Monday, October 14, 2013

Farewell to runs

"Sachin aura about him", I punned shamelessly, while headlining one of his performances in the 1992 World Cup. We already knew how gifted he was, but it was his batting at the top of the order in that tournament that gave the first indications that he was probably superhuman. I was working for an eveninger then, and what better way of blackening white pages than going gaga over the premier one-day tournament in the world!

The young Tendulkar still looked ridiculously boyish. He gave the impression he believed he could hit every ball to the boundary or over it. True, he did not quite annihilate bowling attacks in quite the ruthless way he was to hammer the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne years later, but his straight drives and cover drives were gorgeous—a sign of things to come.

The boy wonder took a while to earn the sobriquet of The Little Master, which had belonged to Hanif Mohammed and Sunil Gavaskar before him. Though his first Test hundred arrived a year after his debut, at Old Trafford in England, we had to wait for two more years before he repeated the feat in Sydney and Perth, in the same year as the World Cup.

By the end of that decade, he had scored 22 Test hundreds, including three marvellous efforts at Chepauk, every one of which I was privileged to watch. His 165 against England and 155 not out against Australia had resulted in Indian wins, but his peerless 136 amidst excruciating back spasms in January 1999 ended in tragedy for India and a lap of honour by the triumphant Pakistani team to thunderous applause from a Chennai crowd that did India proud. By that time, his batting in One Day Internationals had already assumed awesome proportions, with his two hundreds against Australia in successive matches at Sharjah going into the annals of cricket history as fables.

An Australian writer, Christine Williams, interviewed me about Tendulkar a few years ago, when many of us were wondering why he was prolonging his career, so obviously over the hill was he. Or so we foolishly thought. I said to her then, "He has remained for the major part of his career a completely natural cricketer; he follows his instincts." I had, however, found him going through an annoying phase. "He's trying to be a different kind of player—very watchful, extremely, irritatingly watchful," I had told her.

I was convinced it was the end of the road for him. In all fairness to Indian cricket, he must retire, I strongly felt. But even amidst the gloom of his scratchy, tentative ways, he was still scoring more runs than most, at a faster pace than most. The redeeming feature of that depressing phase was that the little boy in Sachin Tendulkar would break through every now and then in ever so many playful ways, when he would launch into outright aggression all of a sudden.

He came back so strongly that he seemed to return to full bloom, with a seemingly unending flow of runs, a rediscovery of the joys of batting, and irrepressible pleasure in the success of his peers and juniors.

Sachin Tendulkar has done everything on a cricket field, except perhaps keep wickets. Or has he? His bowling when he was younger and fitter must rank as perhaps the most versatile on a cricket field, with the exception of the magic of Sir Garfield Sobers. The same boyishness that made him attempt every variation as a bowler, except extreme pace (though he did try to learn that as well, from Dennis Lillee at the MRF Pace Foundation) was also perhaps behind his occasional reluctance to walk when he knew he was out. The same boyishness also gave the game away almost every time that happened, because his facial expression said it all. The 2011 World Cup showed him in a new light when he walked in the match against the West Indies, though the umpire had declared him not out.

Followed the final phase of his grand career, when even his wellwishers began to wish he would announce his retirement. That has been a sad part of a wonderful career. It is painful to watch him struggle like a mortal, often surprised by ordinary bowlers. What new record is he chasing, has been the question his critics are asking? Though Sachin has stoutly denied that he was ever interested in records, we all know how he tends to slow down in the nineties, how agonizing the wait for his hundredth hundred was. Yet, if that charge were true, how come he has never scored a triple hundred in Test cricket, when carefree Sehwag achieved that feat apparently effortlessly? Had Tendulkar wanted, could he not have scaled that peak?

As Ian Chappell has said, Sachin Tendulkar is the reason why millions watch cricket today; every Test cricketer in the world owes him for that. Millions will probably stop watching the game (Test cricket, at least), the way they used to desert the stadium in an exodus the moment he was dismissed in a match. 

How will he remain connected to the game after his 200th Test? As a television commentator? As a captain on the field, Tendulkar spoke constantly to the bowlers, overdid it perhaps. Did he do the same thing in the dressing room? So many young cricketers have spoken of how he has motivated them, cheered them up when the chips are down. Will he give us glimpses of his cricket wisdom, his world view, as a commentator? Or will he choose a different role to play—as a mentor, as an administrator? 

I can’t wait to watch Tendulkar Version II in action.

1 comment:

vb said...

This is a wonderful piece on Sachin !!
Indeed it is to be seen as to how he is going to keep himself associated with the game of Cricket which is the only thing he knows, as per his own self !!