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Exclusive: Cricket is Sachin Tendulkar, say Yuvraj and Harbhajan


Gaurav Kalra,CNN-IBN
Nov 11, 2013 at 08:42pm IST

In the series of 'Thank You Sachin', CNN-IBN Sports Editor Gaurav Kalra talks to Tendulkar's team-mates Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh in a freewheeling interview.

Talking at length from the days when they first saw Tendulkar to the day when they first met him in the India dressing room, Yuvraj and Harbhajan share their memories of the legend who is ready to say good bye to the game after his 200th Test at the Wankhede Stadium this week.

Here is the complete interview:

Gaurav: Hello and a very warm welcome to this CNN-IBN special. We continue to say Thank You to the master Sachin Tendulkar. And today, two very special guests to say thank you with me - Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh. Both men have played a lot of cricket with Sachin and have been close friends for a very long time. Thank you guys, thank you very much for your time.

I just want to begin by asking both of you. Let me start with Yuvraj. Disappointed, both of you of not being part of this extended celebration, the opportunity to be in the same dressing room to say good bye to him?

Yuvraj: Ya obviously it is disappointing not to be with him at this very special moment, but hopefully we will get a chance to wish him good bye. It is going to be sad. It is going to be a very emotional time for the whole of India and us guys, because the man has played 24-25 years of international cricket and given so much to Indian cricket. It is going to be a tough moment.

Gaurav: You are a very emotional person, and with Sachin around, you have had a fair share of tears and laughter in your life. So it would have been good for you to have been part of these last two Test matches. Is this something you are regretting at the back of your mind, like 'I wish I was around for these last two matches'?

Harbhajan: Yes obviously, as Yuvraj mentioned. It would have been nice to be there with the team and playing those Test matches and give him a big hug while he was going to go out to bat. Of course it is going to be a very emotional one when he will actually quit the game. I don't know how cricket will be after Sachin Tendulkar, but I think for me, cricket is Sachin Tendulkar. It is going to be very tough.

Gaurav: Harbhajan you have played a lot of cricket with him; but of late, I was wondering - you were one of the players who were very close to him playing the game in the last few months - did you get a sense in the Mumbai Indians camp, when he suddenly announced his retirement from the IPL, that he was heading towards that, he was thinking about giving up the game, did you have an idea?

Harbhajan: Well it was there on his mind but I didn't know it was going to come suddenly like this. Obviously we all wanted him to play, play and play all the time. But I am sure he must have thought about it sitting on his own, with whosoever are his advisers and, of course, Anjali bhabi. They have taken the decision which is obviously like, 'Why are you going?'

Gaurav: But you had no idea you are saying. You didn't know that he was going to quit?

Harbhajan: I knew it will happen, maybe after the South Africa tour. Obviously they must have thought about it, but it was like, 'Why?'

Gaurav: Yuvi, growing up, and in India batsmanship, and you yourself say 'Cricket is Sachin Tendulkar' but batting in particular as a young batsman growing up, what was your earliest memory of watching Sachin Tendulkar bat and what was the impression he left on you as a batsman?

Yuvraj: I think the first time I saw Sachin bat was at this ground - sector 16 [in Chandigarh]. I just came to watch some game and I remember Sachin was 11 years old.

Gaurav: Eleven years old?

Yuvraj: Ya, he was playing some tournament I don't remember, but I remember him playing two cover drives. I was like maybe three-four years old.

Gaurav: Because Yuvraj this is interestingly the ground on which Sachin played his first ever Test Match in India. So he has got memories here, but you are saying eleven years old when you watched him bat. It left an impression on you?

Yuvraj: Ya definitely. I have grown up seeing him bat. I remember him getting his first Test hundred in England. When a guy is 16-17 years old, getting a hundred at that age is special. And from there it was no stopping him. Since I have come in the team, I remember shaking hands with him and not washing my hands for the whole day.

Gaurav: Is that a true story?

