Mumbai: Terming his decision to retire from international cricket correct, the iconic Sachin Tendulkar on Sunday said he feels this is the right time to leave as his body gave him the message that he won't be able to take the load of professional cricket anymore.
"I feel this is the best time to leave, I have no regrets. My body gave me the message, I wasn't able to take the load," Tendulkar said in his first press conference after playing his 200th and last Test match.
Tendulkar said playing for India was paramount for him for the last 24 years and the thought of not able to play cricket anymore hasn't sunk in yet. "Playing for India was paramount for me over the last 24 years. It hasn't struck me yet that I won't be playing cricket anymore," he added.
The Government of India on Saturday decided to award the Bharat Ratna to Tendulkar. Reacting to the news, Tendulkar, who is the first sportsperson and the youngest to get the Bharat Ratna, told CNN-IBN on Saturday that he dedicates this award to his mother. "I am thankful for this honour. I dedicate it to my mother. India is my motherland," he said.
Tendulkar reiterated the same thing on Sunday as well, saying he wants to dedicate the award to his mother for the sacrifices she made. "Bharat Ratna is dedicated for my mother for the sacrifices she has made. I also want to dedicate this award to all the mothers who have made sacrifices for their children." He also congratulated Professor CNR Rao for his Bharat Ratna, saying his contribution to the country is immense. "I want to congratulate Prof Rao for his Bharat Ratna, his contribution is immense."
Tendulkar wept as he left the pitch for the final time on Saturday after his 200th Test match, ending a dazzling career spanning nearly a quarter of a century.
The master batsman waved to thousands of cheering, emotional fans and wiped tears from his eyes as he left the field through a guard of honour formed by his team-mates at Mumbai's Wankhede stadium.
The 40-year-old maestro indicated that he would remain associated with the game after enjoying some time off. "Cricket has been my life, it is oxygen to me. In 40 years, at least 30 years I have played proper cricket. 75 per cent of my life has been cricket, so there will be some association with the game, maybe not in the immediate future. Still, it is only 24 hours since my retirement, give me at least 24 days to relax. Then I will see what to do," he said.
Asked why he touched the wicket in reverence on Saturday, Tendulkar said he just wanted to thank the game which made him an icon. "I knew never ever in my life I would get to do that again. And that is where my life started and those 22 yards gave me everything. It's like a temple for me. I wanted to say thank you to cricket. I just thanked cricket for everything that I got in my life," he said.
Reflecting on his glorious career, Tendulkar said being part of the 2011 World Cup winning team was the best moment of his journey. "When we won the World Cup two years ago. I had to wait 22 years for it, that has to be a special moment. Yesterday, the way people responded, I don't know how to react to that, I want to say a big 'thank you' to everyone, so that was also special," he said.
Asked about the most disappointing moment of his career, Tendulkar said, "The 2003 World Cup, we reached the final, we were playing so well, but we couldn't cross the final hurdle."
Tendulkar went on to elaborate on what he went through emotionally on Saturday. "It was an emotional moment, I remember when I was thinking about retirement I don't think I was very emotional because I knew it was the right decision even though my family was," he said.
"I became emotional with the way players gave me a send off, when I was talking to the wicket. Normally I am not very emotional because I knew it was the right decision. The thought that I won't be able to represent India again made me emotional," he added.
Tendulkar, who delivered a moving farewell speech which left many with moist eyes on Saturday, said the emotions were getting the better of him all through. "The first moment when I went on the wicket and stood between the 22 yards, I realised this was the last time I was in front of a packed stadium as part of the Indian team. That made me quite emotional, that I wouldn't have a bat in my hand, playing for India," he said.
"While I walked back to the dressing room, I didn't look up when shaking hands with many of the West Indies team members, because I was in tears," he added.
Tendulkar said he faced several challenges during his career, including injury breakdowns which left him in doubt about his future. "For 24 years to play cricket for country was the most important thing for me. In these years, I faced several challenges but the desire to play for the country was so strong, that I found solutions to these challenges.
"Injuries are tough to deal with, I had different injuries. To overcome them and to play again was not easy. There were different goals to attain. Like my tennis elbow, which took more than four months to recover.
