Much like Amitabh Bachchan, how Sachin Tendulkar reinvented himself and remained relevant

[Book extract] A prominent newspaper came up with a caption that went “ENDULKAR” after India lost a Test to Pakistan at Karachi in early 2006.

 |  26-minute read |   24-04-2018
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The daily drills, the emphasis on exercise, keeping one’s eye on diet — doing all this for a quarter of a century is well-nigh unimaginable...  If his cricketing shots were textbook, his behaviour can also be termed as a manual for good behaviour. In a world where icons, particularly sporting ones, are found to have feet of clay, this diminutive bloke has been unimpeachable in his conduct. He rarely gets angry, never loses his cool when he is being mobbed and always accepts the bouquets and brickbats with humility. I do not think we must restrict the exemplary nature of Tendulkar’s behaviour to cricket or to India; it should be a lesson to sportsmen the world over.

— Sir Viv Richards, The Week, December 1, 2013

In the late 1990s, things were not looking very good for Amitabh Bachchan, the megastar of the Hindi film industry. His “comeback” in 1997, after a self-imposed five-year exile, had not been a memorable one. His films were flopping and his film production and event management company was floundering. The debts were accumulating and his detractors were having a field day. Bachchan has gone on record to say how he was pondering over his options late in the night, when the solution suddenly presented itself.

He had essayed many a different and difficult role with aplomb in a distinguished acting career, but he had experienced setbacks in some “roles” in real life. He had failed as an entrepreneur and undergone a forgettable stint in politics a decade before. It was time, he concluded, to return to “being himself” and doing what he did best.

The following morning, Bachchan visited the residence of Yash Chopra, one of the most respected film-makers in the industry, with whom he had collaborated on several successful films in the 1970s and 1980s. The duo had not worked together for nearly two decades. The megastar asked the filmmaker for a role. Chopra offered him the part of an obstinate patriarch in his next film, which was slated to release in the new millennium.

sachin_inside_042418013004.jpgThe captain, on the other hand, was putting too much pressure on himself by being far too harsh on himself.

Another Indian legend was not having the best of times at around the same time. Sachin did not experience failure as acutely as Bachchan did, but he was far from happy in the latter stages of his first stint as captain of India. After beating South Africa at home in 1996–97, India were battered in the first two Tests of the “return” series in the rainbow nation. Sachin did not allow the defeats to fluster him, and he continued to back his team. He was delighted when the Indian team outplayed the South Africans on the first four days of the third and final Test match at Johannesburg. The visitors were headed for victory on the final day, when the skies opened. Play resumed after a while, but the hosts managed to hang on. India were just 2 wickets short of victory when the umpires ruled that no further play was possible. Denied the opportunity to snatch a consolation win, India’s twenty-three-year-old captain was devastated. He locked himself up in the washroom and broke down.

Greater shocks were in store for the skipper. Javagal Srinath, his premier strike bowler, was ruled out of the tour of the West Indies that followed, due to a shoulder injury. The paceman’s absence notwithstanding, the Indians bowled well in the first two Tests and peaked in the third Test at Bridgetown, Barbados. All the Indian batsmen needed to do was score a mere 120 runs to register their first Test win in the Caribbean in twenty-one years. However, they were bowled out at 81. There was another insipid performance in an ODI at St Vincent later on the tour. The Indians got off to a good start in pursuit of a target of 250 runs, only to surrender the game by losing their last eight wickets for 46 runs. The defeats at Bridgetown and St Vincent cost India the Test and ODI series respectively.

The disappointed cricket-loving public in India was shocked when sections of the media dropped hints that some members of the team appeared to be rather indifferent to their disastrous performances. The captain, on the other hand, was putting too much pressure on himself by being far too harsh on himself. He appeared to be taking the setbacks personally.

It was probably the first time in Sachin’s illustrious career that things were not happening the way he wanted them to. Of course, it wasn’t that he had expected anything on a platter. However, it appeared that some elements in the team were not quite inclined to complement his efforts.

