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Features and Interviews

All my dreams have come true: Tendulkar

Test No.1, World Cup, IPL and CLT20 titles – the legend has lived it all

Test No.1, World Cup, IPL and CLT20 titles – the legend has lived it all

"Enjoy the game and chase your dreams because dreams do come true.” These words, spoken on March 16, 2012, have been etched in the memories of Indian cricket fans. They were uttered by Sachin Tendulkar after he scored his 100th international century.

The man dreamed of playing cricket for India as a toddler. When he fulfilled it, as a 15-year-old, he got greedy and kept on adding dream after dream. Today, 25 years later, that man can finally say that he has lived all his cricketing dreams.

For a legend like him, who, at 40, is nearing the twilight of his playing career, every moment spent in the field and the dressing room, is a still frame of photograph that he takes in his mind to prepare for the life after.

For Tendulkar, Mumbai Indians’ 2013 IPL victory was one such cherry on the decorated cake. Four months later he has another one – the Champions League Twenty20 2013 title. The celebrations in the MI change room, after they defeated the Rajasthan Royals by 33 runs to take the trophy, were the very depiction of Tendulkar’s longevity and his ability to mould himself according to the various dressing rooms he’s been a part of. It won’t be wrong to say that the 40-year-old Tendulkar was the most enthusiastic kid in that room.

After the brouhaha subdued a bit, the master batsman took time out to talk to He spoke about his time with the Mumbai-based franchise, his mountain of 50,000 runs in all recognised cricket and his old ally, Rahul Dravid, who hung his boots from cricket with after the CLT20 2013 Final.

Here’s what the legend had to say:

Double delight for you this year

Wonderful! To win the IPL and then the CLT20 in the same year is a special thing. When the IPL season started, we wanted to win it so bad. The team has done beautifully since then and the end result has been fantastic.

What’s the new dream now?

The dream was to be part of the No.1 Test team in the world, then win the World Cup, the IPL and the CLT20. All those dreams have been accomplished now.

50,000 runs! What does that figure mean to you?

I didn’t actually know about that landmark. I only realised it when the big screen flashed that I was two runs away from scoring 50,000 runs. That came as a surprise to me. It’s a wonderful feeling. I have enjoyed various challenges along the way. There have been ups and downs and it’s been a wonderful journey of which I have no complaints whatsoever.

Justin Langer told me a few days back that he watched you practice in the nets for two hours and said that he could watch you the whole day. Do you sometimes have to put in an effort to get up for cricket?

First of all, it was very kind of Justin to say that and many thanks to him. As long as I enjoy going out there to bat in a match, it makes sense to practice hard for it. There are days when I feel I’m not up for it and on those days I stay away from the nets; I don’t force myself. I have played for a number of years and I am 40 now. I know I don’t have much time is left on my hand and so I want to enjoy every moment of whatever time I have left in cricket.

Langer also spoke about this one time when he was fielding at short-leg to you and how he felt there was a bubble, an aura, surrounding you, as if you were meditating. Is batting meditation to you?

I don’t know. It must have been one of those days when I’d have been in that zone. At that time you don’t realize who is standing next to you and you don’t notice the guy fielding at short-leg, the wicketkeeper or the slip fielders. You’re in that mind frame where all you want to do is watch the ball as closely as possible and respond.

A word on your old mate, Rahul Dravid, who bid adieu to cricket today

The least I can say about Rahul is that he is a true champion. He has been a terrific and world-class player – one of the best I have played with and against. The first time I met him was when I captained him in the Wills Trophy. Since then it has been a privilege for not only me but the entire world to watch Rahul perform so brilliantly on a consistent basis. I just want to congratulate Rahul for a wonderful career that he’s had and I wish his family all the very best. I am sure there are many more wonderful things that will happen in his life.

Now that you won’t be playing for MI, will we see you sitting in the MI dugout in some other role?

As of now, I don’t know. We’ve just won this tournament and I want to enjoy this moment. There are still good six months and I am sure something will come along till then. I am actually looking forward to the next season because I have been part of MI for six years now and it has been an experience I have really enjoyed.