"The challenges were tough, sometimes I had the feeling that I may never be able to pick the bat again. There was a time when I was not even able to pick [his son] Arjun's plastic bat. I thought I will not be able to play anymore. That was a different kind of pressure. It was a difficult phase in my life," he recollected.
But no matter the challenges, Tendulkar said cricket never left his existence and it won't leave him even post-retirement. "Even though physically I am not playing for India, in my heart I will always play and pray for India. Whether I am part of the team, it really doesn't matter," he said.
The other most important aspect of his life has been his mother Rajni and Tendulkar said he felt quite happy to have her in the stands for his farewell Test. "I requested BCCI to keep my last match in Mumbai because my mother had never seen me play. I wanted that to be a surprise for her. But then she got to know of it through media. This match became really special for me," he said.
"My mother was extremely happy [with my 74]. It was difficult for her to travel. She came and watched me for a while, I had taken the precaution of asking the MCA to keep a room for me in Garware guesthouse but she didn't need it," Tendulkar added.
Not to forget the man he considers the most important of his life, his late father Ramesh Tendulkar. "My father and mother always encouraged. I was able to perform well because of the guidance I got. My mother kept sweets in front of god. She has been doing it ever since I started playing and that continues.
"Their reaction to me was never related to way I performed. It was about parents and their child. The beauty of my family was that whether I scored a 50 or 100, they had encouraging words for me," he said.
Tendulkar also thanked his elder brother Ajit, who shaped his formative years. "As I said in my speech it was a dream that we lived together. I was representing the country and it's difficult to put into words what he has done for me. Yesterday, he was emotional but wasn't showing it to me. At the same time, he was also relieved and relaxed because the way I retired and the way people responded, you can't plan it.
"That's decided by God and I pray to God that he showed me a day after which I cannot ask for anymore. Ajit had the same feeling. We didn't talk too much but from whatever we spoke, he was relieved that everything had happened well," he said.
In his moment of glory, Tendulkar also applauded the West Indies cricket team, which was humiliated by India in the two-Test series. "West Indies have world-class players. This sport is a leveller. There are ups and downs. We have been in that position to understand how it feels. Certain times, things don't work out. They are a terrific side," he said.
About his life post-retirement, Tendulkar said, "It's a nice thought that I need to be involved with cricket and it is not just because I am retiring. Even before that I have spent time with youngsters. I like interacting with players. It teaches me about the game. I have enjoyed those interactions even though they were not done publicly," he said.
On how he spent his first post-retirement morning, Tendulkar said, "When I woke up this morning, 6:15 in the morning, I realised I don't have to quickly have a shower. I had tea, enjoyed breakfast with my wife, it was a relaxed morning. Lot of guys had sent me text messages. I spent lot of time thanking them. Morning was pretty much relaxed."
Cricket world is already abuzz with the news of his son Arjun taking over his mantle, but Tendulkar pleaded for the 14-year-old to be left alone. "I would ask you as a father to leave him alone. You can't see just because since his father has performed in a certain way, he also has to perform the same way. My father was a professor, so why didn't you ask him why your son hasn't taken up the pen.
"Arjun is madly in love with cricket, that is what matters, performances - whether they happen or not, I don't want to put any pressure on him, and I hope you don't either," he said.
Tendulkar lauded the new generation of Indian cricketers, saying he enjoyed the time spent with them. "I enjoyed everyone's success. It is a team sport in which it doesn't matter who performs, there might be two-three exceptional performances and those are supported by the rest.
"Talking about the new generation, all the guys, I've thoroughly enjoyed being part of the team. Bhuvneshwar [Kumar] was not even born when I started playing, I have jokingly told some of them that when I come into the dressing room, they should say 'Good morning Sir'," he said.
"I have shared my experiences with them, my observation of their batting," he said.
Quizzed whether India should have a foreign coach or a home-grown one, Tendulkar said nationality was not an issue. "I don't think it is about foreign coach. To me there should be a proper coach who understands players and is more like a friend. We all know how to play cricket," he said.
At the age of 40, Tendulkar retired from the game as the world's leading scorer in both Test and one-day cricket and the only man to score 100 international centuries.
In a lengthy and poignant speech on the field after the match against the West Indies in his hometown, Tendulkar thanked everyone who had supported him, from family members and friends, coaches and managers through to team-mates and ardent fans.