Yuvraj: Of course, yes. I remember when I shook hands with him and he told me congratulations to be in the team, and he went back and sat on his chair. I was rubbing my hand all over my body like I shook hands with Tendulkar. And I remember there was only one seat available [on the team bus], next to Sachin. And I told the manager I just can't sit next to this guy. I am very nervous. Is it possible to get another seat, but he said it will be fine and I sat next to him. He started talking to me, and I was pretty comfortable. I think as a batsman what impression or example he set for the youngsters or me was that I have never seen a more technically correct batsman, especially when he is in the zone and playing all his shots. I think technically he would be the best batsman I have seen in my career.

Gaurav: And you have always said that through many years, there has been no batsman who has left as much of an impression on me. But since we are talking about memories, Harbhajan, I remember being in Bangalore for your Test debut in 1998. I was a young journalist then. And in that game, Tendulkar made a hundred. It was your debut game and you were just 18-19 years old. You were very young, you looked visibly nervous on the morning of a Test match. What was it like for you to share a dressing room with Tendulkar, India went on to lose that game, and then be part of watching him bat from such close quarters and score that 170 odd?

Harbhajan: Well, obviously it was a great moment for me. First of all, I was making my debut and that too with all the greats. I used to see them on TV. The likes of Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Azharuddin and those sorts of guys I was playing along. I was like, 'Is it really true or I am still sleeping?' Actually I met him in Mohali for the first time when I was called to bowl to the Indian batsmen in the nets, and that is where I got the chance to speak to him.

Gaurav: Did you get him out?

Harbhajan: No, he did not bat. He was closely watching what I was doing because I was the only bowler at that point of time in India who was bowling the doosra. And they called me from Jalandhar to see who this guy is, and I came all the way from Jalandhar. But by the time I reached Mohali, nets were over and Debashish Mohanty was batting and Sachin especially came out. He saw me bowling and I bowled three-four good off-spinners to Debashish Mohanty. Good he was a tail-ender. He got out on the doosra and offspinners and what Sachin told me after whatever little he saw me was 'just keep working hard and just continue to do what you are doing'.

And over the years, you guys have played a lot of cricket with him and several moments have stood out. I want to just reflect on a couple, especially some of the batting partnerships. With you, there have been a few and the one that stands out in everyone's memory is Chennai, after the Mumbai attacks. When you look back on that memory with Tendulkar, is that one of your proudest moments in the game Yuvraj?

Yuvraj: Ya definitely. I always wanted to get a hundred along with Sachin, but unfortunately never got the opportunity. But he getting a hundred and the partnership with me, I think, would be the best partnership I have had with him - a very memorable game. What happened in Mumbai and then beating England was something really special.

Gaurav: Chasing nearly 400.

Yuvraj: Ya, so I think one of my best games along with Tendulkar for sure.

Gaurav: And it is not just you who have had partnerships. Harbhajan has had some wonderful partnerships - the one in Sydney stands out. It was a great partnership between you and Sachin. What was it like batting with such a high-quality batsman and contributing in a difficult situation for the team?

Harbhajan: Ya obviously I normally bat the way I know. I just go out and if the ball is there to hit, I look to hit. But since Sachin was at the other end, he told me one thing: 'Just watch the ball and play according to the ball. If the ball is on the stumps, look to play, otherwise just let it go.' And after 15-20 odd balls, when I was actually looking to play the ball that was straight in the middle - otherwise I was just leaving everything, he said 'Now you can just play the way you want to'.

Gaurav: So you became a better batsman because of Sachin Tendulkar.

Harbhajan: Of course. Having him on the other side is obviously great, and that was probably the first time I batted with Sachin Tendulkar. He got a hundred in that game and I got 50 or 60, and he actually helped me get those runs. Australian bowlers were bowling with the new ball and it was a bit difficult for me because they were bowling some quick balls, but having him on the other side, it was a treat to watch how he batted. And having him there made my life easy facing Brett Lee and Johnson and that kind of bowling.

Gaurav: I can talk to you guys about so many of his batting performances; we will be here all night if we do that. So we should just talk about some of the moments that have struck out as colleagues, of course the biggest one is the World Cup. And Yuvraj you spoke so emotionally after the World Cup and Harbhajan as well, that we wanted to win this for Sachin Tendulkar. And you guys only spoke about it after the tournament was over. That World Cup memory, playing for Sachin Tendulkar, do you think that almost gave the team a little bit more focus, the idea of trying to win that World Cup for your icon player?

