The decision to invite the West Indies for a couple of Tests is not exactly a favour to Sachin Tendulkar. According to Arunabha Sengupta, the BCCI has all but ascertained that the greatest of careers is tarnished with murky fumes during its final days.
Is the series against West Indies a hastily hatched plan to enable Sachin Tendulkar play his 200th Test match at home?
Whatever be the underlying reasons, the overwhelming public verdict will surely point to that. Besides, this is a country where emotions rule the senses and most of opinions are peeled off from the top layer of headlines fed every day by a media for whom sense of responsibility is an overhead.The mantra of ‘individual over team’ is bound to be chanted in chorus resulting in a crescendo, drowning all the voices that speak of the man’s yeoman’s service to Indian cricket during the last two decades and more.
Would it not have been infinitely better if our endearing memories of the 200th Test had been a pitched battle against Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander in South Africa — a country where no other Indian batsman but the master has ever been successful? Did Sachin Tendulkar really need a helping hand to script his destiny?
Always on the cards
Looking at it from some angles, this was always on the cards.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has seldom managed to look beyond its coffer. Having suddenly stumbled across enormous financial clout due to the massive interest in cricket in the sub-continent, the BCCI has splashed around in the riches without quite developing the responsibility that comes with such almost autonomous power.
The Board’s policy has been simple and straightforward — to make lots of money. And they have excelled in doing that, grabbing the maximum number of eyeballs — their own vision focussed keenly on the bottom line rather than the game. They have demonstrated the trait Stanley Baldwin made memorable in his London speech in 1931, ‘power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot.’
To do this they have for long turned the game into a spectacle at every available opportunity. And on their way to becoming the most financially successful sporting body, they have long realised that Sachin Tendulkar is most lucrative cash cow in the cricketing world. And they have milked it to the limits with their grubby palms.
With the great man at the very end of his career, is it surprising that the final attempt will be made to squeeze the final drop?
They had already manufactured huge furore and fanfare around the largely meaningless and mathematically questionable milestone of 100 hundreds. Adding up centuries in two different formats of the game does not really make sense, but when the target is the Indian public such considerations can be done away with.
They have experienced the drawing power of the Tendulkar brand even in the final stages of his glorious career. Even when the bat runs dry of runs, a wave while fielding on the remote boundary lines drives the crowd to ecstasies of delight. They come rushing back in hordes for just a wave.
So, won’t the man playing his 200th Test match in India be fool-proof guarantee of untold commercial success? It might be marketed as the biggest extravaganza in Test cricket ever. Never mind the criticising voices, this is India after all. With enough strategic and loud promotion, the same carping crowd will come flocking in their thousands to see the maestro play his landmark Test. And the choice of West Indies as an opponent is ideal as well, with the absence of a decent attack boosting the chances of a Tendulkar success.
With its track record, was anyone really expecting BCCI not to cash in on these opportunities?
Where does that leave Tendulkar?
However, what have these curious manipulations of the international cricket calendar done for the champion batsman in the middle of the entire farce? Has it made his task easier?
It now seems to the world that Tendulkar, the supreme batsman of his times, has to be helped by his board with the choice of venue and opposition. Moments after the news was made public, Barry Richards expressed his incredulity in response to the Facebook update of H Natarajan, executive editor of CricketCountry : “BCCI picked opposition too”.
To the world, the fabulous Tendulkar saga is suffering from an unnecessary dip in murky waters towards the very end of one of the greatest cricket careers. Sadly, the BCCI, perhaps in fondness for their star attraction, and more probably for the sole purpose of basking in the reflected glory and riches, cannot be less bothered.
The man himself, as written in these pages before, is perhaps not in the driver’s seat of his own journey anymore. There are too many forces at work governing his last days, and not all with his best interests in their hearts.
And amidst unpleasant reactions from his own countrymen and the world, where does it leave the master himself?
The pressure on him is going to be even more than all that the inhuman amount he has faced till now. Failure in these Tests will mean brickbats making for him, laced with with extraordinary vitriol, and all because of the peculiar decision by the BCCI. For many, the choice of the opposition will make him the villain of the piece.
Even if he scores big, the success will carry the taint of being manufactured. If indeed he does not go to South Africa after that, numerous idle tongues will wag furiously about his supposed obsession with records and opportunistically opting out of a difficult tour. And even if he embarks on the difficult tour, it will be with the additional burden of sin of having played an easy opposition at home for his 200th Test match.
Either way, the retirement of the best batsman of India could be tarnished by fumes of speculative allegations.
Did Tendulkar’s stupendous career really require such soot and grime at the very end? The BCCI has taken giant steps to all but ensure that the end of his playing days will be clouded in calumny.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)