Sachin Tendulkar talks about how he dealt with pre-match anxiety, how he used technology to focus more on the bowlers than his own batting, as he gives a masterclass on how to bat in England – what guard to take, whether standing outside the crease works, and the importance of hip position.
Q: Batsmen sometimes stand outside the crease in England to cut the swing … does it work?
Yes, it works. Basically, what you are doing is letting the bowler know that you are outside the crease. So, the bowler has to change the trajectory and the release point of the ball. Bowlers, who are pitching up, have to drag back the length. If someone is bowling short, you could stay inside the crease also. But to stand outside the crease is not a bad idea.
Q: What are the risks in standing outside the crease? What are the things a batsman needs to be wary of?
Sometimes, you will think that it is a good leave, but because the distance has increased between you and the stumps, it still has time to come in and hit the stumps. If you are outside the crease, you should take a middle-stump guard, instead of leg-stump. The further you are out of the crease, the more you come towards the off-stump. It helps you judge the ball better.
Q: In England, batting is also about curtailing your shots. One can train to master a shot but how can one train not to play a shot? Like you did in the 2003-04 Australia series at Sydney by scoring 241 without one cover drive…
To be honest, that happened to me spontaneously. On that tour, Australians kept bowling away from me; their strategy was to frustrate me. They had planned that 70 per cent of the balls should go to Adam Gilchrist (wicketkeeper). The strategy was to not get me out, but bowl away and get dot balls. So, I thought ‘you are trying to test my patience then I will test your patience’. Let’s see kaun haarta hai pehle (Let’s see who blinks first). If I have to bat for a day, day and a half or even two days, I am prepared to do that. Eventually, they had to come back at me.
Q: But don’t people talk about muscle memory and how your hands just reach out for the ball instinctively?
For me in Sydney, it wasn’t planned. My brother had challenged me. He asked me that since no one can get me out, are you willing to take up this challenge with me that you are not going to get out in this match. So, I said, okay I am accepting that challenge, no bowler is going to get me out. When I went to bat, I realised that they were bowling away from me all the time. That’s when I decided I will not play the cover drive at all. But till that moment, I was not thinking about all those things. I was thinking that whatever happens, I will not get out to anyone.
Q: Virat Kohli has often spoken about the sessions with you after the 2014 England series where he didn’t score many runs. His quote: “I came back from England and spoke to Sachin paaji … I told him that I am working on my hip position. He made me realise the importance of a big stride, a forward press against fast bowlers as well. The moment I started doing that with my hip alignment, things started ironing out nicely.” What, according to you, is the ideal thing to do?
Like he said about hip position, if the alignment changes from there, your shoulders automatically open. Hip position needs to be right so that the shoulders don’t open. Many times, people will tell you that your shoulder khul raha hai (is opening), but what is the root cause is what they forget.
Q: What about the use of technology in sports … in your time, did you take help from it?
Technology has changed everything. In 2002, a laptop was brought to the dressing room and I said, ‘laptop kya karega dressing room mein? (What will a laptop do in the dressing room?)’. Over a period of time, there was acceptance. Only if there is acceptance, will there be adaptability. Our team meetings started to be more precise. It was not left to individual imaginations. So, the meetings were not like earlier, where we used to say … “yaad hai na Melbourne mein outswing pe out kiya tha (remember back then at Melbourne, how we got them out)”. And after saying that, no one knew who was thinking about that Melbourne day and how we got the batsmen out. Now, we had data on the screen where you could pinpoint and say where the foot of the batsman was. We knew the number of times a particular batsman has been out in a similar fashion.
Q: What about overdependence on technology and the problem in thinking on your own?
Personally speaking, I felt the deeper I got into it, the more my mind would get complicated. One needs to have that balance and see how much is enough. And instead of watching my batting, I watched the opposition bowlers. Let them spend more time on me and I will spend even more time on them. I have always believed that batting and bowling is at its best when the mind is at the opposite end and not at your own end. Having the entire focus on you means you are worried about your technique and you are thinking of multiple things. This is when you literally have a fraction of a second to react and in that much time, there are so many things that you have to think about.
Q: Did you ever over-analyse your game and did you keep watching the videos of some bowler you had a problem dealing with on the pitch?
I like to think about my game a lot. If I had a net session that was not to my liking, that day was a bad day for me. In the evening, I used to be slightly restless. See, cricket has been my life and if that isn’t right, I would be restless. And till the time I had batted well the next day, I would feel odd… somewhere in the subconscious mind, you are not fully enjoying whatever you are doing.
But when I would hear the sound of the ball on the bat in the way I wanted to … that sound to me is confidence. You may not be scoring runs, but when you are hearing that sound … that ping of the bat … that is confidence. Sometimes, you score runs without hearing that sound … so that you would still keep searching for that sound.
Q: How do you watch live cricket … do you go, like the rest of us, ‘oh, why has he done this, why didn’t he do that?
(Laughs) I enjoy, whenever I’m watching a game with my family or friends. There have been many occasions when I tell them what is going to happen. See, you know what the bowler has tried to do, how the batsman has played the last two deliveries, and what is likely to happen. So, those kinds of things I enjoy doing. I do that with my friends and family.
Q: What about the anxiety that sportspeople have to deal with before an important match?
If you care about something, there will certainly be some restlessness. That’s only because I cared about my cricket and I wanted to do well every time I walked out. I would say, for the first 12 years of my career, I couldn’t sleep properly on the eve of the game. I would constantly think about how I will face the bowlers. What will they bowl, what options do I have? I would keep thinking and would fight my sleep. Later, I could deal with it. I started accepting; this is how my body and mind is getting geared up for the game. It is ok, I don’t need to fight this feeling, I embraced that. I said ‘it’s okay even if I am awake at 12:30 or 1:00 at night watching TV, listening to music or whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. The reason I am like this is because I am getting ready for the game. And it’s okay as it is only part of my preparation.’ The acceptance was important. The more I started to understand myself, things became okay. (Laughs) I will not say okay completely, but I knew this was normal. I made peace with it.
Q: Did it happen all throughout the career, like fighting sleep before the game?
Yes, it happened all through my career and post dismissals, I used to discuss it with my brother. And that even happened till my last Test. A few habits continued all the way. After I was dismissed in my last Test, we had a discussion in the evening. After that I was thinking, I don’t know why we discussed it because if we bowl well, we might not be batting a second time!
(Tendulkar spoke to The Indian Express before the start of the Test series against England)