Features and Interviews

Inside a batsman’s mind – by Justin Langer

Former Aus opener talks in depth about the mental side of batting

Former Aus opener talks in depth about the mental side of batting

‘It’s all in the mind’ or ‘Mind over matter’ or ‘A sport played as much with the mind as with the body’. These are the phrases often used when describing the game of cricket. A sport where one match lasts for the entire working week, which has more laws than a small-sized country’s constitution and even its lexicon-sized coaching manual is still evolving, cricket is a mighty complex game to understand and to play. Frail-minded have no business taking up playing cricket as a profession.

Of all aspects of the game, batting is the most mental, for it requires one to hit the ball for hours without making a mistake, in the process, being aware of every movement that occurs around him, as well as fighting ones own thoughts, emotions and body.

In an attempt to understand the mental side of batting, spoke to a man who was known for his resolute mind and courage. Former Australian opening batsman, Justin Langer, was a fighter in a team of superstars. His 7696 runs in 105 Test matches are a testimony of his stubbornness. Now, as a coach, Langer tries to inculcate the same character into his wards.

In India recently, as the coach of the Perth Scorchers for 2013 CLT20, Langer took time out and let us into the depths of a batsman’s mind.

Here’s Part One of a two-part interview.

What is your definition of mental toughness?

I think mental toughness is the ability to eliminate all distractions and give a 100 per cent attention to the next ball about to be bowled to you. As humans we tend to either live in the past or in the future. In cricket you are required to give your all to the ball you’re about to face. If you train yourself to do that, you generally get an idea what the bowler is about to bowl at you and you score more runs.

Where would you place this aspect among the skills required to succeed?

They say cricket is a very mental game and I agree with that, because probably the hardest thing to do on the field is to eliminate all the distractions and live in the present moment. Having said that, technique and a certain level of physical fitness is also very important to succeed. I’ve always thought there’s a spiritual side as well. You have to be happy off the field to be able to perform well on it. Sometimes, your game becomes an obsession and when that happens, you try too hard. The harder you try, the worse it gets. You take any great athlete – the great sprinters, boxers, tennis players – they’re all very loose and free in their body although they concentrate hard in their minds. It’s hard to have that balance if you’re not happy off the field.

Is mental strength more important in Cricket, given the complexity and length of the game?

Yes, and particularly so in batting. You’ve got to be able to see the ball as soon as possible out of the bowler’s hand. Sometimes, it gets worse when, as an opening batsman, you get out early. You have to sit for so long in the dressing room and your mind gets cluttered thinking stuff like ‘What if I have another failure? What if I score another duck? What are people going to think of me? What is the press going to write?’ You have so much thinking time on your hand and you‘re like, ‘Maybe I should do this or that differently, change my head position or feet movement, stance….’ Your mind goes crazy!

You had baptism by fire when you got hit by an Ian Bishop bouncer on your Test debut. You scored 54. How differently did you approach the innings after being hit?

Physical toughness is very different from the mental side. Unless you’re badly hurt, your body can cope with a blow. On that occasion, I knew that if I got hit in the head or body, it meant I wasn’t concentrating or watching the ball early enough. That gave me an opportunity to take steps to master my concentration at watching the ball from the bowler’s hand all the way to my bat as closely as possible.

When a leather ball is coming at you at 150 kmph, the natural human instinct is to get out of the way. As a batsman you have to confront the ball.

Yes, the natural reaction is to save yourself from the ball. But as a batsman, if I turn my head in defense, I’ll get hit. The same goes with boxing and wrestling – you can’t take your eyes off the opponent. Similarly, as a batsman, you cannot take your eyes off the ball. That was one aspect of cricket that fascinated me the most, not the cover drive or the cut shot – you can practice them and learn – but the sheer need to concentrate on that one ball under all the pressure inside and around you. Martina Navratilova was once asked, ‘How do you still keep playing at the age of 43?’ She said, ‘The ball doesn’t know how old I am’. It’s the same with batting in cricket. The ball doesn’t know what the batsman is thinking and yet the difference between his success and failure is just that ball. As a coach, the first and the most important thing I tell the kids is to learn how to watch the ball as closely and early as possible. Once you do that, it takes away two biggest fears of a batsman – the fear of getting hit and that of getting out. But it’s not that simple. Guys like Sachin are incredible at that. I watched him bat in the nets during this CLT20 and he watched the ball so closely. He looked like a kid who’d tasted a chocolate for the first time. He did that for two hours, ball after ball. I told the Perth Scorchers batsmen, ‘just watch that. You don’t need any other lessons’. That’s the essence of mental toughness for me.

You spoke about the two fears – getting hit and getting out. Does one overpower the other at times?

If you’re worried about getting hit on the body, you tend to make backward movements and that’s when you’re in big trouble. If you have mental fear, it transcends into flaws in your technique.

When it comes to mental toughness, does the nature versus nurture debate hold true?

It has to be developed; there’s no doubt about it. I think leadership is a little different, as a person’s nature and upbringing play a role. But mental strength is different. I wasn’t born with the skill to concentrate, I had to develop it. After my Test debut, I played a series against New Zealand before I was dropped. Incidentally, that was John Wright’s last Test series. He told me, ‘you should learn how to meditate’. He probably saw that I was so scared to fail that I became obsessed and tensed. Since that day, in 1993, I have been meditating every single day. So, you learn these things along the way.

 What role do emotions play?

Emotions play a big role and they work differently for every person. I, for instance, if the opposition tried to ruffle me verbally or physically, my fighter instinct would come out. And I needed that to perform on the big stage. It gave me energy and my eyes, hands and feet worked better when I was fired up. On the other hand, when the opposition didn’t say anything to me and just changed the field a bit, that was the best way to ruffle me because it would get my mind thinking, ‘Why did he do that? What did they discuss about me in the team meeting? What’s their plan?’ So, that was the better way to get to me rather than attacking me verbally or physically. My batting coach used to say that early in my innings he’d like to see me getting hit on the body because that aroused me. Sometimes, I would provoke the bowler so that he starts verbalizing me and I get that fire.

How does form affect your mental state?

You learn as much when you’re in good form as you do when you’re out of it. Sometimes, when you’re in bad form, you get so tense and your feet don’t move. On the other hand, at times, when you’re batting really well, you can get a bit complacent and play a lazy shot. What I learned is that things change very quickly. So when you’re scoring runs, be greedy. Steve Waugh used to say, ‘You never mess with form. If you’re scoring runs, get as many in the bank as possible because there will be bad days’. Brian Lara told me one day, ‘the most important thing about batting is that if I’m having a good day, I ensure that I have a great day. If I score a fifty, I go for a 100, then 150, 200 and so on. There are a lot more bad days in cricket than good ones. So, if you want to be remembered, you have to have those great days’. Cricket being so statistically inclined, the best way to bump up your average and get noticed is to score big hundreds.

How do batsmen switch on and switch off?

Bob Simpson told me a very interesting thing. He said, ‘Justin, if you play a six-hour long innings, you only have to bat for five-six minutes. You have to learn how to switch on and switch off’. A batsman really starts half concentrating when the bowler goes to his mark. As he runs in, you start switching on. Matthew Hayden used to do that so well. Just as the bowler was about to release the ball, Matt’s eyes would open as wide as plates. But that happened only for about three seconds, which meant, if he faced 300 balls, he only concentrated for about nine minutes. Vivian Richards, for instance, once told me when I was in Antigua, that he used to pick a landmark in the ground – the top of a church or a tree or something in the grandstand – and between balls he would just look at it, take his mind to that landmark and then bring it back to cricket again. It also helps when you have a good partner at the other end. That’s why it was so good for me to have Hayden and Ricky Ponting. Because we knew each other so well, we’d help each other switch off by talking about stuff like fishing or what we’ll have for dinner.

