“Beneath the helmet, under that unruly curly hair, inside the cranium, there is something we don’t know, something beyond scientific measure. Something that allows him to soar, to roam a territory of sport that, forget us, even those who are gifted enough to play alongside him cannot even fathom. When he goes out to bat, people switch on their television sets and switch off their lives.” – BBC sports
Tying the left pad first followed by a peculiar movement of thighs, a diminutive man with curly hair walks flailing a heavy weapon which has something encrypted in blood- MRF it says. Not so high above on his forehead, tinkles the tri-colored flag, as if a souvenir from the thousand battles won. We call the warrior, Sachin Tendulkar, and the battlefield in not only cricket. Over the years a lot has changed, advent of T20, power play, young legs, flashy hitting and even Sachin’s bat and body( after numerous surgeries), still the impact remains the same. He is more than a cricketer, every gait of whose is awaited with bated breath and every chuckle brings thousand smiles to aggrieved faces. He is analgesia to the repeated wounds, solace for the terrorized souls, fuel for the patriotic hearts, and lot more.
Peter Roebuck, a celebrated sports writer shared an incident which somewhat demonstrates the meaning of the play card often seen numerous times over these 20 odd years, which read, “Sachin is India and India is Sachin”.
Roebuck remembers, “On a train from Shimla to Delhi, there was a halt in one of the stations. The train stopped by for few minutes as usual. Sachin was nearing century, batting on 98. The passengers, railway officials, everyone on the train waited for Sachin to complete the century. This Genius can stop time in India!!”
There is another story, though from a mite, not as mighty as the sports writer. The day was 23rd May, 1999; match – India v/s Kenya (World cup) at Bristol- A kid, who understood very less of cricket apart from the fact that it was played by Sachin, had burnt his thigh and was wailing in pain. Such was the condition of his charred thigh that he could afford nothing more than a pair of underpants for cover. The maestro had returned halfway from the world cup due to his father’s death, only to resurface for this match and the rest of the series. Such is his commitment, that even his life’s biggest turmoil could not flutter his love for the game. The kid needed something to cheer him up, lot of people tried different things, from movies to surprise gifts nothing worked. In came the master, looking a little shabby and grief stricken, but once he lifted his sledge hammer it was mourning of a different kind, and the mourners were the Kenyan bowlers, run by run he escalated and catapulted India to win. With each run, widened the child’s smile and by the end it turned into elation, watching the God in sublime touch.
Here, the child was I and this was just one such incident among many where Sachin acted as soother.
When they say Sachin is a religion I disagree because he is more than that. The only thing that binds all Indians after the national flag is an emblem called, ‘Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar’. You might have a hundred idols and thousands of interests other than cricket, but nothing comes close to watching Sachin play. The rise of Sachin and his transcending horizons is written down in the folklores and quoted with bardic precision, this is because Sachin’s story is a dream every middle class guy dreams at some point of time. The surreal rise of the younger son of a middle class professor, Ramesh Tendulkar, is etched in the memory of all Indians. These things happen only in movies and even if a poor man touches fame in real, he is lost in transition amidst the hoopla and grandiose. His story could have been that of another Vinod Kambli, the same childhood friend touted as better than Sachin and Lara, why not? He started in a fashion which made them believe so: back to back double hundreds in test cricket coupled with two more centuries, all in just seven tests. But sword of Damocles fell on Kambli, sooner rather than later, this was inevitable, success is not everyone’s cup of tea and Vinod learnt it the tough way. Dropped from the test team at just 24 years of age and several sporadic peeps into the one-day team did not do him any good. But it was Kambli’s arrogance and Sachin’s modesty that made the difference, as they say, talent can be done without but hard work cannot. Till, today Sachin is known to practice more than the youngest faces do, thus each run made is a result of ocean of sweat bequeathed.
On this note, another incident comes into mind, Suresh Shastri, a former first class cricketer- turned- umpire narrates, “ We missed out a train to Jaipur for a club match and he was the only one who insisted we should not return home, which meant we had to travel unreserved in the next available train. We reached very early on the morning of the match. When the rest slept, this young lad was knocking (his bat) in his room, mentally turning himself for the match. I realized that day, this boy was something special”
Often questions are asked, like had Sachin not been a cricketer what would he have been?
The answer is nothing. What else do you expect a school dropout to do? A high school drop-out, walking heads and shoulders above the scholastics, and deservingly so after contributing to the nation that a very few can brag about. The dawn of Sachin, brought a fresh change in the air, he had a repertoire of unmatched stroke play, elegant yet brutal coupled with subtle variations. Exquisite cover-drives, personalized straight drives, cunning pedal sweeps, he has them all. While, Rahul Dravid remains Mr. Technique and Brian Lara remains the style king; Sachin had a very simple approach to the game, an open book yet chapters untold. The mystery to Sachin’s success is that there is no mystery at all.
A contemporary colt from Achrekar stable Naresh Churi recalls, “Once I saw Sachin hitting in the air and asked the coach, ‘You told us to keep the ball along the ground but Sachin is doing the opposite.’ Achrekar sir told me, ‘When he hits, he not only middles the ball but he clears the ground. Plus he doesn’t get out when he lifts the ball.’ I appreciated the logic and I knew then that Sachin was special.”
In an otherwise almost cleanest image in World cricket (if a few unproven incidents are left away), the only thing detractors pointed out was that Sachin never won matches. But the tag match winner itself is a perplex combo, match-winner in common places means a person who wins matches, irrespective of whether the runs were scored in the1st innings or 2nd innings, the runs need to come in a winning cause. By the matter of fact, Sachin Tendulkar is placed 10th in all time lists of highest numbers of runs scored in a winning cause and his average of 65.43 is the 12th best ever in the history of Test Cricket. Statistics are even brighter in the shorter format (ODI) where out of Sachin’s 46 centuries, 30 (12 batting in second innings) have been in winning cause, sealing all the doubts about his temperament. But being Sachin Tendulkar comes with its own price; the fans never know what there expectations are, even after he scored a 200 in a recently concluded one-day international, a friend of mine brushed it aside saying it was a one-off thing. But undeterred by such cynics, the soprano goes on crooning batting ballads. As Wasim Akram, once delphically stated that India will understand the value of Sachin only when he will no more be around in the cricketing field. But hope that time never comes and the amaranth called, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar never fades.