By Lokendra Pratap Sahi
Former England captain David Gower, among the greatest of left-handers, spoke to The Telegraph exclusively on Sachin ‘The Master’ Tendulkar.
The following are excerpts:
Q Talking of Sachin, what comes to your mind instantly?
A The striking thing for me is how long he is going on... I like the fact that every time you hear about him, or hear from him, he seems to be saying how much he still loves playing the game. At the age of 38, considering not many people start as young as Sachin, he has been there for a long time... It’s an extraordinary quality to keep loving batting... Personally, I found it increasingly hard as I got towards 36. He is 38.
Sachin’s first tour of England was in 1990, which was also the last time you played against India. What were your first impressions of him?
That was a long time ago... I think the chatter around the England dressing room during that time must have been along the lines of how impressed we were with that kind of maturity at such a young age (Sachin was then 17). If someone comes into the Test squad at 21, we say he must be very talented... Sachin was far younger. It’s not something that an English player would expect to do or would even be capable of doing. So, when you look at those first performances of Sachin, he had a pretty good tour... He scored a hundred (maiden three-figure knock for India) at Old Trafford in tricky times.
What has contributed to his longevity?
Well, Sachin has had some small gaps... He has had time off to repair himself... If you enjoy the game, if you enjoy batting, if you enjoy the challenge of playing against the best day in and day out, then you want to keep going. There are not many people I know anywhere around the world, in the last 25 years, who have had the same desire at 38 which they had at 20. For Sachin, it’s not a financial thing, he is not playing for money. He is playing because he loves batting. So, as long as that love is intact, as long as that desire is there, I have no doubt that he will carry on.
Over the years, have your impressions of Sachin changed in any way? Have you noticed any tinkering with his game?
You tinker sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, sometimes not for a while... For me, the more interesting point is not the technique part... It is much more interesting to try and look into someone’s mind and find out what makes him do what he does so well... Only Sachin knows that. If you ask what makes him love the game so much, he can answer you, I can’t.
In terms of technique, where would you place Sachin vis-à-vis the other greats?
I always thought that it was a very good contest between him and Brian Lara for the best batsman in the world label. Lara was, for years, I thought, more exciting to watch... You can cite the figures if you want to, see the number of runs, to say Sachin has gone ahead of Lara... If you want to be the greatest, you keep piling on the runs.
So, where does Sachin stand?
It’s difficult... (Sir Donald) Bradman sure holds the honour... His average (99.94 in Test cricket) is uniquely outstanding, it’s extraordinary... Rather than comparing across eras, you look at the way Bradman was so singularly outstanding in his time and led that era by a clean distance... The question, then, is has Sachin led the current era by the same distance? It’s a different game now... Test matches in the 1930s and the 1940s were not as regular as they are now... There were no ODIs... So, it’s not a like for like comparison... Different circumstances and a very different game now. If I were Sachin, I would settle for being the best of my era.
Sir Viv Richards has said that Sachin is the greatest... You played against him at different times... Are you game for a comparison between Sir Viv and Sachin?
Viv was more explosive, Viv was more destructive... He was more intimidating, a much more in-your-face type of an opponent. One of Sachin’s great attributes is that he goes about his business quietly and steadily. Obviously, when Sachin gets going, you don’t know how to get him out... It’s a question of whether or not he wants to make a mistake!
When I played against Viv, he intimidated the bowlers... Sachin does it in a different way. With Viv, it was a different thing... I’d been there when Viv hit the fastest Test hundred (off 56 balls, in Antigua, in 1985-86) of all time.
Being the captain, what did you feel that day?
Helpless... It was an awesome innings.
Sachin has never been involved in controversies... Does that place him on a higher pedestal than the other really big achievers?
It’s very much to his credit... Sachin has always impressed with the way he deals with people. There are people who are much more extravagant, extrovert characters... John McEnroe was one such... If you turn the sound down and look at the way he played, you see a marvellous player. For Sachin, one doesn’t need to turn the sound down. From that point of view, to be able to combine the two things, he’s definitely an ideal man.
Have you been surprised at the way he has been able to handle the pressure and for so long?
I’m not surprised... Sachin started with high expectations and has lived up to them. He is blessed with a temperament which allows him to cope with it. No one has ever come up with anything to suggest that he is anything but controlled and a gentleman... That’s extraordinary.
Do you find it odd that on the Honours Board at Lord’s, there is no Sachin, no Lara, no Ricky Ponting?
Well, the game very rarely gives you what you want for free... But, then, look at all those people and look at what they have done around the world. Lord’s is special, but so is the MCG, the SCG... Lovely grounds around the world. Would you like to make a hundred at Eden Gardens? You would.
The last one... Is Sachin, then, the perfect role model?
I think he is as good as it gets... Who wouldn’t want to be at the top of the list of run-scorers and century-makers in Test cricket (and in ODIs)? Who wouldn’t want to have the reputation of not just being a great player, but a great man? In an era where there are so many issues within sport, beyond sport, life in general and the way the world is, it would be refreshing to ponder that there’s one man who has done it all for 22 years and been free of controversies.
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