The essay that follows was written sometime in 2009. The statistics quoted are a little dated, but their gist remains largely intact, and if anything, only reinforced by the inexorable flow of time the tyrant. And the qualitative aspects of the man’s play have seen more feathers added than I would have deemed possible to stuff into one hat. A World Cup victory, the first ODI double hundred, being part of the implausible ascendancy to Test supremacy, 100 international hundreds, and on and on, each individual achievement by itself worthy of being the shining highlight of many a great cricketer’s career. Perhaps this is Tendulkar’s singular genius, that records wilt and wither away at his feet, while the tireless willow keeps on going, grimly reaping runs from bowlers’ despondent cupboards like Death incarnate. Pre-Tendulkar cricket for me began with the electrifying ’83 World Cup victory that fully charged Indian cricket and drew fans like iron filings to a magnet. Post-83, however, that charge began draining like a leaky battery, reaching its nadir in the late 80’s. If it hadn’t been for Tendulkar’s emergence in 1989, Indian cricket would have continued it’s slow death spiral into mediocrity with flashes of brilliance here and there, never displaying the consistency or sustained brilliance needed to challenge the best gladiators in the arena. All of Indian cricket’s achievements post-89 bear Tendulkar’s stamp in varying degrees. He had almost become like background noise, ever-present, ever youthful, ever unassuming, like Brahman, shaping the destiny of Indian cricket through every beat of his heart and mind, even on the rare occasions when he didn’t play. For these reasons, his retirement, though largely imminent and bayed for as well as retracted many a time by many a capricious critic, yours truly included, comes as an electrifying shock, a bolt of white lightning from the blue yonder. The game itself, doubtless, will go on. However, it will be a different game. A game played by mere mortals.
Tendulkar himself was the answer to the burning question – “After Gavaskar, who?”. And what a bedazzling, bewitchingly brilliant answer he was, like a mighty fire that rejuvenated Indian cricket and gave it wings. That seemingly eternal flame will soon be extinguished, at least from the cricket field. The question though, will burn on. Through the dark night that will inevitably follow November 18th, 2013. It might be an extraordinarily long wait indeed for an answer approaching Tendulkar’s exalted calibre.
Without further ado, here is the humble 2009 offering at the altar of the indisputable God of cricket.
In Appreciation of Tendulkar
The consummate cricketer. Living legend. The most extraordinary expositionist of weilding a cricket willow since the times of Sir D, the universal standard of cricketing virtuousity. Colossus of Rhodes and David in one compact portable package, small enough to stow in your boot.
Poetry in motion on a cricket field, Wordsworth and Shelly would be writing about him were they alive today, and boy, would it warm the cockles of their cold English hearts, and provide succour to the devotedly devout, who throng by the thousands, braving cold, heat and rain, to catch but a glimpse of their diety in human flesh, that the vision of a single sublime straight drive or bunt over the slips might transport them to the highest realms of ecstasy given to mortals.
Short, stocky of build, curly mop of dark hair such as any black sheep would be proud possessor of, atop a head that rests ever so serenely on the fragilest of shoulders that ever bore the load of a billion expectations for quarter of a century without faltering, indeed, by delivering what no impassioned follower of the game had capacity to imagine in his wildest doting reveries. Sachin – the name stands for “purity” in Sanskrit. It also stands for the most subliminal, fine-grained, cultured and refined purity as deigned to grace a cricket field. One of the shrewdest “cricketing brains”, to use that hackneyed phrase, that strode cricketing arenas. Nature didn’t stop showering its bounty there. It bestowed upon him the deftest hands – as would do many a surgeon proud, the most graceful feet, as articulate as a ballerina performing “Swan Lake”. The laws of probability would lie in tatters were we to see the same remarkable combination of head, body and soul in another cricketer this century.
Let us set the paeans and panegyrics aside for a moment. Of these there are too many littering the annals of recent cricketing literature, if any of it passes muster to be deemed as such. Let us not overly concern ourselves with lifeless words that the neighborhood panwallah is as capable of pontificating as the most genteel and highly paid cricketing expert, albeit in a crasser and dare one say, more forthright tongue. Talk is cheap in these techno obsessed times, as the unceasing commercial assaults on our senses remind us, till such time as they have victoriously burnt their vulgar reverberations on our cerebral fabric.
Let us therefore, wise reader, turn to substance. Of which there are two facets. Statistics and opinion. Salt and pepper. No common ground, yet both indispensable to imparting the proper flavor. Now, statistics, admittedly, can be twisted to a degree, in accordance with whim and fancy to tell any tale conceivable. However, drill deep enough, and they tell a tale that cannot be ignored. They cannot, never will be able to, describe the how, but at describing the what, they can be a more than useful implement.
