London: Move aside the Glenn McGraths and Muttiah Muralitharans, the only bowler who has tested Sachin Tendulkar to an extent that the Indian batting icon "didn't know what to do" while facing him was stunningly the late Hansie Cronje.
The ex-South African captain, who died in a plane-crash after being banned for match-fixing, was the one man Tendulkar found hard to deal with and bowling technique had nothing to do with it.
"Honestly. I got out to Hansie more than anyone. When we played South Africa, he always got me out more than Allan Donald or Shaun Pollock. It wasn't that I couldn't pick him. It's just that the ball seemed to go straight to a fielder," Tendulkar told The Guardian.
Cronje, primarily a middle-order batsman, was efficient with his medium pace, fetching 43 wickets in 68 Tests and 114 ODI wickets in 188 matches before his spectacular fall from grace owing to the 2000 match-fixing scandal in which he was the prime accused. He died in a plane-crash in 2002.
Tendulkar said facing Cronje was always a tricky proposition for him.
"I was going great guns in Durban one year and played some big shots against Donald and Pollock. Hansie came on and I flicked his first ball straight to leg-slip. I never knew what to do with him," he said.
Tendulkar once again named McGrath as the best fast bowler he ever faced and despite dominating Shane Warne, the Indian icon considered the Aussie to be the best spinner he came across.
"I did okay against him (McGrath). But, among the spinners, Warne at his best was still something special," he said.
The 37-year-old batsman, who has spent over 20 years in international cricket, is often compared to Sir Don Bradman and Tendulkar recalled some special moments he spent with the late Australian legend.
"We went to see him on his 90th birthday. It was very special. We were talking about averages and I said, 'Sir Don, if you were playing today, what would you have averaged?' And he said, '70, probably.' I asked, 'Why 70 and not your actual average of 99?' Bradman said, 'Come on, an average of 70 is not bad for a 90-year-old man.'
"This is what I tell my son. Whether you're an 11-year-old boy or Don Bradman, we should never forget it's just a game we can all enjoy."
His passion for the sport is well-documented and Tendulkar said even after spending over two decades in the international arena, he tries to re-invent himself.
"I'm really focusing now on how I can get to the next level as a batsman. How can I get even more competitive? How can I get even more consistent? How can I get better?" Tendulkar pointed out.
The diminutive batsman said going past the 14,000-run mark earlier this year was one of the big moments of his career but he never lets the thoughts of achieving milestones overshadow what is actually required of him in a match situation.
"It was a big moment...But I was most aware of the match situation," said the right-hander who had arrived at the wicket with India 38 for two in reply to Australia's first innings of 478.
"And then it flashed on the big screen that I needed eight runs to reach 14,000. Every run I scored was cheered.
But when I needed two, I hit a boundary. I was happy but I thought, 'right, now we can get back to focusing on cricket', because everyone had become too worried about those eight runs. It had taken away my focus."
"Yes, obviously going past Brian Lara was something special. But I'm even happier now and hopefully it continues."
Talking about the changing face of the game, Tendulkar said Australia are in decline after retirements of their heavyweights.
"To not have Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist, McGrath, Warne, it's a big loss. They still have some world-class players but their batting revolves around (Ricky) Ponting. When you want to create a vacuum in their batting you need to get Ponting," he said.
Tendulkar feels given Australia's loss of aura, England are serious contenders to lift the Ashes this time.
"I think England have a better chance. I favour them slightly. I would say Morgan could be the key performer in the Ashes. Morgan and Swann," he said.
"He (Morgan) is a very solid player who can control the pace of his innings. He can become a really good Test batsman even though he has only played a few Tests so far. After Morgan, you've got the experience of Strauss, Collingwood and Pietersen. They're a really well-balanced side and this is a great opportunity for England," he added.
India is one of the co-hosts of next year's World Cup and Tendulkar said the pressure would be of an altogether different level.
"It's going to be massive. Everyone in India is looking forward to a mega tournament and although people haven't started talking yet about 1983 (the last time India won the World Cup), it will happen soon. But given our recent form, people have a right to be excited and have extremely high hopes," he said.
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