Sachin, redux

I know I said the previous post was my last on the topic for now — but this deserves marquee mention. Greatbong has a piece up on the achievement that sums up what Tendulkar has meant for so many of us for so long. And he does it with three delicate brush strokes:

The old Sachin radiated heat. The new Sachin gives light.

But he still remains the sun.

Perfect. And yet another example of what I keep talking about: the best cricket writing invariably comes not from the bylined ‘cricket correspondent’, for whom this is a profession, but from the fan for whom cricket is a passion.

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Writing Sachin

Some time back, a more than usually prime example of hype and hyperbole prompted a blog post on the art and craft of cricket writing.

The flood of commentary in the wake of Sachin scaling one of the few peaks left to him turns the spotlight on another aspect of the problem: What can you say of a man about whom everything has been said before, a man who even before attaining maturity — in real terms, and in terms of his craft — had already exhausted every adjective?

Plenty, apparently. In no particular order of preference, a collection:

Samir Chopra writes about why, though there have been 10 +180 scores recorded in one day internationals thus far, only one man was really capable of breaching the 200 barrier:

It seemed to me that if 200 was to be made, it would be made by an opener, someone who would score quickly in the first 15, settle down in the mid-section, and then have enough nous and stamina to play through the inevitable acceleration to the end. And truth be told, it seemed like there was only person who could pull it off: Tendulkar.

For if there is one thing that seems to come easily to Tendulkar, it is the kind of innings I’ve just described. They are a dime-a-dozen for this man. He does it effortlessly, shifting gears when he wants, racking up runs, not letting his strike-rate drop. It always seemed like a matter of time before he would not lose his wicket in the final acceleration and simply go on to the logical next destination of the double-ton. 200 runs off 150 balls (a strike rate of 133.33) always seemed eminently doable for this master of the limited-overs game. No one else seemed to have the full package.

And on February 24th, he did it. Indeed, he seemed to have calculated it perfectly: 200 off 147 balls. The initial acceleration, the quick, expert farming of well-run singles and doubles, the final acceleration. It was a masterpiece of attack and accumulation (and the brilliance of shots was something to behold). And he did it against South Africa on an appropriate stage, a ground at home, in front of thousands of his ever-adoring fans.

The genius of this man is that such a singular feat should always have seemed so well within his reach, that his final breach of the barrier should come as no surprise.

It is not often that Time is moved to take note of cricket — but this is one of those moments when the scale of achievement captivates even those minds that are not tuned to the sport. Bobby Ghosh does the math to underline why breaking 200 is such a big deal. And then:

Wednesday’s achievement was the more remarkable because it came against South Africa, which has a powerful bowling lineup and superb fielders. Scoring big against the minnows of the sport — Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, for instance — is one thing; taking 200 from the South Africans is many leagues harder.

It was entirely appropriate that the record should fall to Tendulkar, 36, the greatest run scorer of all time, as he roars into the autumn of a storied career. Cricketers very rarely play into their 40s, and most are long past their record-breaking age at 35. But the Little Master, as his fans know him, is as bright at twilight as he was at noon: he’s ratcheted up a string of recent big scores in both the five-day “Test” and one-day versions of the sport, giving a new generation of bowlers the privilege of a Tendulkar thrashing.

If Sachin’s feat has been greeted with universal adulation, there is a reason — he is impossible to dislike. Vide Simon Briggs:

With his extraordinary performances over the past two decades, not to mention his exemplary conduct off the field, Sachin Tendulkar has proved that it is possible to be a sporting icon without turning into a monster.

In the light of the various indiscretions committed in recent weeks by Tiger Woods, John Terry and Ashley Cole, it would be easy to conclude that while power corrupts, sporting success corrupts absolutely.

Tendulkar is the ultimate counter-example. In his own way, he can compete with any of these men for eminence. The most famous Indian since Mahatma Gandhi, he has admitted resorting to wigs and fake spectacles just to get to the cinema undisturbed.

And yet, despite spending more than 20 years at the top of his sport,Tendulkar has never become tangled up with a Bollywood actress, or been accused of giving out pitch and weather information to an illegal bookmaker.

A cynic might add the rider, “as far as we know”. After all, that slippery PR fixer Max Clifford has repeatedly insisted that the only reason Tiger got caught was because he was badly advised.

But everything about Tendulkar’s public persona backs up his squeaky-clean image. The man is modest in victory and gracious in defeat, while his post-match comments are invariably diplomatic. It is hard to remember him being drawn into a single controversy – at least, not one that stood up to scrutiny.

Harsha Bhogle, who did the first ever interview of Sachin Tendulkar, and who has since spent a little over two decades cudgeling his brains to come up with new ways to say the same things about the same person, manages to pull it off again:

And he has never forgotten why he started playing the game in the first place. The best have lofty ambitions when they begin but soon commerce, like a tenacious worm, gnaws into them. Fame surrounds them and prevents the fresh air of reason from breaking through. They acquire sycophants, that great curse of success. Playing the game becomes a means to a seemingly superior, but in reality hollower, end. Tendulkar has kept those demons at bay. He has made more money than anyone else in the game, acquired greater fame than is imaginable, but you could never guess that from the way he plays his cricket. He remains the servant, pursues the game with purity. Through the last decade India have been well-served by like-minded giants.

There’s more, in Cricinfo’s round up among other places. And then there is this: Virender Sehwag, the batsman considered most likely to smash this particular barrier, talks of the sheer inevitability of it all:

We have had chats about him scoring 200. He thought it was difficult, but I told him only he could do it. Last year in New Zealand, when he retired on 163 I told him he had missed the opportunity, but he said “Agar meri kismat mein hoga toh woh mil jayega [It will eventually happen if I am destined to do it].” He said the same when he got 175 against Australia last year. On Wednesday he said “Woh likha tha, toh mil gaya [I got what was destined]”.

And that completes the last post on Sachin Tendulkar on this blog. Until he does it again — which, given his recent form, could be as early as his next game.