Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar

There was a time when television sets were switched off when Sachin got out. In those days, i used to sit with such attentiveness, as you would normally expect from a kid in a classroom but in my case it was in front of a television,  because any ball could have been end of the match but in reality more often it was met with a with a stroke so delightful that my heart used to say "kya baat hai!"

The Image lingers on. Follow through of the bat after a cover drive - a small sized Tendulkar standing absolutely erect with the bat pointing in the direction of the ball, ball which has raced towards boundary piercing a 5 member vanguard meant exactly to stop that. With every year as i grew, i remember less and less about my adulthood but i am confident that these would remain with me.  Fast paced bouncers outside offstump were one of the most difficult deliveries to play to until Tendulkar showed that you can simply glide them over the slip cauldron and suddenly they were freebie sixes. A leg spin delivery, pitched outside leg stump spinning into the right hand batsman was considered to be lethal on a spinning track until the little master invented "paddle sweep".  Yes, a six gives more runs that a four but what about the joy coefficient? The straight drive by Tendulkar, irrespective of whether he was in form or not, gave so much pleasure that i will trade it anytime over his sixes.

One of my fond memory comes from Australlia's tour of India. During a test match, Glen McGrath runs up to bowl to Sachin and just before the ball is released Sachin raises his hand and says No.  Glen is furious and as he asks what's going on, he comes to know that Tendulkar was not happy as people were walking close to the side screen. This will now continue to happen atleast 3-4 more times when McGrath, now even more furious than before, walks up to him and using hand gestures tell him -  Why don't you ask the entire stadium to sit calmly?  Sachin just shrugs and ignores him. Mcgrath smiles and goes back to bowl.

Critics criticize while doers do. Around 2001-2002, Sachin Tendulkar was labelled as only a first innings man. "He can't handle the pressure of a chase" slammed the critics. To a degree they were right, his first innings average was above 50 while his second innings average was just shy of 30.  But data does not speak for circumstances. If wickets at the other end are chipping off, which happened most of the times in mid 90s, Sachin was forced to carry one billion expectations alone and his improvisations didn't work as much as he would have liked. The one inning that put all such accusations to rest was his 98 against Pakistan at the 2003 World cup quarterfinal match. Pakistan has scored 273 which was a fighting total on that pitch and Pakistan's bowling attack was at its prime during that time.  This is also perhaps my favorite innings from the little master. On that day, Tendulkar came up with a new strategy to counter the attack. At the last moment before facing a delivery, he would shuffle at his crease towards off stump just a little bit. Now suddenly the corridor of uncertainty, the patch just outside offstump where a batsman is confused on whether he should play the ball or not, became straight for him. Any ball directed towards middle stump was almost on his pads and was played cozily on the leg side. India had scored about 100 runs in first 12 overs and Pakistan were out of their wits on what is going on.

Sachin was always a favorite, India adored him and rest of the world respected him. But the conversion from this to a God-like adulation, from opposition's respect to fear, happened at the Coca Cola cup at Sharjah in 1998 when he stroked back to back centuries and single handedly won the series for India. The assault was brutal and that too against the best ODI side at that time.  Evidently, not many people write about it now, even though Sachin scored a century (actually 143 out of India's 250) India lost the qualifying match against Australia but had managed to qualify for finals. After the match, Sachin was actually upset at himself for loosing it. Such was his expectation from himself. For many of us, this has been a regular show - a lone Sachin trying to battle alone. During the 1999 test match between India and Pakistan, the first test match between the two rivals after nine years, India lost to Pakistan by 12 runs. India had scored 258 out of which 136 came from Sachin and 36 from extras. At the post-match press conference, media asked whereabouts of Sachin to Mr. Raj Singh Dungarpur, then BCCI president, to which he replied that Sachin is crying in the dressing room. And so was I in front of my tv set. My tears were partially there for the lost match but mostly i was sorry for Sachin who had given everything that day.

We were happy for him when India won the 2011 world cup. It was only fitting for the Indian team to dedicate the cup to him. It felt justified as if all the wrongs for all those past years had been corrected with this victory. But personally deep down, i always held the regret that we should have won the 2003 world cup. That Indian playing XI inspired true cricket for a fan like me. Plus, we reached the finals in an overseas pitch,  something that is very difficult to achieve.

But after world cup came the disappointment period. If truth be declared, i wanted Sachin to retire then from both forms of cricket. There was nothing else for him to prove anymore. The 100th century media pressure appeared superficial to us. For people like us, 10K runs or 100th century never matters, these are by-products, the filings that you get as a stone is carved into sculpture. What matters to us is the class and the grace of those scored runs.

There was disappointment as it took him such a long time to achieve his 100th hundred but what followed after that was even more frustrating. Sachin, who had been so private in his victories, was paraded like a Miss Universe winner. The Ambani party proved such a big farce.  It was like a marriage ceremony where unknown friends and  relatives dance while you are just standing and watching them from a distance, unable to share any merriment. We felt betrayed. The media circus that followed was trying very hard to make it into a climax of a masala bollywood movie.And us, the indie art house lovers,  could not do anything about it.

Deep down, we knew that it is time for him to step down. But who would bell the cat? Everybody hesitated and punted it back on to him - "Only Sachin can decide when he should retire". Harsha Bhogle thought different and articulated intelligently through this article.

As i heard news of his retirement,  the inevitable had happened, a feeling of satisfaction took over soon followed by a sweet nostalgia. 10 years ago, me and my friends would often discuss this - what would Sachin's stats look like when he retires? I do not recall what our estimates were but a world cup win did feature in it.

 Looking back, if Dravid is remembered as the Wall - thou shall not fall, Sachin would be remembered as a lone Samurai who never gave up hope even if circumstances around him were not optimistic.  The man who stood his ground based on the strength of his convictions on his ability, the man who forced everybody else to see things his way, the man who gave a sense of belief to an entire nation. I learnt the meaning of "When the going gets tough, the tough gets going" from him. In future, experts will sing glories of his statistics, teach his shot inventions to youngsters and talk about his long career but they will still be holding back his true impact on this sport, on this nation. Our lives have been shaped by this genius, we the nation owe a big debt of gratitude to him.

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