– Nirmal Shekar
So this is how it is going to end, with a bang or a whimper — in his own backyard, against a team that has long since lost its sheen as Test cricket’s greatest. Not in Johannesburg against the mighty South Africans, with Dale Steyn steaming in and the spectators on their feet, ignoring the cold-to-warming beer. No MCG or Lord’s for his last Test and the most famous farewell in sport this side of Don Bradman.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar will pad up for the last time in a few weeks’ time, in mid-November, for a Test match against the West Indies and, from that moment, sport in India — not just cricket — will be divided into two distinct eras: Before Tendulkar, After Tendulkar.
For, what came in between — the Sachin era — is at once unique and a passage of time that, for a variety of reasons, may never be matched in Indian sport.
Every genius has his own style of leave taking. Some do it in their peak with a self-satisfied I-told-you-so grin, hardly concealed; others simply fade away almost unnoticed.
But Sachin is not every genius. There has never been anybody like him in Indian cricket. There is unlikely to be anybody like him after his departure. In the event, he has to do it his way.
No other Indian sportsman ever managed to bat, bowl, serve, spike, box, kick, volley his way into the hearts of so many of us — seven billion plus, right? — but as a cricketer par excellence Sachin has done precisely that and you cannot even be sure that this is just another sporting farewell.
If sport is culturally mediated, then one man — five-foot-something, with a squeaky voice, without a single blot on his character in three decades despite the intense scrutiny — managed to bring about the sort of cultural revolution that only the great Don had matched in the past, during the Depression Era in the 1920s and well beyond.
He redefined the possible, and the impossible
This is precisely why the Sachin persona spreads its wings way beyond the cricketing arena. As a sportsman, he has redefined the possible, and the impossible. And, as awed men, women and children, whose only claim to a brush with greatness is a passport with the same validating stamp, we are forever obliged to him for helping raise our stock in lands many of us have never travelled to.
“Sachin, Sachin, Sachin,” said the teenager who was trailing two sports journalists in a cold wind-swept street in Seogwipo, the capital city of a tiny island, a volcanic outcrop, not too far from the feet of South Korea, in 1999. We were there to cover a Davis Cup tennis match. But the youngster knew us as men from Sachin’s country.
Rewind a few years to Sydney. It is always a risk to walk into a pub near closing time in Australia’s commercial capital. But a friend and I were rather bemused with this greeting one memorable summer night in the mid-1990s at the beachfront.
“You from India?” There was only the voice. The person it belonged to seemed almost comatose. Then we smiled. And the old man was urgently awake. “Give me your hand,” he said, having grabbed it even before that sentence was complete. “Gandhi, Tendulkar, chicken tikka masala, great country. I want to go there,” he blurted.
Sometimes, somewhere, some people get the ranking order wrong. But Sachin is always right up there. And he will be, even in his absence.
The only problem is, we have lost a popular yardstick. We, as Indians, were as good, or bad, as Sachin was. Now we have to try and find a whole new measure by which to evaluate ourselves.
Also, perhaps a new acronym will soon find its way into the Diagnostic Psychiatric Manual (DSM): Post Sachin Stress Disorder.
For fans of cricket, particularly those in India, the world as they knew it for close to 25 years has changed forever. Sachin Tendulkar’s decision to retire after his 200th Test match, scheduled against West Indies in mid-November, brings to a close a career like no other. There have been several exceptional careers in cricket, but save for Don Bradman there hasn’t been a phenomenon — in terms of the collective experience of the artiste — like Tendulkar. For long the most startling thing about his iridescent career was its inevitability. Great deeds were foretold when he was still a boy, the lofty predictions scarcely allowing for sport’s inherent caprice. “Gentlemen, Tendulkar never fails,” the late Naren Tamhane is reported to have said in a selection meeting, when someone wondered if a 16-year-old should be sent to Pakistan to face the likes of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, and Abdul Quadir. (Waqar Younis made his debut in the series as well.) And incredibly, almost supernaturally, beginning with the debut series in 1989, the master has fulfilled all but the wildest of predictions. Until the arrival and establishment of Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar was India’s lone reference for excellence in testing conditions abroad. The pressure to succeed every single time, the claustrophobia that comes with every little action being scrutinised can scarcely be conceived. And yet Tendulkar wore it with lightness and dignity, making brilliance commonplace, unremarkable.
