Is the great Sachin Tendulkar destiny's child no more?

The crowning glory of Tendulkar’s career arrived at his hometown Mumbai, in the World Cup 2011 final as his teammates paraded him atop their shoulders around the Wankhede Stadium. The scenes were as if out of a dream; almost too good to be true. If ever there was a time for one of the greats of the game to exit stage, this was it © Getty Images

By Madan Mohan

 

Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal on Sunday in a crucial CB Series fixture against Australia sums up his Australian sojourn and the last few months, generally. His partner Gautam Gambhir hesitated, he was slow off the blocks, Brett Lee ran across the pitch to cover the throw and David Warner produced an incredible direct hit. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Fame is a fickle friend and Tendulkar has learnt it the hard way in these recent, difficult months. 

 

Tendulkar has been India’s favourite son from at least the 1996 World Cup onwards, if not even earlier. To sum up a popular status update or internet forward, by whatever name called, Tendulkar was playing cricket before the Gulf War broke out and he has played on to witness the United States of America electing an Afro-American president. Through a turbulent and rather hectic phase in modern history, Tendulkar has remained one of the few constants for India and the cricketing world as such and his mere appearance on a cricket field is reassuring to his fans; and there are millions of them.

 

The crowning glory of Tendulkar’s career arrived at his hometown Mumbai, in the World Cup 2011 final as his teammates paraded him atop their shoulders around the Wankhede stadium. For years, Tendulkar has the beast of burden for India’s batting and their gesture was a symbolic acknowledgment of his contribution to Indian cricket. The scenes were as if out of a dream; almost too good to be true. If ever there was a time for one of the greats of the game to exit stage, this was it. 

 

He chose to play on and the events of the next few months emphasise that, indeed, the scenes of April 2, 2011 were almost too good to be true. It would have been a perfect ending to the career of Mr. Perfect. Instead, there was to be a cruel twist in the tale.  

 

As he renewed his quest for an elusive 100th international century, runs deserted him.  He generally appeared to be in good nick but, quite uncharacteristically, failed to convert his starts and has now played 32 international innings without a century. He has consumed 760 international innings for his 99 tons, which works out to a career average rate of one century in roughly every seven-eight matches.

 

This is not Tendulkar’s first slump. He had a lean patch in 2006, and though he regained his form in 2007, he went through a patch of 30 international innings without a century. It’s not very different from the present scenario, is it?

 

And yet, the reaction from the media, the commentators, the spectators and viewers couldn’t have been more different. There were many questions over his return to the ODI squad for the Commonwealth Bank (CB) Series as he had skipped three ODI series prior to that since the World Cup. And with each low scoring innings, the numbers of those asking for his head have swelled. Make no mistake, he has indeed had a poor series with a top score of 48 and an average of 20.42 from seven outings. 

 

But I am not sure anything would have prepared him to the reaction of the viewers to his lean patch. Many former cricketers have chimed in to suggest his time is up, be it Kapil Dev or Neil Harvey. Many journalists have described his pursuit of the 100th ton as “selfish”. A Times of India poll voted him out too. One does not even know for sure if he is indeed in hot pursuit of said milestone, but public perception has changed rather dramatically.

 

The heady days of the World Cup hangover seem so far away it is hard to believe it was just 10 months before this day. If last April, Tendulkar was hoisted high on the nation’s shoulders, today it’s almost as if he has been forcibly dismounted back to the ground. The fact that he played a stellar role in taking Team India to a World Cup win after 28 years appears to have already been buried in the archives. At any rate, angst over his recent form is the immediate concern and past glory has been consigned post haste to the history books.

 

It is said that even a great singer is only as good as his last concert. Tendulkar has never been judged by such a stern measuring rod, partly because he has been more or less as good as ever for years and years. But he may have to come to terms with that cliché now; it might at least help him put in perspective the drastic change in the nation’s relationship with its favourite son. 

 

At the moment, his and India’s further participation in the CB series hinges on the result of Friday’s match between Sri Lankaand Australia. His 39 against Sri Lanka on Tuesday may well be his last runs in Australia. But they may not be his last runs in ODIs because he has been selected for the upcoming Asia Cup tournament in Bangladesh. In the process, presenting him with a few more opportunities to get that elusive record… and, more importantly, some big runs.

 

But Sunday’s run out suggests that good fortune is in short supply for Tendulkar. He missed his appointment with destiny and now has to woo Lady Luck all over again. The man who was seemingly destined to play cricket is now living on a prayer.           

 

(Madan Mohan is a 26-year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/ )