I hate to admit it, but I haven't followed Sachin Tendulkar's career as closely as the average Indian has. I had heard and read about his exploits in local and domestic cricket. And I remember he made his Test debut in Pakistan because I, too, ran my first international race in the neighbouring country many years ago. But what humbled me the most was something he said in an interview in the mid-1990s. Believe it or not, he admitted that watching an Indian lady athlete excel at the world stage motivated him a great deal. I must say I was extremely touched by that compliment and became a Sachin fan right away!
As he prepares to call it a day, I want every Indian to sit down and think what he has done for the country. Imagine the pressure of representing your country for 25 years. Now multiply that by 100 because the country is India and the sport cricket! You'll get a fair idea of what I am talking about.
I represented India from 1977 to 2000 and I coach international athletes now. In other words, I know what Sachin has gone through. To perform consistently at the top, you must have a lot of mental strength. You have got to be extremely tough. I can relate to him. Yes, Sachin is gifted and all that but talent alone doesn't you guarantee success. Look at the manner in which he has carried himself. We know of so many cricketers who are arrogant. They have, what we call, 'head weight'. And more often than not, such sportspersons find themselves in embroiled in controversies. Sachin has steered clear of all such distractions. He is absolutely clean.
Another quality I admire in Sachin is his humility. Cricket has always produced many champions, but given the amount of money and fame in the sport, they tend to go off track. I don't want to take names, but you know what I am talking about. Sachin has never let success and adulation affect him.
I also take this opportunity to thank Sachin's parents, his wife Anjali and the kids. Why? Because I know what it means to stay away from your loved ones for six-seven months year after year. Also, when things aren't going your way, you only have your family to fall back on. Lack of form, lack of confidence, media scrutiny, fans' expectations — your family plays a huge role in helping you fight the demons.
Anybody and everybody loves to criticise Sachin. But have you ever heard him react or lose his cool? He probably looks at the bright side of things, takes the criticism in his stride and strives to do better. That's what he has done all these years. He has conditioned his mind to accept criticism. People will say what they have to. But sportspersons are human beings and they do feel hurt. So imagine what Sachin has gone through. Again, his family deserves credit for helping him.
Sachin will always be remembered for his service to cricket and, of course, nation building. But I hope he also does something to improve the state of affairs in other sports. Cricket is the pink of health. In other words, cricket and cricketers need no assistance. Sachin is a Rajya Sabha MP and he must help overcome the indifference towards 'poorer' sports. He should be the country's unofficial sports minister. He should closely work with the various federations and address issues at the grassroots. Sachin is a legend now; if he helps other sports, he will become immortal.
Let me put it on record that I am ready to support him. I have given all my life to sports and games.
I took to athletics at 13 and represented India at the Olympics at 16. My achievements are there for you to see. I am committed to athletics and I am doing my bit by mentoring the next generation. I will join Sachin in his fight to lift other sports.
Finally, I wish to share an anecdote. In the year 2000, I was named the Indian sportswoman of the century and it was Sachin who presented me the award. I cherish that moment and you will find that photograph occupies a pride of place at the Usha School of Athletics in my hometown.
Thank you, Sachin. Thanks for everything.
—As told to Derek Abraham