Indeed the essence of Tendulkar’s greatness lies as much in his preternatural ability as in his handling the weight of being cricket’s biggest icon. For many in India, Tendulkar was God — a statement, from the evidence of the frenzy he frequently triggered, several came dangerously close to believing. Certainly much of Tendulkar’s batting seemed like a gift from above. But the impression short-changes him for no one worked harder to hone natural talent. And no one was less concerned with his image as a batsman — struggling for touch in England in 2007, he sublimated his ego and eked out runs. But just as the experts said the newer version of Tendulkar was effective but unappealing, he did what great champions do. He challenged popular perception by reprising later in the year in Australia, the thrilling, spontaneous style of his early years. At 37, he had his most fertile year (2010), scoring more than 1500 Test runs and forcing a revision of how both the great batsman and the old batsman is viewed. Longevity is the gold standard of greatness for nothing is left untested; the arc of Tendulkar’s career ensures it will be the new gold standard. In recent years, the national obsession with him hadn’t dimmed, but it had been distributed among the members of a resurgent Team India. These next two months will see a return to the old days, one final celebration of the Age of Tendulkar.
– Vijay Lokapally
His bat will rest, not his legacy. By choosing the stage for his final walk to the crease, Sachin Tendulkar has followed in the footsteps of Sir Donald Bradman. One of the finest batsmen of the modern era has, like the great Australian, given his fans a chance to be part of his retirement.
The privilege of picking the final day on the cricket field had eluded the likes of Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Anil Kumble.
It has not eluded Tendulkar, though. He has always played cricket on his terms. It is hardly surprising that he is quitting on his own.
The clamour for his retirement, sometimes uncharitable, did hurt him. It was becoming increasingly difficult for someone, so used to entering the field to delirious chants of “Sachin, Sachin” to depart in deathly silence. The failures with the bat had become frequent and the evenings lonelier.
Tendulkar was a universal phenomenon. Fans queued up outside Lord’s on the midnight prior to the match to catch a glimpse of him. In Australia, he was more popular than its icons. Even the Australians thought he was a better batsman than Bradman, though Tendulkar was never comfortable with that comparison.
In the West Indies, where he did not really have the best of times, he was as popular as Brian Lara. Pakistan’s legends never shied away from glorifying him as the greatest either. He was a cricketer with an international appeal.
It was tough to be Sachin Tendulkar. “Very tough,” he had confessed once. He rarely celebrated triumph, but always brooded in silence when the team failed.
The burden of expectations weighed heavy on his shoulders for a major part of his career. “You get Sachin, you get India,” was a line adopted unfailingly by the opposition. Often were they proved right.
It was Tendulkar’s character that epitomised his cricket. He never put a foot wrong. No colleague remembers Tendulkar venting his anger in the dressing room. No dissent on the field, no sledging. He remained a picture of dignity at the crease, playing the game as Bradman did, with the team’s interest above his own.
Tendulkar did have his moments of vulnerability, as seen in his recent cheap dismissals. But he ensured that they did not impact the team’s interests. Bad umpiring decisions hurt him the most, but he took them in his stride, suffered them in silence.
He did not do as well as captain. It was largely because he expected similar commitment and intensity from lesser mortals, from men less gifted.
One remembers the painful night in Barbados in 1997, when tears rolled down his cheeks as India had lost a match it should have won. He was inconsolable, unable to come to terms with the result. However, like a true leader, he never blamed anyone for the debacle.
He never brought disrepute to the game. He not just upheld but enhanced cricket’s culture with his exceptional contribution with the bat.
For a generation that raved about Gavaskar and Amitabh Bachchan in different fields, Tendulkar was the biggest star, uniting the nation with his deeds in cricket arenas all over the world.
Tendulkar was the reason cricket survived the wounds of match fixing. He is the reason the game has thrived with people flocking the stadium for just this man.
His zeal for the game was such that he was ready to bowl even at the most crucial of moments, especially the last over, even bowling a bouncer at Shane Warne in a Test match.
Adam Gilchrist savaged all bowlers but could never get the measure of Tendulkar, who could bowl spin and pace and everything in between. He could field anywhere; he was a fine out-fielder too, a quality that is often overshadowed by his stupendous batting records.
He married his tremendous talent with rare discipline, always honing his skills. He was always the first to give credit to team members. He often hailed Laxman for his ability to bat with tailenders, and had words of high praise for Zaheer Khan after a record-breaking last-wicket partnership with him. He said a hundred times that it was a “pleasure” to watch Virender Sehwag bat, and how Dravid always inspired him.
Bradman received a standing ovation when he walked back for the final time in a Test. Let us accord Tendulkar, our boy from Bandra, the same respect that the boy from Bowral got, and celebrate his humungous impact on the game. Like Bradman’s average of 99.94, Tendulkar’s 100 international centuries will stand the test of time.
One hears the line, ‘The game will not be the same’ when an icon retires. It had never rung truer.