Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta met Sachin Tendulkar, at first light in Mumbai's Shivaji Park, for a freewheeling interview for NDTV 24X7. Excerpts:

This really is a cradle of so much talent, isn't it? Shivaji Park.

Yeah, I mean, if you see, a lot of ex-cricketers stay around this park and this is the heart of Mumbai cricket. I grew up right here…myself, Vinod Kambli, Praveen Amre, Lalchand Rajput, all the India players played right here.

Yes, and I find it difficult to imagine that on these surfaces, we used to play without helmets. As you know, now, things have changed completely.

Doesn't look quite like the kind of pitches you get these days…

I would think twice now (laughs). After having played on better tracks, this looks a little dicey. But at that age, you just want to go out and hit the ball as hard as possible, and spend as many hours as possible on the ground so…

And once you are brought up on these, you could handle anything, I suppose. Right, but tell me a bit more about those days. What was it like to train with… you were very young when you were training and you were playing for India short of 17.

When I started playing here, I mean, I was only 11 or 12, and my brother brought me here, he said, 'Ok, enough of being naughty in our building and all that'… I used to climb trees, and also fell occasionally … but when I came here, my coach kind of said, 'No, you still need about six-eight months, come later on'. But my brother had seen me earlier, in our apartments when we used to play downstairs with a tennis ball. And he had seen maybe a spark in me or whatever. But he convinced my coach to give me another opportunity. He knew my coach because he grew up right across there...So I got another opportunity, my brother said, 'He is really tense right now, you have a look at him tomorrow but don't stand behind the nets, maybe from a distance'.

... contd.

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