During the first four games of the India-Australia one day series, there were murmurs both here and elsewhere relating to Sachin’s game, his form, and his continued existence. Then 175 happened — and the pendulum, not for the first time in Sachin’s storied career, swung to the other extreme.
It is against this backdrop that I find some at least of the comments on my Sachin post, The God of Big Things, mildly amusing — comments that suggest this blog is not worth following any more being among the milder ones, while others suggest I am guilty of ‘criminal journalism’, which is worse than the yellow variety. [On this, I’ll just say that I appreciate those who have attempted to argue their case with facts and figures; not so much, those who believe the best response to something they don’t like is ad hominem attacks and random name calling].
The irony is that had I written that piece after the fourth game, the reactions would not have been so extreme — and that supports my thesis that our worldview in this instance is etched in black and white, with no shadings of gray, no room for nuance.
What mystifies me is the tendency to see that piece not as an attempt to parse a player’s current form, batting mindset and best-use case but as an unprincipled attack on an icon.
Reading that response now, I believe every word I wrote then was true. Then. Just as whatever I wrote the other day is true — or, since ‘true’ is perhaps not the right word in situations that admit of no one single truth — it is a true representation of what I think, now. When writing, there’s two possible ways I can go: either play to the gallery, or write what I truly feel, think. All things considered, I think I’ll stick with the latter.
Three articles written in the wake of Sachin’s 175 should serve, for those who need it, as antidote to my ‘criminality’. The first is by my friend Soumya Bhattacharya of the Hindustan Times. In passing Soumya, who wrote arguably the first ‘fanboy’ book on Indian cricket, is on the verge of publishing his second book on a game he loves with a passion — as I have these past months discovered over several impassioned discussions when we meet below the office building we both share for a smoke and tea.
In his HT oped Saturday, Soumya says:
It all happened so swiftly, and with such unabated fury, that it seemed as though we were watching the highlights of an innings rather than the innings itself in real time. It was giddying; it was delirium-inducing.
In a way, though, we were watching the highlights. We were watching the highlights of what Tendulkar has offered us over the past two decades. Remember Sharjah? Remember Centurion? Remember Perth? It was like a photo album — as much homage as delighted remembrance.
We crib too much about not winning, about letting a victory slip, but we seem to lose sight of the fact that two decades ago, when Tendulkar began his career, we were rather too used to losing. Winning was more of an aberration.
In the end, however heartbreaking, it was appropriate that India lost. Because it allows some of us, after all this, to wonder. Thirty-two of Tendulkar’s 45 ODI hundreds have led to India winning. Why, oh, why, could this not be the 33rd? Why did he leave the last three batsmen to get 19 runs off 17 balls? He does so much, but will anything he ever does be enough for us?
If Tendulkar knows the answer, he won’t tell. But for cricket fans shambling towards middle age, he represents a tricky paradox. He was the first hero I had who was younger than I was. With the unfettered, nerveless boldness of his batting, he made us revisit and redefine our notion of hero worship. Now, 20 years on, Tendulkar is caught in a trap of his own making. We still want him to be like the boy we grew so devoted to. And when he can’t be (because things have changed, and he, with them) we grow wistful and nostalgic. Stuck in a moment, as Bono said, and you can’t get out of it.
Against the backdrop of an imminent anniversary in Sachin’s career, Peter Roebuck writes a fanboy’s tribute. Of the many quotable bits, this perhaps best describes the game that has contributed to Sachin’s longevity:
In part he has lasted so long because there has been so little inner strain. It’s hard to think of a player remotely comparable who has spent so little energy conquering himself. Throughout he has been able to concentrate on overcoming his opponents.
But it has not only been about runs. Along the way Tendulkar has provided an unsurpassed blend of the sublime and the precise. In him, the technical and the natural sit side by side, friends not enemies, allies deep in conversation.
Ian Chappell writes against the backdrop of another kind of ‘anniversary’. When the history of our times is written, ‘Desert Storm’ will refer to the First Gulf War August 1990-January/February 1991. In the minds of Indians, however, ‘Desert Storm’ is inextricably linked with memories of this game [and this sequel].
Chappell reviews the 175 against that backdrop. As with Roebuck’s piece, much is worth quoting; I’ll use just one clip as sampler:
In recent times Tendulkar’s batting has gained a mortal quality. He often has to battle and graft for runs, like a 40-average batsman. The fact that even in that mode he still churns out centuries, like a press printing 10-rupee notes, is a testament to his greatness. However, occasionally all the magic returns and on that day he can light up a cricket ground, the way he did in Hyderabad. The cover drive flows, the flick off the pads races to the boundary and the short-of-a-length delivery is punched off the back foot, while fieldsmen are left grasping at fresh air.
In batting maturity Tendulkar resorts to more deft deflections and little glides to third man but they are as much about resting tiring muscles at the non-striker’s end as any concession to the bowlers’ ability. He’s also moved with the times and is now more likely to upper-cut a short-pitched delivery rather than employ the hook shot. He even indulges in the premeditated shovel shot over the short fine-leg fielder’s head. It was one of those that ended his epic innings in Hyderabad, just short of him achieving deity and a thrilling Indian victory.