Monday, 2 April, 2007

Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar. I have no clue what emotions the name inspires among fifteen year olds today. Most of them would’ve been too young to watch his greatest years as they unfolded, and some of them would have started watching cricket seriously only during the last three or four years, during which period he has been a shadow of his former self. A few fifteen year old Indian boys may be wondering what all the fuss is about looking at how the media has reacted to what Ian Chappell has written in an article.

To people in their twenties, including those such as me who refuse to believe that they are no longer eighteen or nineteen, and that most of the Bangladesh team is younger than them; Sachin Tendulkar has been one constant presence in their lives, and someone who was supposed to be forever young. Sachin in my first year of serious watching, 1996, at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, was someone who would punch the ball through the covers while standing as tall as his diminutive frame would allow him to, right on his toes. In 1998, in the Chennai test against Australia, he’d slog sweep Warne mercilessly in a masterful third innings 155, and rock right back, his back foot dangerously close to disturbing the wicket, whenever Warne pitched marginally short and pull him devastatingly. The footwork, the precision, the calculated assault on a great bowler at the peak of his powers – it left everyone astounded. At the time, he was 25. He was in his tenth year as a test cricketer, and I was too young when he made centuries at Old Trafford, the SCG and the WACA as an eighteen year old. All of this made him a legend long before my generation even got round to imitating him on the streets.

He was then, before Rahul Dravid came of age, surrounded by decent batsmen not blessed with great techniques, and Mohammad Azharuddin would play one glorious knock now and then. He therefore ended up as a tragic hero in so many abject displays by Indian batsmen, most notably in Chennai, again, against Pakistan in 1999, when he steered India to within 16 runs of the target with a glorious 136 on a turner against Saqlain at his absolute peak, only to find the tailenders collapsing, like his back did midway through his innings. The Chepauk crowd showed its appreciation of a great test match by giving the Pakistan players a standing ovation as they did a victory lap, something that makes the hair stand up whenever I think of it, a great moment for sport.

He was blamed for not finishing it off, and this has been an albatross round his neck throughout his career.

The emergence of Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Ganguly as batsmen who could be counted upon to score runs under most circumstances should logically have lifted a great burden off Tendulkar’s shoulders, and made him bat with much greater freedom, and flamboyance. This, I suspect, would have happened had it not been for the endless injury problems that have plagued him. His back, shoulder, elbow and toe have collectively curtailed the natural flow of his game, and the feet no longer waltz into position, and the bat no longer flows through the arc it used to describe in executing the drive back past the bowler, probably the one stroke which stands out as what can be called his trademark; his feet skipping one step forward after the ball has been dispatched with a mere jab of a perfectly vertical bat.

What has stood out most in all my years of watching him bat, is the ease with which he handles every kind of bowling, making it look like he’s in no trouble whatsoever, until the ball he gets out. I have seen many perfect innings of fourteen and thirty eight from him, where every ball had met the middle of his bat, other than the ones he’d left alone.

Even when he’s not scoring quickly he makes it look like he knows what he’s doing, until he gets out and makes people wonder why he’d been padding away ball after ball from novice left arm spinners on a flat track.

This sort of thing has been happening a lot more frequently these days, and the consistency that marked him out as a special batsman is no longer there.

Does this mean that he should retire? Maybe from one day cricket alone, which there is too much of, and where he has little left to achieve?

Who can say? Certainly I don’t want to watch an Indian team line up without Sachin, although I realise he is much closer to the end of his career than its middle, and that he may not ever be the same again. Do we want to remember him for all those dismissals off the inside edge, going down on his knees to suggest the ball kept low?

I don’t know, and I would leave it to him (as if my opinion matters to him!) to decide what he’s going to do with his cricketing life. Maybe one last shot at captaincy? I don’t see why not; he’s usually brimming with ideas (as can be seen in his bowling, which probably merits another essay), has matured a lot since his first two terms, and it may offer him what he needs most at this moment, a challenge.

Whatever happens, I will always remember the glee on his face that greets some poor batsman’s downfall after he’s done him with a wrong ‘un, the helmet in one raised arm and the MRF in another after yet another hundred; and his inimitable voice as he gives another man of the match interview will play in my mind saying how ‘the ball was coming on to the bat nicely’.


Harini said...

hardcore sachin fan, i can see?
nice post.

KK Iyer said...

actually, i've liked him a lot through his career; he's never been my favourite player though...

sparrow said...

whoa!! wat a fan....liked the post....too good...u really got some talent boy.

Sanju Ayyar said...

I once read somewhere that 'Talent does what it can. Genius does what it must.' Sachin, to me, undoubtedly belongs to the second category. But then, he's got a flaw. He's human. Nice post da.

I personally think Greg fucked up the team. And after having done that with precision, put in his papers, packed his bags, and went where he took the Indian team's fortunes to. Down under.

Arunesh Kumar said...

Mr Iyer,

Although I've been peeping into your blog now and then, I haven't read them seriously(Blame my call center lifestyle ).

Today, I was reading one post after another in no particular order and I stop by the end of this one to say "You got to be a writer dude."

Now speaking about Sachin Tendulkar. There are a lot of memories and the one that still flashes is his Knock against Australia in the Coco Cola cup(I guess), Sharjah in 97-98.

Amidst the Sand Storm he was whacking the shit out of Kasprowicz. I Would want that memory to stay there forever. What I dont want is a sad end to his career, like him being written off.
To ask for the least I'm hoping that the last few lines of your post to come true.

KK Iyer said...

@ sanju
got to agree with you there, about mr. chappell. seriously screwed up what was a wobbly, but decent structure; and what may, with luck and some small changes here and there, have been a golden generation of cricketers.
@ aruna
good to have your comments here, mate! and it's coca-cola, not coco-cola... yeah, he mauled kasprowicz that day, i was watching the highlights of that match on ten sports the other day, and those brutal sixes, and tony greig's hyperactive commentary (especially when damien martyn dropped a tough chance on the edge of the boundary) will stay in the memory far longer than all the negative images of the recent past...