Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sachin, greatness that goes beyond cricket

Just when the Berlin Wall was being broken down 20 years ago, the cricketing world started talking about a boy wonder who would rise to be a cricketing colossus. Two decades in sport is more than a generation and Sachin Tendulkar carries on and on--not wanting to think about the day he would have to stop playing the game.

Everyone who writes about cricket has to write about Tendulkar. The two are inseparable entities. It clearly underscores the fact that he is one of the greatest cricketers and in modern day parlance an entertainer par excellence with the highest TRP rating because he scores runs by tons with relentless brilliance.

Tendulkar's greatest quality is--whatever he might say about his pre-match nervous energy--that he has an air of deliberate confidence before he goes in to bat that he is going to make runs. And make runs he did with regularity. This uncanny ability places him a cut above two of his contemporaries whose names are invariably taken in the same breath, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting. But both admit that Tendulkar has something extra that makes him stand out.

The greatness of Tendulkar is that he spreads his skill through his teammates, lifting their morale and competence. Anyone who has played with him swears that he has benefited by his ability to transmit the knowledge about the game. Every player, who has shared with him the dressing room, struggles for words to describe the genius of the man. He is beyond their comprehension.

If ever a player has overshadowed him, for sheer class of batsmanship, it is V V S Laxman. After a record 353-run fourth-wicket partnership in the 2004 Sydney Test when Laxman hit 30 fours in his 178 to Tendulkar's 33 in his unbeaten 241, the master put the artistry of V V S in perspective.

"When Laxman was playing those shots, I decided it was best to just watch and enjoy his batting rather than try to do what he was doing."

Tendulkar made quite a few subtle and not so subtle corrections in his batting from time to time to suit his physical ability. There are some hundreds of his wherein he chose to drag his second fifty inexplicably after reaching the first fifty in no time. He sought to justify that the bowling was of top class or that he was playing in the interests of the team. It is difficult to agree that any bowling could chain him.

Looking at the unabashed praise lavished at Tendulkar it may appear he has few failings, both as cricketer and person. None of his contemporaries or his huge league of admirers, including some greats of the game, seems to find any human weakness in him. This is quite unlike Don Bradman who was not spared by his teammates who found chinks in his persona even as they praised him sky-high as a cricketer. Sachin, his admirers say, is more humane and likeable, though as captain he was too stubborn, refusing to deviate from his pet fads.

Watching him these 20 years was one of the pleasures of making a living watching sport. Memories take one back to New Zealand in 1989-90, Tendulkar's second international tour after the debut one to Pakistan a couple of months earlier under a different captain. Those were the days when on tours there was not so much of nitpicking by the media and the teenager got all the protection he needed.

Seldom has a player caught the imagination of a country as he did on that tour. He was the talking point wherever people discussed cricket. "What's special about that kid," the cabbies wanted to know and "I can't imagine a 16-year-old facing Richard Hadlee who has taken 400 Test wickets," said an amateur painter as he sketched the ambience of Christchurch, the garden city with Gothic architecture in South Island, as a memento to be given to him.

Twelve years down the road in an interviewed at Harare, he was a confident young man. He knew what to expect from the media and how to sidestep uncomfortable questions. Asked about the two captains he played under, he would say he had played only under Azharuddin and it was too early to assess Sourav Ganguly. Anticipating the next question, he hastened to add that the '92 side was the best team he had played in.

The only time he was irked by criticism was when, in the aftermath of the World Cup disaster in the Caribbean two years ago, there were shrill calls in the media for his head. He took on coach Greg Chappell and the Indian cricket board asked him to show cause for his outbursts. Otherwise, he always let his bat do the talking and it silenced and shamed his critics.

He continues to make politically correct statements, though, for once, he did not mince words on Marathi Manoos, saying that he was a proud Maharashtrian, but an Indian first, and that Mumbai belongs to India.

Perhaps, Tendulkar from now on will be taken seriously when he speaks on subjects other than cricket.

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