"I should be expecting from the players. If I am going to fight for the player then I have a right to expect from the player. I will try and support my players all the time but in return they too have to perform for me."

       —Sachin Tendulkar, The Sportstar, May 3, 1997

There was no let-up for him in the second half of 1997. In fact, things got progressively worse. He could not understand some of the bizarre calls taken by the national selectors and their penchant for contradicting themselves. A player who was dropped for being reckless on the West Indies tour was recalled two months later for a series in Sri Lanka, that too at the expense of a player who had batted well in a quadrangular tournament between the two tours.

It emerged in later years that one of the reasons the Indian team was so inconsistent during that phase was because some of its members had “other priorities”. Not many take this fact into account when they go about branding Sachin as a “great batsman but a poor captain”. Quite simply, a captain is only as good as his team. There was only so much that even an extraordinary cricketer like Sachin Tendulkar could have done; he could not have batted, bowled and fielded for those whose loyalties lay elsewhere.

All those who were convinced that Sachin would go from strength to strength as a captain after India’s 4–1 victory over Pakistan in a limited-overs series in Canada in September 1997 were in for a disappointment. The national selectors sprung a surprise by “instructing” him to bat in the middle order in a bilateral ODI series against Sri Lanka and a quadrangular tournament in Sharjah. Unfortunately for him, the team fared poorly.

"Sachin took some time to realise that it is not practical to expect others to emulate his feats. Basically, his talent was inborn and those skills cannot be acquired or transferred to anyone. The loss of any game under his captaincy worked him up so much that it preyed on his batting abilities."

     — Javagal Srinath, India Today, September 2010

sachin_it_inside_042418013028.jpgSachin Tendulkar with wife Anjali and Michael Clarke during his birthday celebration (Photo Credit: Yogen Shah)

Do what you do best…

The fact that Sachin scored more than 1,000 runs in both forms of the game in the calendar year of 1997 did nothing to dispel the claims of his detractors that he had not been batting at his best while leading. On January 2, 1998, he underwent the mortification of learning from the media that he was no longer the captain. Any lesser mortal in his position could have sulked and brooded for days, but Sachin chose to handle the situation by reminding himself of who he was.

He tackled the situation by returning to his roots and making up his mind to concentrate on doing what he did best. While he had done all that he could to turn things around for his team as a captain, he had never been obsessed with that role. What he loved over and above everything else was batting; he was a batsman and a belligerent one at that, first and foremost.

Restored to the opening slot for a limited-overs tournament in Bangladesh, he essayed a succession of blazing innings, all of which rekindled memories of his best knocks at the top of the order, including the 82 runs off 49 balls against New Zealand at Auckland in March 1994.

Others may have perceived the loss of the captaincy as a setback, but Sachin viewed it as an opportunity.

Learning Tip: View a setback as an opportunity.

winning-like-sachin_042418011149.jpgWinning Like Sachin, by Devendra Prabhudesai; Rupa Publications; Rs 195

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out. Had Sachin continued to captain the side in early 1998, it might well have been difficult for him to prepare as elaborately as he did for the team’s next assignment — a series against the mighty Australians.

He always aimed to solve the greater problem first. The smaller ones, he believed, would sort themselves out in the process. The greatest “problem”, as far as the Indians were concerned, was Shane Warne. Sachin was excited and inspired by the challenge of taking on the leggie, who was expected to be a handful on the spin-friendly Indian wickets. He forgot his frustrations of the recent past when he plunged himself headlong into the preparations for the series. The priority was to find a way to get the better of Warne and his wares.

The leg-spinner had come a long way since his Test debut at Sydney in January 1992, when Ravi Shastri and Sachin himself had treated him with disdain. Left out of the squad after two forgettable Tests against India, Warne had returned a few months later and cemented his place in the Australian team with match-winning performances against Sri Lanka and the West Indies. He had not looked back after bagging 34 wickets in the 1993 Ashes. He landed in India in early 1998 with 303 wickets in 64 Tests and the title of the “Greatest Leg-Spinner of All Time” under his belt. However, there was unfinished business on his mind. There was only one Indian wicket — that of Ravi Shastri’s —  among the 303. He was eager, almost desperate to prove himself against the world’s best players of spin, in their backyard.

