By Anuranjan Roy
Now, weren’t most Indians being too sentimental about Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement? Well… we once made a super-hit movie out of a plot which involves a rock-star’s mom sacrificing/electrocuting herself on a rigged electric guitar to save her son, who will then avenge her death by winning a disco dancing championship (Mithun’s “Disco Dancer” is the movie… before you lose my respect forever by asking). Yes, the bar for sentimentality is set kind of high for us Indians. So… no, we are like this only!
Why did he think himself to be bigger than the team, bigger than cricket, bigger than his country? After close to 25 years on the international stage under the full glare of media hawks, spent with generations of team-mates and opponents on and off the field, let’s total the number of complaints that players or ex-players have made about Tendulkar’s unbearable ego-mania. Zero. Sorry, but votes from armchair based mind readers don’t count.
What kind of a legend is he, failing like he did in the World Cup finals of 2003 or 2011? Isn’t the greatness of a player defined by his performances on the greatest of stages? Let’s start by completely ignoring the fact that India was in those two finals only because of his performances in the preceding matches. That would require just too much logic. His centuries against Australia, England, Pakistan, West Indies and South Africa don’t count for anything because *derisive chuckle* he scored centuries against Bangladesh, Kenya and Zimbabwe too. Apparently, the ‘true’ greats have a golden “Don’t score centuries against minnows” rule which was violated by our ordinary Tendulkar.
Still, isn’t the non-stop hero worship and the tiring over-use of God in every fan quote about him nausea inducing? Consider this… Tendulkar did not bribe the fans who first carried the famous “Cricket is my religion, Sachin [Tendulkar] is my God” banner to do so. Here was a batsman who really meant that much to his fans — from the neighbourhood panwallah to Virat Kohli. Yes, it is somewhat unfortunate that the majority of his fan base has struggled to come up with any original compliment since but that’s not his fault. He has never run around demanding to be called God. If anything, it’s the opposite. If anyone has anything to learn about respect for the game and fellow players, it’s from Tendulkar.
All well and good but any Ram, Deepak and Hari would agree that he had lost his touch. Why the struggle to play on? Wasn’t this all about him being record-hungry trying to play his 200th test somehow, just like the sorry drama around his 100th hundred? India lost *so many* matches because of his *greed* for hundreds. Why yes, it’s obvious that having 100 runs less on the board would have helped India win the match! *Sarcasm*
Quitting the only life he has known, adored by hundreds of millions and playing a game he loves, should be the easiest thing. The extraordinary self-belief that he has used to keep out the madness of expectations and design the monument that is his cricketing career can be turned off like a power switch. Easy peasy. Wonder why he seemed to find it so difficult? Must be because he is self-obsessed. Now, it can’t be because he is only human. No. Just can’t be.
I must at this point confess to being a very rabid Tendulkar fan though, I may have dropped some hints in the paragraphs above. My first clear memory of Tendulkar is of seeing him walk back forlorn to the pavilion after one of his brave but futile efforts as part of the reliably unreliable early 90s Indian cricket team on a television set which was about 10 years older than me at that point of time. My mom was talking to him through the television, consoling him “Shonaarcheley! Shonaarcheley!” ["Golden boy! Golden boy!" A Bengali mom's way of telling her son to keep up the good work]
From that day on, Tendulkar, about the same age as my elder brother became part of my family. As I am sure, he was adopted by millions of Indians as their son, grandson, brother or friend in similar circumstances through the decades. In our country which had just opened its doors to the wild and somewhat scary international market, Tendulkar was our world class export. In his niceness and humility, we saw our perceived Indian character retained and in his unquestionable talent, we found confidence that we had more than enough skill to stand strong in the big boys league.
More than three months have passed since Tendulkar retired and I have spent all this time trying to zero in on the perfect words to describe what his presence on a cricket pitch meant. I had wanted this piece of writing to bring unfiltered feelings of joy to his fans and reduce his critics to crying crumpled balls of shame. In the end, I have realised that for better or for worse, most people who know about Tendulkar have already formed their opinions about him and there is not too much I can do to change them. I can only speak for myself.
I will miss the unmistakable roar of the crowds no matter which Indian stadium he walked out into bat. I will miss the compact distinctive guard he took at the crease indicative of the perfection to come. I will miss the solid crack of the bat as the perfect straight drive, flick or cover-drive was executed, never to be seen in a competitive cricket match again. I will miss the look to the heavens as yet another milestone is reached and the joy that his time at the crease brought his fans, a heady dose of artistry in otherwise ordinary lives.
I did not watch his farewell speech live. Being an old school guy, that stinging feeling behind the eyes would have been mightily embarrassing. I did watch him make his last walk to the Wankhede pavilion after his dismissal for 74, on a television set in a far off country whose unpardonable crime is that it does not understand or appreciate cricket and therefore the true beauty of life. After due diligence and intensive racking of me brains, I have decided to plagiarise Sunil Gavaskar‘s words on commentary.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you
(Anuranjan Roy is an engineer by employment and a day-dreamer by profession. He blogs about cricket and/or life at http://virtual-inksanity.
Also on cricketcountry.com