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July 30, 1999


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'I was not mentally ready'

Harsha Bhogle

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Like all Tendulkar press conferences, this one had an overwhelming flavour of chaos as well.

Till fifteen minutes before the start, the Cooch Behar Hall at the Cricket Club of India looked strangely empty. Then, as Raj Singh Dungarpur, in his capacity as president of the CCI, requested cameramen to clear the entrance so that some members could enter, its population assumed more predictable proportions. By the time it began, there was hardly any place to stand.

Tendulkar arrived a couple of minutes early from the rear entrance, which means every network in India owes Raj Singh a word of thanks, and then completely vanished from view as photographers created a wall around him. Three minutes later, with no sign of even as much as a change of roll, they had to be moved aside.

Tendulkar looked tense, a little older than 26, and sat in front of an army of microphones, a bit like a reluctant groom.

"First of all, I am sorry for this delay," he said. "I was not in Mumbai and only arrived last night."

Amazingly, he said he only got the news of his appointment several hours after the rest of the country got it. "And then, I saw it on the news!"

Was he reluctant to accept? Has he been pushed into a corner? The questions were flying and, to his credit, he didn't flinch.

He said he had told everyone concerned, the president of the BCCI, the chairman of the selectors, that he wasn't very keen to accept the job at the moment. And he had told them that 24 hours before he left for a mystery destination now widely believed to be Puttaparthi.

"I was not mentally ready... For the last two years I have only thought of playing for India... But now that it has been given to me, I accept.

"You normally expect the vice-captain to become the next captain. And ever since I lost the captaincy, I have not been the vice-captain. So I was not thinking of it," he said, and there is no reason to believe that he is not telling the truth.

"It was different in 1996," he said. "I had been vice-captain for a long time and had led the team on occasions. So I was prepared to become captain. This time I wasn't."

It was an amazingly honest effort and after that, the rest was bound to be an anti-climax. It was just as well that he set the record straight for whispers about him being "pricey" had already started appearing.

When you wear the coat of captain of India, you cover the shirt of popularity.

He said he was happy with the way the youngsters were playing ("especially Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly" who incidentally are the same age as he is!); that he was happy that Nayan Mongia's catch had been adjudged the best at the World Cup (even though it wasn't the official verdict, only of the Daily Telegraph); that he was happy at being nominated by Wisden Cricket Monthly as the number one batsman in the world, though his answer was a lot more interesting than the question which was predictable. ("I am happy because the two-year period (over which the assessment was made) started in 1997 when everybody said I wasn't batting well...); that he would be happy if the selectors gave him the team he wanted; that he had never laid down the condition that he did not want Azharuddin in the team ("I have played under him and he has played under me so there is no problem").

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Interestingly, he also said he stood by his earlier thoughts on the Sahara Cup and that he would definitely open the batting in the one-dayers. That was one of two answers in Marathi (tujhi batting position kon tharavnar?-- typically Marathi, always tu) and ensured that editing the programme for the evening news would become a little easier, for the local and national versions !

I couldn't resist asking him about Azharuddin's theory that at this level, players should know what is expected of them.

"I think a captain has to tell his players what to do. Players can make mistakes and finally it is up to the captain to control the situation. And bowlers do not mind if the captain has a word with them."

Whatever else happens to Indian cricket, it will look different on the field. But you must wonder, are we so desperate that we had to push a man into a corner and force him to accept the captaincy of the national team.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda

Harsha Bhogle

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