Sachin decided to stay within the crease as much as he could and play the ball as late as possible. He decided to adopt an open, slightly two-eyed stance, outside the line of the leg-stump, to the leggie. Warne, Sachin knew, would seek to pitch the ball in the rough patch created by the footmarks of the bowlers operating from the other end. This patch, which was situated just outside the right-hander’s leg-stump, also constituted a “blind spot” for right-handed batsmen. An open stance, Sachin reasoned, would enable him to combat the “drift” that Warne generated in the air, as well as the unpredictable bounce and turn he would extract after landing the ball in the rough patch.

Containing a bowler of Warne’s calibre would not work; his attacking bowling could only be blunted by attacking batting. There was hardly any margin of error and therefore, it was critical that Sachin’s timing and execution of strokes were spot-on. Sachin, therefore, requisitioned the help of local leg-spinners and left-arm spinners, all of whom spun the ball from the right-hander’s leg-side to the off. Their brief was to land the ball in deliberately roughed-up patches in the practice nets. Sachin spent hours batting against them in the nets and honed horizontal-batting strokes like the pull, cut and slog-sweep.

He first played Warne in a three-day game between Mumbai and the visitors that preceded the first Test. He blasted a double century, his first in first-class cricket, and the leg-spinner conceded over a run-a-ball. Round one had gone in the Indian’s favour, but Sachin noted that Warne did not land a single delivery in the rough patch created by the bowlers’ footmarks. One legend was trying to outsmart another. There was no way Warne was going to reveal the ace that was up his sleeve in a three-day, “side” game. Both were ready for each other when the first Test got underway at Chennai.

Sachin won his much-published bout with Warne, with scores of 4, 155*, 79, 177 and 31 in the Test series. The mission to neutralize the greatest leg-spinner in the history of the sport involved thorough planning and an incredible amount of hard work. This in turn ensured faultless execution. Sachin’s subjugation of Warne was the highlight of 1998 — one of the most successful years of his career.

Learning tip: The key to success is meticulous planning, canny strategising and an enormous amount of hard work.

Bouncing Back: Health scares and Resurgence 2004–06

The period from 2004 to 2006 was a low phase for Sachin. He was diagnosed with a tennis elbow affliction in 2004 and he underwent a shoulder surgery in mid-2006. He was forced to miss quite a few matches as a result, and the hiatuses took their toll on his consistency with the bat. Staying away from a game he had loved all his life was an ordeal, and there were times when he feared the worst.

"I got operated on… and recovery took almost four to four-and-a-half months and in those months, a lot went through my mind. I thought I might not be able to hold a cricket bat again… I thought that this is the end of my career. I’ve had sleepless nights because of that, so I think that time was the toughest of my life to deal with and my family had a huge role to play there, especially my wife. She showed me the positive side of life where in 2004–05 I had already completed fifteen years and she told me that many guys don’t last for fifteen months and here you’ve been able to play for fifteen years so you should be thankful to the Almighty for allowing you to play for fifteen years without [a] major injury and this is the first major injury you are dealing with. So not everything is lost, you will recover. That made a huge difference, it just changed the way I thought.

— Sachin Tendulkar, Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame Interview, 2010

His inconsistency during this phase delighted his critics. His fans were outraged when a prominent newspaper came up with a caption that went “ENDULKAR” after India lost a Test to Pakistan at Karachi in early 2006. However, the man himself could not care less. He scored heavily in the ODI series that followed and was one of the chief architects of India’s comprehensive 4–1 win over its traditional rival.

This was another instance of Sachin responding to a crisis of sorts by letting his bat do the talking for him. It was also another instance of him converting a setback into an opportunity. He utilized the time that he spent recuperating from his injuries and surgeries to think about the sport and what it meant to him. It was during this period that he steeled himself to get back to doing what he did best. He used the breaks that he was forced to take, to rediscover all the reasons that had made him fall in love with cricket, as a child. What he went on to achieve in the so-called ‘twilight years’ of his career was nothing short of sensational.

A panel that comprised elite members of the international cricketing fraternity picked Sachin as the winner of the Sir Garfield Sobers Award for being the Cricketer of the Year, at the seventh annual ICC Awards Ceremony for 2009–10. He was thirty-seven years old then and had been playing international cricket for over two decades. He also received the People’s Choice Award at the same function.

From January 2010 to January 2011, Sachin scored 1,722 runs from 15 Tests at an average of 82.00, inclusive of eight centuries of which two were doubles. In the same period, he also played four ODIs and scored a double century in one of them. In March 2012, a month before he turned thirty-nine, he became the first batsman to complete a century of international centuries.

What also sustained Sachin’s passion for the sport for more than a quarter of a century was his quest for perfection. Sachin never lost sight of the fact that cricket, for all its emphasis on history and traditions, was a dynamic sport. Whether it was a club cricketer or an icon like Sachin Tendulkar, it is imperative to ‘reinvent’ oneself to ensure a long and fruitful innings in the game. The same holds true for every professional.

His propensity to do whatever he could to add newer facets to his game and repertoire was visible even at an early stage of his career. While staying with his uncle and aunt at their Shivaji Park home in the mid-1980s, he concocted an exercise to pass the time. He shaved a golf ball and got his aunt to hurl it at him. The ball would bounce sharply off the floor in different directions and Sachin would look to meet it with the full face of his bat. He had no option but to defend, given the presence of furniture and other items in the drawing room of the house. As the days passed, he realized that the drawing-room batting sessions with his aunt and the golf ball were helping him hone his back-foot defence. He mastered the art of defending with soft hands.

I have not taken anything for granted. I have faced a number of challenges. It wasn’t that it was a smooth path and I could just pick up a bat and go out and score runs and everything was fine. My family has been my strength right from my childhood — parents, siblings and then my wife and children. They have been rock-solid. In difficult moments, they have been with me. There were many celebrations in my life, but nobody got carried away. Because they were balanced, I also figured out how to deal with success.

— BMW Presents Sachin Tendulkar, March 2015

Learning tip

Q: What was it that sustained Sachin’s passion for the sport for more than a quarter of a century?

A: His quest for perfection.Every professional should strive to do likewise.

Conquer disappointment

Sachin encountered his first major disappointment in 1987, when he did not receive the Mumbai Cricket Association’s annual award for the Best Junior Cricketer of the Year despite some extraordinary performances in the 1986–87 season. He even considered quitting the game in the heat of the moment and was assuaged by a letter of encouragement written by none other than Sunil Gavaskar, his childhood hero. What the “boy wonder achieved in the months to follow left him with neither the time nor the energy to recollect how disappointed he had been to miss out on the award. With his feats in the 1987–88 season, he ensured that not only those who had overlooked him for the award, but also the entire cricket-loving community in Mumbai and beyond, could not ignore him even if they wanted to.

The fourteen-year-old made the most of his apprenticeship as the ‘baby’ of Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy squad in the same season. In the following weeks, he averaged a modest 1,025 from four games in the inter-school Harris Shield; the four-digit average was a consequence of his being dismissed only once in the four innings in which he achieved an aggregate of 1,025 runs, inclusive of two triple centuries. One of the triples was an unbeaten 326 that he scored in a stand of 664 with his schoolmate Vinod Kambli, which was the highest partnership in any class of cricket at the time. The boys became household names across the country and the rest, as they say, is history.

Penchant for preparation

“Training is everything,” said Mark Twain.

The man who plotted and executed the downfall of Shane Warne in the 1997–98 series between India and Australia would tailor his training as per the conditions he and his colleagues were likely to encounter in an upcoming series. Some of the training methods were unconventional, like the one he adopted on the eve of a tour of Australia, where he expected to encounter a quality pace attack on nippy wickets. A plastic sheet was spread on the ‘batting’ half of a wicket and doused with water. A group of bowlers, armed with rubber balls, was instructed to pitch every delivery short of a length. True to form, the rubber balls would take off after landing on the damp plastic sheet, and Sachin would duck, leave, cut and pull to his heart’s content.

His penchant for preparation enabled Sachin to add new strokes to his repertoire. The highlight of his splendid innings of 155 against South Africa at Bloemfontein in 2001–02 was the way he used the steep bounce being generated by the opposition bowlers to his advantage. He simply guided the rising ball over the heads of the off-side cordon, to the boundary. Sachin essayed this “uppercut” with aplomb for the remainder of his career. A few months later, he exhibited the “switch hit” in an ODI against England, years before Kevin Pietersen was credited with "inventing" it; the South Africa-born England batsman had only “reinvented” it.

"When you become successful, you are simultaneously raising people’s expectations, and you have to work the hardest to live up to those. My formula was that while I appreciate everything that has come my way, I need to find a way to push myself harder, continue to reinvent myself and continue the process of getting better, and if people have liked me for (having done) that, when what is the need to change?"

— BMW Presents Sachin Tendulkar, March 2015

Sachin epitomised invention and reinvention. This held true for Amitabh Bachchan as well. Shortly after he had started work on Yash Chopra’s film, which was titled Mohabbatein, he received an offer to do something unprecedented. A leading media conglomerate had bagged the rights to produce the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a quiz show for the common man that was very popular in the West. The conglomerate wanted the Indian edition to be hosted by someone who was a household name in the country and the “Superstar of the Millennium” was the obvious choice. But then, the late 1990s was a time when television was looked down upon as a medium by the luminaries of the film industry. For many people, even the idea of Amitabh Bachchan appearing on the “small screen” was anathema. However, the man in question decided to take a chance and with it, the opportunity. Kaun Banega Crorepati was a landmark in the history of Indian television. It has had nine seasons from 2000 to 2017, with Bachchan having hosted eight of those.

Learning tip: It is critical to keep reinventing yourself as a professional.

Passing on the mantle

Sachin’s retirement as a cricketer in 2013 did not come in the way of his utilising his experience and expertise to suggest ways in which the sport could reinvent itself and thereby enhance its chances of remaining relevant for future generations and facilitate the all-round development of its practitioners. This is a lesson all professionals — seasoned as well as aspiring — would do well to imbibe.

A few years ago, Sachin elicited extreme reactions when he suggested that all fourteen members of a cricket team be involved on the field in inter-school tournaments, instead of eleven playing and the other three sitting on the bench. He reckoned that the active participation of the entire team would ensure that every player would retain his/her enthusiasm for the sport, instead of having a situation where the reserve players could lose interest simply because they were doing nothing productive for days and weeks at a stretch. The Mumbai Schools Sports Association adopted the fourteen-player idea in inter-school tournaments in the 2016–17 season.

Another idea of his, which he believes could help Indian cricketers tide over the problem of adjustment that confronts them whenever they tour and play in alien conditions, is a lot more radical. He has suggested that the Kookaburra ball, which is used in countries like Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, be used in the first innings of domestic matches in India. This would give the batsmen and bowlers the opportunity to get acquainted with a type of ball that is different from the SG balls that they are used to playing with. That is not all. He recommends that the matches be played on different surfaces, with the first innings to be played on a hard, green and bouncy strip, and the second on a typically slow and low sub-continental wicket. The pacemen on either side would thus get to operate on a green-top with a Kookaburra, which is known to be a lot more effective than an SG on that type of wicket, in the first innings. On the other hand, the spinners in both camps would also pick up the tricks of bowling with a Kookaburra on a pace-friendly wicket. The SG ball, which has a more pronounced seam than its Kookaburra counterpart and is more conducive to spin bowling, will come into play in the second innings, where the action will shift from a green-top to a turning track. The fast bowlers will also reap the benefits of bowling with the SG ball, which “reverse-swings” more effectively than the Kookaburra.

Sachin has also spoken at length about the need to reduce the imbalance between the bat and ball by producing more bowler-friendly pitches. There is reason to believe that the two-pitch and two-balls format that he has recommended, might help in this regard.

For instance, a captain who would otherwise be inclined to bowl first after winning the toss on a green-top, will have to bear in mind that if he does elect to bowl, then he and his players will have to bat last on a turning track.

Learning tip: Professionals should share their knowledge and expertise with those who aspire to follow their footsteps. That is the least they can do to nurture the future of the vocation that has given them everything.

As of now, Sachin’s “two-pitch” and “two-ball” idea has few takers. The majority seems to be of the view that first-class matches have a relevance of their own and ought not to be looked at as ‘practice matches for international cricket’. However, it is unlikely that this will deter him from coming up with more ideas that he believes will benefit the sport in the long run.

Did cricket-lovers in the 1980s imagine that a time would come when a spinner would open the bowling in ODIs, or that twenty-overs-a-side matches would be played at the international level?

However, these things are an integral part of the game today. Therefore, one does not know what will be introduced and eventually come to be accepted as conventional in the sport in the future. Life is all about change and re-invention, be it in cricket or any other field. A dynamic approach, like the one followed by Sachin throughout his career as a professional cricketer and beyond, is the stepping stone to success.

Retired, but not done yet

Sachin took oath as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of India’s Parliament in June 2012. He was the first active international sportsperson to be nominated for this honour. It was not that Sachin was unprepared for his “second innings”. In fact, the idea of giving something back to society, especially its underprivileged sections, had been on his mind for a long time. In 2007, he was approached for an article on the “India he dreamt of’. He articulated a seven-point agenda, which comprised the eradication of hunger, universal access to clean drinking water, the right to shelter, an end to discrimination against women and female infanticide, access to proper healthcare, the end of terror and a more tolerant India, accepting of its diversity.

Since 2014, Sachin has been involved in some fruitful ventures like the adoption of Puttamraju Kandrika, a village in Andhra Pradesh. He utilised the funds allotted to him to create infrastructure in the form of proper roads, storm water drains and even a playground. Measures were also taken to help some villagers resolve their addiction issues. He was part of Spreading Happiness, a project that sought to tap solar energy to provide electricity to far-flung areas. Thousands have benefited from the same already. Sachin has spoken on multiple fora about the need for Indians to discard their sedentary lifestyles and engage in physical and sporting activities. He has repeatedly emphasised that “Swastha Bharat” (Fit India) is something that ought to go hand-in-hand with the “Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) campaign initiated by the Union Government of India, of which he is an ambassador. The cricketing legend who spoke in monosyllables in his first TV interview in 1989 has metamorphosed into an accomplished orator, entrepreneur, mentor and an inspiration for professionals aspiring to excel in different fields. Today, Sachin is, for all practical purposes, a life-coach.

"The most important thing for me (after retirement) is that I am getting to do all the things that I couldn’t do during my cricketing years. I am able to rub shoulders with all those people who were miles away from me. I am going to different parts of India as a Rajya Sabha MP. I visited the village that I adopted and understood what it is like to stay there. Life is completely different. It has been a learning experience... Overall, as a person, I think it has given me an opportunity to travel around and mingle with people and learn more things in life."

—Sachin Tendulkar, Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, 2016

Sachin has broadened his horizons and set new targets for himself after hanging up his cricketing boots. His “first innings” was all about chasing his cricketing goals. He sees the end of a glorious chapter of his life as the “beginning” of another that promises to be as — if not more — splendid.

Learning tip: Life is all about change and reinvention, be it in cricket or any other field. A dynamic approach is the stepping stone to success.

(Excerpted with the permission of Rupa Publications)

Also read: How the cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar on April 24, 1998 turned god


Devendra Prabhudesai Devendra Prabhudesai @devprabhudesai

An author, screenwriter and anchor, he was also the manager for media relations and corporate affairs at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) from January 2008 to July 2015.

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