Yuvraj: Yes I mean he has given so much to Indian cricket. I remember Virat Kohli saying that he has carried the burden of Indian Team for the last 22 years, and it is high time we carry him. I remember that and I remember Sachin's face when we lost in the 2003 World Cup final against Australia. He had a brilliant tournament. He was the Man of the Tournament and I remember his face while going and taking that trophy. He was sad, he was not happy. He just said that this is something I always wanted in my career. So these kinds of things were always at the back of our mind. We just wanted that one day Sachin has to go and he really deserves the World Cup. So everybody focused on that energy and everybody in the team wanted to do that for Sachin.

Gaurav: Harbhajan, you were visibly emotional that day, so was Yuvraj, but tears would not stop and sharing it with Sachin Tendulkar, carrying him around the Wankhede Stadium on that night. I am sure it is almost a silly question, but is that one of your great moments in the game?

Harbhajan: Yes that is probably the proudest moment. Lifting the guy who has served this country for many years and having him on my shoulder was something great. I enjoyed it and you know I got the opportunity. God has been kind that I was part of it and lifted him on my shoulders. It was great and it was a special moment, a very, very special moment. Winning the World Cup, as we said, this World Cup we were playing for Sachin and we needed to give him the present, and exactly that is what happened with the grace of God. We were really happy and proud that he was on the shoulders with the flag in his hand. It was a proud moment. I have still got that memory and how special it was.

Gaurav: I want to touch upon a couple of little things. As cricketers, there is Sachin Tendulkar, of course, who has the ability to play the game and there is no doubt about that, his records show that; but he is also supposed to be someone who understands and reads the game better than most people. As a batsman, is there something that stood out for you and as a bowler something that stood out for you that he has pointed out to you and that has seen you take a step forward in your game?

Yuvraj: Well obviously he has been ahead of the game, that is why his records say that. He always knew what the game plan was against him when the bowlers were bowling to him. That is where you try and understand and just try and talk to him. Every time I had an issue with my batting, I would speak to Sachin about how I can get better. And I don't talk to anyone about my batting except him because I just feel that he is someone who has seen me for so many years.

Gaurav: No one else gives you advice on batting other than Sachin Tendulkar?

Yuvraj: No, I don't take advice. Everybody gives advice but I don't take anybody's advice except him. He has seen me maturing as a player for India and someone who has really had an impact on me on and off the field as well. So he is someone I trust upon. Because he has so much of experience with batting that he can get you out of any situation when you are having issues with yourself.

Gaurav: In fact, Harbhajan, one of the things that doesn't get talked about often is how good a spin bowler Sachin Tendulkar could have been if he put his mind to it. He could rip a leg break, he could bowl off-spin, he could bowl all sorts. He could probably bowl left-arm spin better than the pie-chucker sitting here, but tell me as a spin bowler as well, do you think he had the kind of talent that he could have, if he put his mind to it, taken a lot of wickets?

Harbhajan: Honestly speaking, definitely. As a leg-spinner, I have not seen many leg-spinners spinning the ball like him. He had the ability to spin the ball. At the same time, he could bowl the googly. Whenever I have seen him bowling in the nets, and most of the times he will come on to bowl when I am batting or some of the tail-enders are batting in the nets, he will just look to fool us while we try to step out and look to hit him over.

Gaurav: You have got him out more often in the nets or has he got you out more often?

Harbhajan: No, he got me out more often in the nets because you see the ball is just right there in the air but it has a lot of revolutions and it spins bigger than any other legspinner I have faced. And I have told him many times, 'Paaji why don't you bowl?' but he would say that the shoulder hurts. But he would have taken a lot of wickets, and he has taken a lot of wickets.

Gaurav: Ya more than 200 international wickets.

Harbhajan: Yes, and I remember one of his spell. I just want to remind many of the guys. The series where I took 30 odd wickets against Australia, he was the second highest wicket-taker. Do you know that Yuvraj?

