket and, so, that fifty is going to remain special. In subsequent matches, whenever I had to fall back on something, I thought of that 59 and not my debut 15. (Adds smiling) Never again did I have self doubts... Never again did I feel that, perhaps, I wasn't cut out for international cricket... Was I nervous when I took guard in Faisalabad' Yes... Even today, I get nervous... That's how my body system reacts on the eve of every game.

The first Test hundred (119 not out), in Manchester, August 1990: The circumstances were such that the team needed somebody to stand up... I'm happy I played that role... In any case, the first hundred is always a high point in one's career.

[Sachin was set for a hundred earlier that year, in Napier, but was caught by John Wright off Danny Morrison for 88.]

The tour of Australia in 1991-92 (Test series, tri-series and the World Cup): Looking back, what stands out is the 114 in Perth.' Again, that knock came at a critical moment... Besides, you get noticed if you do well in Australia... With that one innings, I made a statement. In fact, that tour boosted my confidence and changed me as a player... Made me sharper, made me hungry... What I learnt quickly is there will be times when a spell has to be seen through... That picking singles is important... My thinking changed....

Joining hands with the late Mark Mascarenhas and WorldTel, November 1995: Ravi (Shastri) introduced me to Mark... Our relationship wasn't one of just an agent and client... It went beyond that and allowed me to focus on cricket... The deal also gave financial security... What I liked most about Mark is that he never compelled me to lend my name to anything... He did offer advice, but nothing more... Being a big cricket lover himself, he realised my time for the sport wasn't to be encroached upon... Mark was professional ' I didn't even read contracts, only signed on the dotted line.

On those with the biggest influence

Elder brother Ajit: He has been a part of everything that's happened... He has quietly appreciated my achievements... He hasn't ever got excited but, instead, has been reminding me of the next step... And, when I haven't done well, he has been there for support. Some relationships are difficult to describe, this is one such. However, I have no hesitation in saying I'm here because of him.

Parents Ramesh and Rajani, other brother Nitin and sister Savita, uncle (Suresh) and aunt (Mangala) who lived in Shivaji Park: Their support has been central to my development and success as a cricketer... (Emotionally) I remember that when I shifted to my uncle's place, to stay close to the hub, my parents came to Shivaji Park every day just to see me... To spend half an hour, they travelled up-and-down Mumbai for a couple of hours at least... At that point, it didn't really mean too much... I suppose it's only later in life that such moments are remembered as priceless... It's later that one appreciates the sacrifices made by parents... It's because they are usually around all the time that the value of their presence isn't understood... They're taken for granted... I've been lucky to have such a family... It's because my foundation was strong that a structure could be built. (After a pause) My parents, by the way, never forced me to do anything... In fact, the only demand my father ' incidentally, my idol ' made was that I shouldn't fail in any standard! He didn't expect anything more than 'reasonable marks.' Of course, he didn't know much about cricket but, given my obsession with the sport, would say I shouldn't stop at anything but excelling. (Pauses again) I'm going to be very happy if I can get even close to being the kind of person he was... Nothing tempted him and he was content with whatever he had' Heading a middle-class family, my father had to keep a lot in mind...

Wife Anjali: The first time I met her was at her residence, in 1990... Like Ajit, she never gets carried away nor, for that matter, does she get depressed when I don't do well... Rather, she makes an effort to see me through the days when things haven't gone the way they should have... She has ensured I've been in a nice frame of mind for the next innings or match... If I may add, she constantly reminds that there will be a tomorrow and a next game.... That's a philosophy I favour: You can't undo what has been done, but can try and influence the future... Was it love at first sight' Well... I did find Anjali attractive and... After a few meetings, something within me said I could... Look, I'm not going to say anything more...

Coach Ramakant Achrekar: He would pick me up on his scooter.... Went out of his way to ensure I batted as much as possible... Accommodated me in matches featuring boys who were senior... In fact, he ensured I batted at No.4 for the 'team' batting second... So, from school, I went to my uncle's place for a quick lunch and, then, was off to Shivaji Park... Batting regularly at No.4 helped build my temperament... (Pauses) Most important, Sir never tried to change my game...

On the non-cricketers whom he admires

John McEnroe: I loved his style... The way he carried himself...

Pete Sampras: Was in a different league... Cool headed and so consistent...

Boris Becker: I liked his aggression, his presence on court.... His never-say-die attitude...

Michael Schumacher: I've met this champion a couple of times.... He doesn't exactly follow cricket, but I've still given him tips... I was curious to know how he prepares for a race and his answer was he keeps things simple' Remains his normal self and doesn't get worked up...

Juan Pablo Montoya: His talent apart, I find him interesting.... In some ways, he reminds me of Vinod Kambli... Good natured, lively...

On whether he admires somebody out of sport

Mother Teresa... A foreigner who worked among destitutes... I find that remarkable... Sadly, I never met her.

On his most satisfying achievement

(Smiles) That I've played so long for India... When I started off, I never thought I could play for 15 years or break X number of records... At that time, just playing for the country was enough... This whole journey has been special.

On his most special innings

In Tests, it will be that 114 in Perth and the unbeaten 241 at the SCG last season... In the ODIs, my knocks in Sharjah (April 1998) and the 98 in Centurion (against Pakistan) in the last World Cup.

On whether he accepts having changed his approach in the last couple of years

Yes, I've adapted... There are some shots I play and some I don't... The difference in my strike-rate, though, is marginal... Surely, that indicates I'm probably going at the same pace, but playing safer shots...

On whether wear-and-tear alone is responsible for injuries in the last five years

Having started off early, I've certainly had more wear-and-tear... At the same time, I've also been unlucky ' like being hit on the toe in Zimbabwe (2001)...

On tips for youngsters

Love the sport and don't think of the material benefits which may come... Indeed, cricket has to take centrestage with everything else growing around it... Once the priorities are right, everything is going to fall in place... Bottomline is that you've got to be true to yourself... What must youngsters not do' Attempt shortcuts. Accept challenges, otherwise, you won't ever be a tough cricketer.

Finally, on what's left to achieve

(Laughs) Don't know... After all, I didn't set out to get A or B... Yes, one wants to score as many runs as possible... Beyond that, I can't say... I don't know whether I'll be happy if X number of hundreds or... Frankly, I don't have a target.

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