Dubai: He's been carrying the hopes of a billion cricket fans for over 22 years but Sachin Tendulkar says he never felt pressurised by their expectations.
"It's good that people expect things out of you otherwise it can get boring. But I don't feel people are putting pressure on me. In fact I feel they are with me," Sachin said at a glittering ceremony in Dubai on Saturday night, where he became the first recipient of the Wisden India Outstanding Achievement award.
Sachin was presented with a beautifully designed trophy at the first of six special dinners that will be held across the world. Made from crystal, it features a cricket ball resting on the open pages of a book. The 49 one-day international centuries that Tendulkar has made are listed on one side, and his 51 Test hundreds on the other.
In Dubai, not far from the stadium where he played one of his most memorable innings - the Desert Storm that overwhelmed Shane Warne and Australia at Sharjah in 1998 - Tendulkar was at his candid best, answering an array of questions from renowned commentator Alan Wilkins.
The black-tie event, which featured stand-up comedy by Vir Das, a sit-down dinner and a silent auction for some Tendulkar memorabilia, was the first of its kind where a relaxed Tendulkar spoke on various subjects, including his favourite innings - the matchwinning fourth-innings hundred against England at Chennai in December.
The Test against England in Chennai was the first cricket match India had played after the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 which had left the entire country grief-stricken. His unbeaten 103 was a match-winning knock which he had dedicated to the Mumbai terror victims. "Personal favourite is the 100 vs England three years ago in Chennai because it came after the Mumbai attacks."
The prolific batsman, however, said his century at Perth in 1992 was also among his favourites from the cricket point of view.
Sachin also shared his childhood memories with the guests present at the event. He revealed that he wanted to be like tennis legend John McEnroe. "I wanted to be like John McEnroe. I used to walk with headbands and wrist bands. So that people call me John McEnroe. But that didn't happen so I picked up a cricket bat."
Apart from his tennis idol, the master batsman, who recently became a member of Rajya Sabha, also talked about his inspiration in cricket. "I grew up watching Sunil Gavaskar and he was all the way my idol. Then I started watching Sir Viv Richards and was fascinated by him. So when I played in the nets and played a wrong shot my brother told me Gavaskar would never do that."
When asked if he remembered his debut against Pakistan and what kept him going when a Waqar Younis delivery left him with a bleeding nose, Sachin said: "It taught me it can't get worse, so if I can face this, I can play international cricket."
Sachin also spoke about his next series against England, where he played a series-winning role. When asked if the sledging by the English players distracted him, he said: "I was just 16, I was not supposed to understand what they were saying."
Sachin, who is the most successful batsman in Tests and ODI cricket, gave credit to his father and family for keeping him grounded. Speaking about his father, Sachin said: "Whatever I am today is because of him. When I got success at such a young age he told me - success can fade away, the only thing that remains is your personality. So be a good human. That has always remained with me."
"There have been tough times too. You can't have a path without speed breakers. But all you need to do is change gears. My family has helped me during rough times. My wife Anjali, my brother Ajit have helped me cope up because I can open up with them," he added.
The Celebration Series, organised by FidelisWorld, gives fans an opportunity to meet the master, interact with him and listen to him talk about the joys, tribulations and twists in what has been an unparalleled career. The Celebration Series will comprise five more such dinners over the next three years. Singapore is likely to host the next one.