Gaurav: And we would not have won that Test match in Kolkata had he not taken those three wickets.

Harbhajan: Ya, and I saw Shane Warne's face when he got out on his googly, because Shane Warne could not bowl a Googly. And Shane was like, 'Where did this come from?' So obviously, he would have taken a lot of wickets.

Gaurav: You know we can talk about Tendulkar the cricketer for a long time. Final couple of questions, though, because it is important to reflect on the man as well. You have spoken of the influence the cricketer has had on you. He is a very reserved individual on the outside, and you can understand that given the hype around him. But with close friends, he is quite a prankster. He can be quite naughty, he can be quite an enjoyable person to be around. Any personal memory that you can possibly talk about on television?

Yuvraj: I think he is normally very cool and composed, but he can be very naughty when he wants to be, especially in the dressing room. He will pick on everyone and he can be quite a prankster. But he will give you the impression that he is very quiet and not naughty at all. We have had a couple of instances with him (laughs); I am not sure we should talk about it. We invited him next to a Jacuzzi place, remember winning in New Zealand, and we served his favourite dish. We told Sachin it was by the Jacuzzi and told Bhajji and Zak that the moment he comes and goes for his favourite meal, we were going to throw him in the Jacuzzi. So he is quite smart. He will catch you sometimes but that day he was just happy. He went for his favourite dish over there, we threw him in the Jacuzzi and he was trying to get everybody in, but he could not.

Gaurav: That is a good memory but you know there have been some tricky times as well, difficult times. Harbhajan, with you, there is an impression from the outside that he is like your older brother who has protected sometimes the naughty boy, the guy who has got into trouble in certain instances - the one in Australia, subsequently in the IPL incident. He has been around you always and someone who spoilt you a little. Have you felt that you have had his protective arm to always take care of you and maybe that has allowed you to be a little bit naughtier than you should have been?

Harbhajan: You guys play a crucial role you know, try to make me naughty rather than the others. But of course, Sachin has always been there as an elder brother, as someone who I always look up to. Whether it is cricket or non-cricket, I can go up to him and talk to him on any issues I have in life, and he has always been there. And it is just great to have him around. Even though he is not going to play cricket, that does not mean that I will not go and meet him.

Gaurav: Through cancer as well, the treatment that you underwent, there was a lovely picture of you and Sachin when you came back to London after finishing in America. Was he in touch throughout that treatment? Is that support you really relish?

Yuvraj: Ya definitely. He is my icon and it was amazing to see him and catch up with him after my treatment. It made me really happy to see him. I thought he will get emotional if he sees me like that in a bad condition, but I just started laughing the moment I met him and just showed him that I have got the same spirit as always, but it was very special to see him at that time.

Gaurav: So my last question to the both of you. And you can speak really well on this. How would you like to see him stay involved in the game, Yuvraj? There are a lot of thoughts. He can be a great coach, mentor and all that. Obviously there is a wealth of knowledge there. How would Yuvraj Singh like to see Sachin Tendulkar stay involved in the game?

Yuvraj: Well, it is up to him. He has taken a lot of stress in the last 24-25 years. I would just advise him to enjoy his life for a couple of years and maybe then come back and help the guys around him. It is his choice what he is going to do, whether he is going to coach the youngsters or he is not going to coach the youngsters or how is he going to get involved. I don't know. But I just feel that people should just let him be because he has taken a lot of responsibility for the country for a long time. And it is time for him to hang his boots and enjoy his life for a bit with his family as well.

Gaurav: Harbhajan?

Harbhajan: I just want him to be very, very happy. He has taken a lot of burden over the years and I just want him to feel like a normal human being. And just be with the kids, be with the family, be with the friends and no burdens, no pressure to get another hundred or double hundred or win the game. I don't know how he is going to get involved or whether he is going to get involved with cricket or not after retirement. I just want him to be very, very, very, very happy and enjoy his life. And we will make sure we come and catch you there and make sure you enjoy even more when we come to Mumbai.

Gaurav: Thank you so much guys. Really appreciate your time and thank you so much for sharing these memories, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh.

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