Does sharing a good relationship with your partner give you the liberty to walk up to him and tell him if you’re not feeling comfortable against a bowler or if something is troubling you?

I can honestly say that I never said that to my partner. I know it sounds good in theory but men don’t really admit their weakness. But what I do know is that Matty Hayden could sense it when I wasn’t up to facing someone or not feeling too good at the crease. He would play accordingly and say the right thing to me. I found it really hard to face Harbhajan (Singh) in India. I never really admitted it but Matty sensed it and tried to keep me calm and relaxed. Sometimes, he’d get angry with me, saying, ‘come on, you’re getting lazy’ or ‘you’ve got to be sharper’. That’s what good partners do.

Is a batsman’s pre-batting routine his psychological attempt to maintain familiarity and feel at home?

My routine was my bible. It was the same whether I was playing club cricket or Test cricket. That ensured that every ball was the same. By the time the bowler went to his run-up, I was ready for those three-four seconds of hard concentration. It helped me sleep better the night before because I knew exactly what I was going to do the next day – go out, check my feet, get one little cue, play the ball, then walk off and give three little scratches to my crease – then repeat it all over again. That gives you a foundation as a batsman. My batting routine was a big part of my mental toughness.

I’d be amazed if all the great batsmen didn’t have their own routine, whether it’s a word they say to themselves or some physical movements. Some might not even know it but they do the same thing over and over again. You watch Sachin bat. That little breathing, the head-nod he does all the time, the little squat – it’s all the same.

What is the zone and how does it feel like to be in it?

It’s a beautiful feeling. Everyone says, ‘when I was in my zone, I wasn’t thinking anything’. I don’t know how that’s possible because the human mind doesn’t stop thinking. It’s just become a clichéd answer now. What really happens is you live a moment when you’re giving a hundred per cent attention to that one ball and your routine is perfect. As humans we want to be in control of everything. But when I was in the zone, I’d just let go and surrender myself to just watching the ball. When I played a shot, it was like a dream. I thought, ‘whoa, how did that happen?’ It is almost scary when that happens. You want to do it every ball but you’re too scared. At the end of my career I met sports psychologist, Vic Smith, and he told me about this paradox. He said, ‘To have ultimate control, you have to let go of all conscious control’. That happens when you’re in the zone. Your body is like a cricketing computer. You just trust that your body will move because that’s what you’ve been practicing since you were a kid. It is an incredible feeling and one that is almost impossible to replicate in real life. It only happened a few times in my career. It would’ve happened a lot more to great players like Sachin and Ricky than it did to me.

As a second person, can you tell if a batsman is in such zone?

I remember fielding at short-leg to Sachin once. His face was expressionless, like a stone. The only movement was that little nod of his. And I could feel an aura around him – like an invisible bubble that no one could encroach. It was like he was meditating. It was bizarre. I asked him later if he meditates regularly and I was amazed when he said no. He probably doesn’t do it formally but I’m sure there is a spiritual side to his batting.

Gautam Gambhir once told me how batting is something he loves the most but he can never enjoy it.

I always laugh when a young batsman says, ‘I was feeling good but then I got out.’ Feeling good? I never felt good. I never allowed myself the luxury to feel good at the crease. I used to love practicing. I could bat in the nets for hours, I still can, because I love batting. But when it came to batting in a match, I was so scared of failing that there was no place for enjoyment. People told me, ‘Just go and enjoy yourself’. Enjoy? There’s nothing I enjoy about batting in a match; it’s all hard work with a few beautiful moments when you score a hundred the adoring fans cheer for you. The actual process of batting was tough. Are the words, ‘mental toughness’ enjoyable? Is the word discipline fun? There’s nothing fun about those words, so how can the time when you’re applying them be enjoyable? Batting was hard work for me, I was fighting all the time – with the bowler, myself, the conditions – and there’s nothing fun about fighting. So, I completely understand what Gautam was saying. I like him; he’s a very fine batsman and a very nice boy.

In Part Two, Langer talks about a sportsperson’s life after retirement and how lessons learnt from cricket help them live a better life