Sachin Tendulkar reaches a special milestone on Monday, with the ‘Master Blaster’ turning 50 years old. The celebrations for the Tendulkar’s special day, meanwhile, are already underway with the Indian batting icon have cut the cake at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai during the Mumbai Indians-Punjab Kings clash on Saturday.
Ahead of the big day, Tendulkar caught up with Network18 Group Sports Editor K Shriniwas Rao for an exclusive interview in which he opened up on the years that have gone by.
Excerpts from the interview:
There is a recent video of yours on social media, in which you are seen serving your mom a freshly cut mango. That video tells us many things. It talks about a loving son, it talks about an affectionate family man. Talks about, of course, the greatest sportsperson the country has ever seen. And it tells us one more thing. It talks about how simple this man is, apropos, what his career has been like.
What has been going on your mind as 50 approaches, and what is it like?
I still don’t feel like I’m 50, honestly speaking. Would rather put it differently. A 25-year-old with 25 years of experience sounds better. It’s been a wonderful journey. I have no complaints and no regrets. I got a chance to play for the country for 24 years and it’s been a huge, huge honour and a dream come true. That’s all I wanted in life. I didn’t want to be anything else. From the age of 10, I started to chase my dream and to be able to do that for 24 years, couldn’t have asked for more.
What is the celebration like at 50? What will you be doing for celebrations? The quiet family meal, sneak out with Anjali, or?
It’s gonna be a surprise for me (laughs). There are not really going to be big celebrations, I’m not a sort of a person of big parties and big celebrations. I don’t remember going over the top and celebrating my birthdays. Would rather call close friends and that is all fine. So, I think there would be some plan this time but not at a mega scale, just close friends.
Right. Let’s talk about life post-retirement. What have the last 10 years been like? The way we have been tracking you, a few things stand out. Your love for golf seems to be growing by the day. And your passion for driving seems to be the same. And the amount of time you have been spending in the kitchen these days! The other day I saw you make mango kulfi. We also see you travelling to new places. So what’s happening? Talk about these 10 years.
These 10 years I did whatever I felt like doing, to be honest, because before that when I was playing for India, I had to work everything around the schedule that was finalised. Now I have the comfort of planning my schedule so, I do that. The priority is obviously family and friends. I don’t want to miss important occasions because there were times earlier like my children’s birthday when I wasn’t there and there wasn’t much I could do then. I was just hoping that when they grow up, they would understand that I was out and miss their birthdays for a reason. But now things are different. I’m getting more personal time and family time.
Something which I have kind of always felt that I should be doing at a larger scale, like I said, second innings of my life, I would like to bat for India, want to score more runs by helping less privileged ones across the country.
We were doing that earlier as well but what we have done post-retirement is that we have structured that and identified certain verticals where we would want to focus more. The three areas are health, education, & sports for children.
My foundation, Sachin Tendulkar Foundation, of course, my name is there, but the captain of the ship is Anjali. Being a paediatrician, it helps because she thinks differently, she is extremely committed and extremely driven by this because we all believe that we are in a position to impact lives and work all around the country in these three verticals.
There are tribal areas that have limited resources and with those limited resources, life gets challenging. So how could we impact their lives, how can we give meaning to their lives & how could we not allow them to lose hope and chase their dreams, help them achieve their goals is what we want to do.
This is something on which I want to focus on with other things going on in life. This is another area where I want to spend my energy.
In fact, the Sachin Tendulkar Foundation website, speaks about all these things, I have been noticing you are doing all these things from your playing days, right? Just that after retirement, you got more time.
Yes. Earlier it was not as organised. Feeling happy about whatever has happened is good, but we are not satisfied. And that is how it was on the cricket field. We would want to continue that in the second innings of my life as well.
After retirement, how long did it actually take you to realise that you have retired?
My retirement was gradual. It wasn’t like I suddenly retired and tomorrow morning it was like ‘what I do’. It was never a situation like that. I first retired from ODIs, then I retired from IPL and then I retired from Test cricket. And I wanted just one big game from India, I didn’t want multiple retirements. Just that one moment and that came at the right time. Playing a Test match for India at the home ground, we won that match and then that victory lap was an incredible moment.
I always used to wonder how my last experience in the field would be and I can’t thank everyone enough because that experience is something which we are still talking about.
I have this habit of making coffee or tea for myself and when I woke up the next morning (after retiring), I did exactly the same. Of course, it did feel a bit different. I don’t need to prepare for the next match or the next series, so yeah, it did feel that way.
Talk to us about what all transpired after that last match got over. Was it all impromptu?
First of all, it was a five-day game which didn’t last five days (laughs). I still remember, during the post-match presentation, I was down there along with my teammates, thinking that it was the last time I was standing with my team and it was never going to happen again. I’m never going to walk on the field again as an active Indian cricketer.
I was in the dressing room, and I said you know if we have a press conference on the sixth morning so a five-day Test match then we finish this function and we had organized a press conference on the sixth morning, it is the sixth day by then you know, two days would have passed, right now people would want to know my views and all that and I should speak so when the Star TV guy came to me and said the program is, the losing captain would be called there, the man of the series, the man of the match and all that, then they will call you and then the winning captain and then you guys, once the winning captain’s interview is done, then you guys do a group photograph with a trophy. I said ‘What is my role in this?’ they said ‘You will be called’, Ravi was going to interview me.
I made a request there and asked if I could speak for some time rather than answering two-three questions. He said, the field is yours you can go and speak for as long as you want. I said ‘This time I’m not going to speak for three-four minutes it may be a little longer than that’; though I ended up speaking for 20 minutes apparently.
And until that, you are not prepared for anything that you are going to speak.
No. I more or less knew what I was going to say. That’s why I had written down the names because I didn’t want to forget anyone.
I saw Sourav, Rahul, and Laxman on the mega screen and I spoke to them also through that. That kind of thing kept happening but it wasn’t planned. Everything was unplanned and just a message from up above that you know do it now and I did that.
There was a reel of yours where you’re on a badminton court indoor and you’re facing a tennis ball. Yeah, the shots are coming so beautifully and I’m sure you could feel that urge…
We do play badminton, and golf among ourselves in our friend circle. It’s a lot of fun. Only sometimes the camera is on, but otherwise, we have our own space.
What is it about golf? Does it satisfy your urge as a cricketer – the swing the back lift or kind of does it give you the satisfaction?
It’s more about spending time with your friends. That’s priceless for me. I can’t live without my friends. So, a friend’s time is important. We all get together and we play golf and have a good chat.
There’s this other reel of yours in which you are driving somewhere with a friend and you stop by a tea shop at the roadside and you had a cup of chai. Arjun is sitting behind the car, and he is like, ‘Papa what are you doing?’
We friends, we felt like having chai and nankhatai, biscuits. So we will have that. Brilliant spot to have, nobody is expecting it here, right? So, we parked the car and we started having chai and all that. It was good fun. We were just driving. We had recorded all that and it was only the last bit when the camera was on Arjun. And Arjun is not fond of cameras and so is Anjali. Sara is okay. And his expression was like “Leave me out of this” (laughs).
Sachin, I was thinking about it from that tea stall owner’s perspective. For you, it is a matter of five minutes, but for him, you made his life. He will think about it for the rest of his life.
Satisfaction is mutual. Because I am getting the satisfaction of chai and nankhatai. So I am also happy, and he is also happy. It works both ways.
Okay. Now do you know, what was the price of gold in 1995, 10 grams gold?
Four thousand three hundred rupees. 10 grams of gold. Today the price of 10 grams of gold is 57,000 going on 58(000). Why this is important because, in 1995, you became the first sportsperson to professionally sign a contract.
With WorldTel. Ya Ya Ya. With Mark Mascarenhas.
With Mark Mascarenhas.
And it happened through Ravi, Ravi Shastri. I still remember we were in Sri Lanka at that time and Ravi introduced me to Mark. Ravi said here’s my friend Mark who’s been wanting to meet you and he has something to share with you. And then it was Ravi, Mark, and I, three of us sat together and that’s where Mark made me that offer and said why don’t you just stay focused only on the game and my company will manage the commercial side!
So all the endorsements and contracts and whatever one had to sign everything was vetted by Mark and his team. It was only done so that I could be totally focused on the game because till that moment, yes there were lawyers helping me, but my family was actively involved in that and then negotiating and all that, I mean, to be honest, we’re not made for that. So father, a professor and a poet. My brother was interested in the right column of the scorebook. That account was more important than the bank account. Nobody was bothered literally and what the bank balance was. How many runs have you scored, what has happened to the game – that was more important?
So I don’t think, you know, our strengths were to negotiate a contract or write a contract, not really and we needed a team who could, take away, that literally, that headache from us, so that I could be focused only on the game.
I was just going through somewhere and I was told that in the last 100 years, only 305 people have played for the country and so that means on average only three people play for the country every year. So such a huge honour, such a massive privilege to represent the nation, I didn’t want to, you know, divide my energy. That energy needed to be only channelized on cricket and nothing else and that was my family’s thought process as well,, which really helped.
Mark was someone who when it came to my practice sessions and my preparation, did not interfere at all. He said everything will happen around that. I’m not going to make you cancel your practice sessions so that you can shoot an ad. So it never happened where Mark was forcing me, nahi aaj rehne do, you know, practice tomorrow, let’s shoot this ad today, it never happened.
It’s one of the most special relations you’ve had in life?
Without any doubt, Mark was more like a family I would say.
Your Jerry Maguire.
(Laughs) Mark was, see he did not discuss numbers with me, to be honest. Because he himself was such a huge fan of cricket! Loved the sport from the bottom of his heart and helped so many ex-cricketers as well. So he understood, I mean because he followed cricket. He understood what the things which are needed to represent a nation are and preparation becomes really important if you are to deliver. If you are not prepared, how will you deliver? So he never interrupted that.
Wow. I was looking at the enormity of what happened in those years, and you know the value of gold is something that was stuck in my mind and I was thinking we talk about a time when there was no technology, no internet nothing. I mean you know if you talk about the cricketer who became the first sportsperson in India to find a professional contract.
There was no internet and all that you mentioned in that, you know, rings a bell. I mean I’ll tell you one story which I have not shared with many. In the first half of my career, I used to come back home from long tours with multiple video cassettes, and both me and my brother Ajit, would sit together and go through each and every ball played on that tour and then the areas where I did well were also marked and the areas where I needed to make certain changes, those things were discussed so and that’s why, you know, I would kind of remember what has happened. Because I’ve watched that multiple times, though it has, in reality, happened only once there in the middle, but off the field we’ve sat together and watched that you know 50-60 times. And those were the days and that’s why when you spoke about the internet – YouTube and all that nothing was there. Video cassettes were there.
Wow! These days, I was, in fact telling a few colleagues as I was preparing for this interview and you know, we were discussing in the office, how these days we get press releases of brand endorsements in today’s modern day, you know, kind of celebrities and then I keep going back to that maybe a simple soft drink commercial that you must have done in the 90s, the charm of those videos, and that young Sachin that stuck in the minds of not people who identified with you as a batter or as a cricketer on the field. This I can tell you from personal experience, women in the house, children in the house, grandparents in the house and how the simplicity of it all is, has been spellbinding.
Which in fact brings me to another incident and this is something I want to understand from you, what do you think about it? Your growth story is so, so synonymous, in many ways with the India growth story.
And I’ll tell you why I’m saying this is, I’m sure, people have spoken about this earlier also but I’ll just give you an example here. Sunil Gavaskar, when we were consuming Sunil Gavaskar the batter, there was black and white TV at home, grainy television screen right? We could never see his face under the floppy hat and he wore that skull cap. We could never see his face. I remember the kid going close to the television sticking my nose up to the screen to try and see if you see his face and you know.
But your arrival is timed with the advent of cable television. Colour television came into the living rooms in India right, and we could see your face from under the white hat. We didn’t have to wait for your picture in the magazine to see you. We could see you out there on the field. You obviously kind of you know, you were just getting into the scheme of things at that time. What was going on in your mind, every single year, the passing year has been synonymous with the India growth story? You make your debut, I remember, 1990 the government changes, (19)91 economic liberation, (19)92 cable TV comes in, your century happens!
I mean it’s all (expresses amusement). So when you look back?
A little tough for me to step aside and say oh, this is what happened and all that. But you know, from my own experience, cricketing experience purely, I can tell you that the [a] number of changes happen and from the mid-90s, things changed dramatically. In fact, when the 1996 World Cup was played in India, I could immediately notice there was a significant change as far as the standard of the stadiums was concerned, the playing surfaces were concerned, and the grounds were in much, much better shape.
And from there on things started changing, what I noticed in cricket of course. The nation changed dramatically, but from a cricketer’s point of view, a young cricketer’s point of view, I thought the infrastructure in our country started changing. And with the World Cup having [being] played in India, that I thought that, you know, eagerness, those aspirations and youngsters wanting to change their dreams, was suddenly you know, it took off, the whole thing, and I felt, you know, the next generation that we saw from 2000 to 2003 onwards, you know, because they had played on better grounds their style of fielding was also different.
