H Natarajan brings out the importance of Sachin Tendulkar’s 76 in the ongoing third India-England Test at Eden Gardens and explains why it has to rank among the most difficult ever in the maestro’s glittering international career.
Ballet is the soul, not the feet – Ana Pavlova
Sachin Tendulkar, in the frame of mind he has been in recent times, would concur with the Russian ballerina of the late 19th and early 20th century, widely regarded as the greatest ballet artist ever whose finest creative expression was in the role The Dying Swan.
There was nothing wrong with the footwork, Tendulkar may have felt. If anything was wrong it was his tormented soul – pilloried by the very people who once anointed him as their God. But Tendulkar should understand that people look up to God only as long as he delivers; else they question even Him. For mortals, it’s a need-based relationship of convenience. Check out the queue at the places of worship at examination time. Hardly anybody go to places of worship only to thank Him. We will do anything to get things done – even try and bribe Him. “Hanumanji, please help my son get 80% in his final exams and I will offer Rs 101 on a Saturday.” This, when her husband will be asking the same Hanumanji for an increase in salary! The wife thinks Hanmanji will succumb for Rs 100 bribe, while the husband thinks He is the richest moneybag who can dole out cash on request. Hanumanji is only an example here; it can be any God.
December 5, 2012 was not just any other day in Tendulkar’s life. There were many around the country who would came to witness the cricketing version of ‘The Dying Swan’. Tendulkar was waging multiple battles – battling the demons within his mind, the English bowlers on the field and, very sadly, the poisonous arrows that flew thick and fast from all sides. It hurt, understandably. He had remained cocooned from it all in his private space, coming out only to hone his skills with the same fierce commitment that he had shown 23 years ago when he first stepped out to play for India as a precocious teenager.
Wednesday’s searing examination was not so much about skills as it was about his guts and grit. The heaviness of his heart and mind showed in his footwork. The feet did not move like it once did at his pomp. He was caught in ugly positions in his bid for survival – not just at the wicket, but in international cricket. He was edgy, as were his strokes. His confidence was low and his run of poor scores long. In some ways, this was the mother of all examinations he faced on the cricket field in his unparalleled career. He had not scored a fifty in 10 previous innings, in which his highest was 27. And the manner in which he played the initial part of the innings, he did look like getting to the half-century mark. But then champions are made of a different mettle. He overcame that uncertain phase and showed an unmistakable growth confidence.
A flick off the first ball after bowled by Steve Finn gave Tendulkar his first-half century since January earlier this year – almost a year! – at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Tendulkar’s reaction after reaching the mark was very restrained, very similar to his emotions after getting to an unthinkable 100th international hundred earlier this year. It was a reflection of the hurt that was embedded his heart.
His colleagues in the pavilion stood and applauded in respect, none better than Harbhajan Singh who in unconcealed glee broke into a jig. The Sardar could empathise with the man who had been Indian cricket’s saviour over two decades, only to find him stoned by an ingrate nation.
The people who mattered, the people who understood cricket had all come in support of Tendulkar: his former team-mates (Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly etc), his present team-mates (Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir etc) and legends like Bishan Singh Bedi and Glenn McGrath. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) too backed him to the hilt. Those who deserted him were his fickle followers who left him when he most needed them. Some questioned his commitment to the team, some his intentions but worst of all some deemed him acting against national interest. Nothing would have hurt the patriot more than that.
The brittle Indian batting relied heavily on Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara, who had scored 117 and 206 not out at Ahmedabad. But both fell cheaply at Eden. When Tendulkar emerged out of the BC Roy Club House at the fall of Pujara’s wicket, the pressure of expectations would have been colossal. He arrived at the wicket several times in the past with far less on the board, but now he was fighting for the team’s survival and his own. What unfolded was one of the most intense examinations of his life, with James Anderson giving one of the finest exhibitions of fast bowling ever in Indian conditions. Tendulkar came through the torment on the field and the torture off it to score 76 runs, whose worth was as good as a hundred.
Arguably, this must have been his greatest triumph under pain after the hundred he scored against Kenya at Bristol just days following his father’s death in 1999. There was hurt then, and there was hurt now. He emerged triumphant in both, but the scars remain. One was an act of God – in evitable. The other was an act of man – completely avoidable.
The Tendulkar saga continues.
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan)