Sachin Tendulkar went through the motions of celebrating his 100th international century, but every movement was slow, strained and unsmiling. Arunabha Sengupta wonders what it was that made the master so subdued even as he reached a milestone that will perhaps remain unchallenged forever.
Understated in his celebrations
The helmet did come off. The bat was raised. Eyes closed, face turned up, half upraised hands flanking the head, and he did seem to utter the same silent prayer. Everything seemed quite like the 99 previous occasions, but there was distinct difference. And not all of it could be attributed to the hair.
One does not associate Sachin Tendulkar with the coarse celebrations nowadays abundant in the Indian team, but his winning smile is almost as wide and widely known as the blade of his bat. That smile was conspicuous by its absence. The gestures of jubilance came off as if from the recesses of memory, reactions conditioned by 99 rounds of rehearsal. But, it was like watching the live proceedings on a dial up connection. Every movement seemed slow, laboured.
Never before had the greatest batsman of modern times looked so subdued in his celebrations. Was it the realisation that it had not been one of his better innings? Was it the relief after a year of relentless hype and hysteria? Or had the achievement left him too emotional?
The nation had grinded to a halt with Tendulkar closing in on the elusive century. The silence in the loudest of countries was almost deafening enough for a ball pitched in Mirpur make itself heard on the streets of Mumbai. As he ran for the 100th run, millions of Indians around the world went into a simultaneous orgy. The team mates erupted, and even the Bangladesh players rushed up to congratulate him with heartfelt joy. But the man in the middle remained stoical. It is a record that will probably never be broken, but the one who set it also set his face in a stony expression.
Did the hurt show through?
Why? We may never know. It can go down as yet another of the innumerable mysteries of Indian cricket.
The only clue that we have pointing to the working of his inscrutable mind is the way he pointed at the Indian tricolour on his helmet.
Perhaps for the first time the relentless criticism of the past year had finally seeped through and ruffled his personal space.
Yellow journalism and traditionally biased reportage, going viral with the exploding number of experts frequenting social networks, the favoured game of the season being to call for Tendulkar’s head, millions of people with zilch to show as contribution to the nation alleging his 33,000 runs and 99 centuries to be products of selfishness, worldwide people asking him to look in mirrors and retire – the last 12 months had been a graphic demonstration of how to defile national treasures.
Perhaps the great man, for once, wanted to make a point that no amount of runs with his bat, no amount of wins engineered by his performance could ever convince a country full of people rooted to fallacious fables, holding on to moronic myths. Perhaps it was his way of saying that all the 100 centuries I have scored have gone down and added to the Indian total in a way no one has ever done for any country.
It is indeed sad that someone respected the world over as the best batsman of modern times has to deal with so much arm-chair contempt for his 22 years of sweat and blood in his own country. Has the cherished journey, which has reached a landmark people did not even know about, left him a disappointed man, pained at the careless way every insignificant voice has managed to trivialise his unparalleled achievements?
The resumption of finger pointing
As Irfan Pathan and Pravin Kumar leaked runs like two water-balloons entrusted as pincushions, Bangladesh overhauled the Indian total of 289. And it being India, thousands of accusing fingers, supported by the team against individual cliché and united by collective behaviour, pointed towards Tendulkar’s strike rate as he approached his century.
Well, in this country of paradoxes, one of the downsides of being a champion is that you can never win.
As a culture, we are not used to sporting greats. When one such rare individual appears, we tend to bestow esoteric powers on them, expecting them to be the mythological gods we grow up listening about. And finally, when the brilliant but mortal men cannot keep up with our soaring expectations, we drag them down to earth with an acceleration that defies reason, logic and decency.
In such a land, it is indeed strange that it was the first time in 22 years that we saw Sachin Tendulkar display symptoms of hurt.
All I can say as an attempted antidote is that there still remain teeming millions who believe that their lives have been blessed by being allowed to share the same era as the great man. Here is hoping that this realisation will bring a smile on his lips when he takes off his helmet and raises his bat the next time.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)