Though, before that, there were few natural fielders, the rest, while diving or sliding, you know, and I would like to include myself in the rest, because diving and sliding did not come naturally to me. I mean I have practised on grounds where, you know if you slide or you dive, you kind of bandaged your elbow or the side of your thigh for a week and can’t afford to do that. So you know one tried to stop the ball with the foot and if it happened on those grounds, it happened, if not then you have to go out and score four extra runs. That was a thought process. But those kind of changes happened and then we started finding, you know, fielders who were at a different level, I must say that.
Everything started changing and credit to BCCI for that. And that, the change, the birth of that change took place in 1996 is what I would say. One more important point as we speak, I would like to make is, we also started seeing players from smaller parts of India, you know, not the major four or five centres, you know, and, and some world-class players who came from the other parts of India as well and rightly so. But that happened because the infrastructure was there.
Right. And by then, cricket also had begun to promise the aspect of a career. I mean, I remember Zaheer’s story – this young engineering student coming from Shrirampur.
At that time, it used to be like, you know, ye ladka kaha se, Ahmednagar, there is a small town near Ahmednagar from where this boy comes, you know, and then an engineer in the making, takes that leap of faith in life, and all of this was a result of the late 90s that the boom that you talked about?
Absolutely! Because, somewhere it has to start and then you can, I mean, that initial push is really important and then once you’ve set the ball rolling, then, once in a while a gentle nudge is okay. The ball starts rolling, the ball continues to roll. But that initial push when the ball is not rolling is when the maximum effort is required, and that effort was in 1996 is what I feel.
Right. So post turn of the century, during that time is when ‘Sachin’ goes on from ‘Sachin’ to ‘Sachin paji’. Now from the outsider, as somebody chronicling this in hindsight, is that also the time when brand ‘Sachin’ also moved on to become brand ‘SRT’, or you know, because this renewed.
To answer your first question, ‘Sachin’ became ‘Sachin paji’ only because there were a number of guys from the northern part of India right? And they started calling me ‘paji’. So then it went to the extent where the rest of the guys also started calling me ‘paji’, and guys from Mumbai also started calling me ‘Paji’. I would be like, tum to mujhe Sachin bolo, tum paji kyu bol rahe ho! But nahi, nahi, that is, that is your name now, so everyone started calling me ‘paji’.
To answer your second question about the brand Sachin – I only wore a cricketer’s hat. I did not wear a marketing hat at all. So I don’t know what the marketing guys were thinking, from Sachin to SRT. You know, it was possibly from their end that all these things came up. I was comfortable, I mean, it didn’t make much of a difference, because I would anyways have my initials on my hat which was a cricket hat.
Right. And the reason I asked you this is because when I look back at things in hindsight, when I sit down to chronicle this, it was in hindsight, this is so humongous, in terms of not what it did to Brand SRT but what it did to the ecosystem. The entire ecosystem began to benefit with those initial footprints that you began to leave behind. Yeah, in 1995, when you signed your first deal, you brought professionalism, into the scheme of things.
And in 2001, when you renewed the deal, you kind of, of course the professionalism bit continued, but then you opened up the front gates for India to look at a new future from a sports perspective is when I think the mothers agreed allowing their child to play cricket from with a career perspective.
Yeah. I remember when I signed a contract in 1995, certain people didn’t agree with that and there were also opinions on that, ki now I’m chasing money. In fact, it was the other way around. I wanted to be totally focused on cricket and nothing else. And, that was a big moment in my life, because it allowed me to only focus on cricket.
But all said and done, you know, one may want to be focused on cricket, but if you’ve got pending things you are bound to take some interest in those things and make sure that, you know, everything is aligned properly.
I didn’t have to do all those things. You know, before that, it was my brother who looked after everything and my father would also at times get involved. But after that, you know, a little bit here and there, family involvement was there. When I got married, then Anjali also became part of it. Her father would also sometimes take an interest and help us out. So it was a big team working on it, but we knew, that a major job was being handled by Mark and his team.
Moving on from 2001, a couple of years later to 2005, I have this photographic memory which I can remember like it happened yesterday, there was a Duleep Trophy match between West Zone and South Zone in Hyderabad in Uppal, the new stadium which was still coming up, the work was still going on and it was a big match in terms of who all played it, Anil Kumble was there, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan all of them played but why that match was so important is because you were making a comeback after the tennis elbow injury.
What I remember very clearly is that you got out of the car, and it was a dark hallway, the Uppal Stadium hallway because the construction was still going on, there were photographers inside when you came out of the car into the hallway when you came in, that bunch of photographers the flashbulbs went and it was daylight inside that hallway and I still remember it distinctly, those shutterbugs, the noise that clicking sound of the cameras made the only other place I have seen it is inside a forest when a tiger sighting happens. What I’m saying is, when you were coming back it was such an important phase, did anything in your career pull you down the way the tennis elbow injury did?
I think my back injury, my back injury troubled me a lot and that continued for quite some time, almost 10 months or so. Though I played matches in between, with a lot of pain and discomfort. For almost three to four months, I slept in my hotel rooms between my bed and the cupboard so that I could not roll onto my tummy, I had to rest my back completely, get my handbag, put a couple of pillows inside the handbag and put those pillows under my knee so that the back would rest. Otherwise, my back would constantly stay like this into spasm (shows how he’d lie down through hand gestures). So once I lifted my knees, the back would become flat and the back would rest and that is exactly what the doctors had asked me to do.
I would take painkillers as if there was no tomorrow, literally three painkillers a day, before every session I would take one painkiller and go out to play. I pushed my body to the limit, and then I was also advised that I should undergo major surgery. Back in the 90s, today with the technology and multiple things happening around in the medical field back surgery was a big one but not kind of the end of your career. But at that stage, I was so worried, it could possibly be the end of my career if the surgery went bad. I was struggling because I had suffered so much while standing I could not even go and touch my knees, I couldn’t bend at all, if I had to sit in a chair like this, it wouldn’t be longer than 2-3 minutes at a stretch. I had to keep changing my positions, which was a nightmare [sic]. Possibly that I would say.
In fact, if a diagram of a human body has to be drawn and the number of injuries and the number of times you have suffered happens to be marked on the diagram, it would probably be the easiest lesson for a kid to understand human [anatomy]…
I mean the number of injuries that I have had in my career, I’m also kind of fifty per cent doctor, fifty per cent knowledge is dangerous though (laughs).
Have you ever taken your doctors out for a meal, they deserve it!
No I mean, I meet doctor friends and now the ones who’ve treated me, they are all friends and they’ve played a huge role in my life. All of them, the doctors, the physios, masseurs. They’ve all played a big role in my life. If they weren’t around, things would have been different because they’ve travelled with me, they have spent a lot of time on me. Whatever time during the night, if I have called because I’m stressed they have spoken to me, calmed me down, they said don’t worry everything is on track.
I’m an athlete, I want to get back in action as quickly as possible and I used to get impatient. But there’s no alternative to that, you have to be patient. You have to allow your injury to heal, if it takes six weeks, you have to be patient for six weeks. Even though I tried everything possible under the sun to cut that time short, to bring it down to three weeks, sometimes it was not possible. There were occasions when I managed, but there were certain occasions when I pushed too much too soon, and there was a setback. Experience teaches you plenty of things in life, it teaches you how to manage when things are not going well.
I had my tennis elbow surgery and in 2009-10, I had tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow on my right arm. There was a period when I used to have bands on both my arms. That happened actually at the beginning of the season. I remember somewhere around 2003-04, Rahul Dravid had a tennis elbow but that was towards the end of the season and then Rahul told me for three months he didn’t pick up a cricket bat. When he started playing again, his injury had healed. But in my case, it happened at the start of the season, so I had to manage that before eventually I got operated on the left one, but the right one because of the experience with the earlier injury I knew how to manage this one, and I managed it. So luckily, there was no surgery required.
And did time teach you that it’s not the injury that hurts as much as the rehab and the whole patience, having to wait…
The injury also hurts, because the rehab is such that you have a target that I need to get fit in the next six weeks or the next 12 weeks whatever that may be. But, you have a target and then you hope that things are going to go on track according to the planned schedule, but when you’re injured, it’s painful and you know that this could force you to be away from the sport.
What’s your daily routine like as of today, I mean who better than you to answer what should be the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle?
There is no set routine as such, but my simple formula in life is, I can eat whatever I want but not whenever I want. So, once you strike that balance, then you’re okay. On a lighter note, I used to tell my friends ‘Arey gym me 10 minute zyada baitho aur dining table pe kum baitho. That is another formula but ideally, I would say yes one needs to train, and be active if you don’t want to train in a gym, go for a walk, or on a jog, or play any sport.
I feel every individual should pick up a sport, it could be any sport that keeps you mentally healthy as well as physically. I feel mental health is also equally important, which people ignore, so overall fitness is important it’s not just the looks. Whatever is happening inside your body, more importantly, what’s happening inside the head, how mentally fit you are, that is also possibly even more important.
Stay Tuned for Part II of the interview…