May 02, 2006

Belated Happy Birthday Mr. S.R. Tendulkar.

Appeared in The Hindustan Times in May, 2006

On 24th April, somewhat predictably, a page in most dailies was dedicated to Sachin Tendulkar’s Birthday, his glory days et al. There was also an un Wasim Akram like article toasting Tendulkar, allegedly written by Wasim Akram. Overall stats, and comparisons with Inzi and Lara too, were predictably in place. It all looked imposing, and gave one the impression that everything had been hunky dory all along.

Strange, for not too long back, most of these papers, barring none, had made a business punning away on Tendulkar – what was it, Endulkar? Sports’ correspondents and even P3P reporters sharpened their pen knives – the end was nigh story was hot enough for the City supplements to go to town with.

Then the stats and comparisons were a lot less gracious – they tended to highlight Tendulkar’s loss of form in both ODIs and tests – to undermine them further, there were comparisons with top scorers through 2005-06 like Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid, both of whom were going through the best form of their lives. It didn’t matter then, that both players’ career averages were just a shade above Tendulkar’s, in spite of a genuine slump in the latter’s cricketing fortunes. And that Sachin’s achievements were over 132 tests and 16 years, compared to say, 100 tests and fewer years’ played, for both Ponting and Dravid. As for ODI overall comparisons between the three players, Tendulkar is ahead in terms of games played, runs, hundreds and strike rate. But with new forces emerging in international cricket, records are being bettered and battered.

As for the battering Sachin’s body took over sixteen years, it was communicated via graphic bio-class-like diagrams – tennis elbow became the biggest joke and Docs (sports expert or not) specialised on Sachin’s body and his chances to recuperate. Astrologers starred in the Sachin show – there was talk of new-jersey numbers, good years and bad years ahead. Leading cricket websites churned out highly analytical articles, giving more credence to the Endulkar theory. They were crisp, cutting and caustic.

Across news channels, pre and post match debate fussed about Sachin’s loss of form/ability. Question hour after matches resembled pandemonium in Parliament – and whenever Sachin scored frugally, the nation was up in arms – crazy callers voiced their dementia, far lesser cricketers (retired and fired) indulged in senseless rhetoric about what plagued Sachin Tendulkar.

Not surprisingly, Sunil Gavaskar repeatedly went on record in his column, not only supporting Sachin, but also avoiding needless criticism. At times, when Sachin failed, he discreetly didn’t mention him. And when India won handsomely minus Sachin, he spoke in positives, rather than dwell on the negatives. When Sachin was at the peak of his powers, SMG on TV, in all seriousness declared if Sachin didn’t score 50 test hundreds he’d personally spank him. And when Sachin equaled his 34 hundreds, he was the first to jump with joy in the commentary box. Also through this tumultuous time, another big supporter of Sachin’s has been his childhood buddy, Vinod Kambli. One may argue that this is the good old Mumbaiya network at play again? But then, how do you explain SMG’s relentless support for a down and out Saurav Ganguly? It possibly takes a player, and at times more than that, to appreciate true class, and know when to go easy.

Suggestions were also made that the same rules should apply to all players - Sachin, Saurav, Kaif and Sehwag. The Saurav episode has lost all perspective and appears to be a shut case. With Kaif, it is clear the team management sees a long-term possibility in him – at least till the 2007 world cup for now. And the way he’s been in-and-out of the test side, it appears just, to say the least. With Sehwag, the press got a tad impatient – and ironically, here the comparisons with Tendulkar emerge again. Granted, that Sehwag has gone through indifferent ODI form in 2005-06 (and his last ODI hundred has been a while), but is the press aware, that till only yesterday, when Sehwag scored over 40, India’s winning chances were above 80%. Have we lost sight that India’s ODI successes before Yuvraj’s run-of-form and pre-Dhoni were largely scripted by Sachin and Sehwag, not to mention Saurav? Ironically, all three under siege are highly successful ODI openers. One lost his position, and consequently his place in the team. Now, Dravid has started to open, wonder what lies ahead?

Irrespective of the future of Indian cricket, it’s clear that the cricket pundits and experts, balanced as they have tried to be, have been sucked in by a topical madness that has hit the nation – it appears they are coming to grips with the supposed end of a national treasure, akin to, the dry up of the Ganges. Who do you blame when something like that happens? You blame the Ganges, right?

For once, however, everyone must realise that the Ganges becomes fallible, because it is corrupted by its millions of devotees. And it’s no different with Sachin Tendulkar.

Runs have flowed from his bat for sixteen years. They have made believers out of infidels. And if someone finds that tough to fathom, at least, save us this travesty. At least don’t stab him in his already vulnerable back one day, and then do an about face, and bear hug on the next. It would be apt like an acquaintance to send one of those Belated happy birthday….Mr S.R. Tendulkar. Yeah, he won’t mind that at all.

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