More than 12000 runs at an average of nearly 55 over the course of more than 150 test matches with more than 40 centuries are cricketing summits that Tendulkar has had the sole privilege of conquering to date, and with an elan, grace, self-assuredness, modesty and economy of movement as mere mortals would be hard-pressed to attain in any nocturnal vision. For demonstrating sustained excellence over such an extended period in all conditions alone, Tendulkar can be chalked down as one of the greats. 56% of his runs have come at a near 50 average against teams boasting traditionally strong fast bowling attacks – Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and to a lesser extent, England. 40% of his runs at a 50 plus average against teams that lay claim to excellence in spin bowling – Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia (in the era of Warne). No attack, no bowler, and no type of bowling has been able to establish comprehensive dominance over Tendulkar. It takes a rare breed to induce nightmares in the greatest legspinning genius the world has seen, and one of the most aggressive ones at that. Warne’s doffed hat to Tendulkar is the ultimate compliment from one colossus to another, and all debates could conceivably end at this point. However, for the sake of the Thomases of this world, born to doubt, whose lot it is to be faithless, we must go on.
Tendulkar, for the bulk of his career, has had the misfortune of being part of a toothless team, of always playing with 20 extra pounds on his shoulders as compared say, to a Ricky Ponting, who has for one, been able to play more freely, secure in the knowledge that the burden will be borne by tough characters to follow were he to drop it, and secondly, been able to bat against oppositions softened up by strong bowling attacks. Tendulkar on the other hand, has been the lone bulwark offering resistance in many a depressing drubbing, the lone pall-bearer of the funeral procession, as many of his statistically illustrious colleagues habituated to dereliction of duty, have let him down atrociously through much of his career.
When Tendulkar has fired, India has emerged victorious, as 4432 runs in 51 wins at an average of 65.17 with 16 hundreds amply demonstrate. Conversely, when Tendulkar misfired, which was not very often, the illusion of respectability shattered and defeat was a far likelier outcome, as his paltry 36.29 average (by his standards) in 43 losses reflect. Tendulkar has also scored 5256 runs at an average of 64.88 in drawn encounters, which points the needle of suspicion towards the general ineptness of Indian bowling attacks, struggling as it were to consistently take 20 wickets in all conditions. To sum up, a 27% failure rate, is what Tendulkar is often pilloried for, for public intolerance of failure is as much a defining feature of genius as unbridled adulation. To put it simply, geniuses aren’t allowed the liberty allowed mere mortals, of failing once in a while.
Statistics cannot do any more justice to Tendulkar’s genius than counting up the notes in all his symphonies would do to Mozart. A time may come when Tendulkar’s statistics will be overtaken by others. But what cannot be erased are the countless moments of delight that those watching had the privilege of experiencing, the act of conception, the coming together of body and spirit to breathe life into the idea, the sublimely flawless execution, the humility, the grace, the self-effacement. The strings of pearls that each of his hundreds represent.
I now yield the stage to those more knowledgeable by far, stalwarts in their own right, keen and astute observers of the game in addition to living legends, whose opinion carries more weight than all the preceding words can muster. Their solemn voices, in my opinion, suffice to put the final
nail into the coffin of the naysayers, the Thomases, the perennial carpers, to which lot, mortifyingly, yours truly belonged not too long ago, but has been raised to see the
light, by a sheer dazzling brilliance as only genius can commandeer for the gratification of the rest of the mortal race.
“Technically, you can’t fault Sachin. Seam or spin, fast or slow — nothing is a problem.”
– Geoffrey Boycott
“You take Don Bradman away and he is next up I reckon.”
– Steve Waugh
“I’ll be going to bed having nightmares of Sachin just running down the wicket and belting me back over the head for six. He was unstoppable. I don’t think anyone, apart from Don Bradman, is in the same class as Sachin Tendulkar. He is just an amazing player”
– Shane Warne
“I have seen him(Bradman) play. He was, and I am assured by all those who have played with and against him, easily the best. Don’t even put anyone in that bracket with him. He was far and away the best. With that information and when I am looking at the modern day players and players from that particular year, my view is that the best player I have ever seen, is Tendulkar.”
– Richie Benaud
“I still think Tendulkar is the best batsman in the world ahead of Steve Waugh and Lara.”
– Glenn McGrath
“He is 99.5 per cent perfect. I’d pay to see him.”
– Viv Richards
“He is currently the best batsman in the world.”
– Sir Gary Sobers
“Sachin is cricket’s God”
– Barry Richards
“He reminds me of myself.”
– Don Bradman