In praise of Sachin Tendulkar

A collage of photographs of the little big champion .. his response on reaching the milestone figure of 100

Sachin Tendulkar. No one cricketer will have given so many people around the world such unadulterated joy as he has. No one batsman will have caused such jaw-dropping awe among rival bowlers as the little big man. No one causes the air to be filled with so much electricity that can bathe more than a whole stadium in glorious light as consistently at the little big man.

Of course, the childish delight when we reached out and touched the excitement in the air every time he walked out to bat may have diminished. Yet, as he strolls purposefully to the wicket, his concentration already locked, his demeanour conveying menacing signals to the rival side, you can experience the anticipation that envelops the ground even today.

I can recall only one occasion on which this dominant feeling was not so much of anticipation and excitement as it was of admiration, even awe. There was a lump in the throat and tears in the eyes as one saw him make his way to the crease at the fall of a wicket. It was at Bristol in May 1999 that Tendulkar returned to bat for India from the funeral of his father, Prof Ramesh Tendulkar.

His masterpiece against Kenya under grief and stress was reminiscent of Raj Kapoor’s wonderful performance in the lead role in Mera Naam Joker. Aware of his mother’s death, the protagonist in the movie wears a pair of dark glasses to hide his tears from the world as he entertains the audience under the big tent. Tendulkar could not even shed tears in public.

And, when he reached the century, he gave one of my most poignant moments in many years of watching cricket. It seemed like he was locked in a brief and private conversation with his baba, his dear baba. “This one is for you, baba,” he seemed to say as he looked up heavenwards. It was hard not to cry for Tendulkar. It is hard for the eyes not to be moist every time that moving image comes to the forefront.

He did that yet again at the Ferozshah Kotla the other day when he reached the landmark 35th Test century, a carefully crafted effort that had all shades from his batsmanship over the years – the aggressive and the watchful, the cavalier and the risky.

Till the time his body started complaining, Tendulkar radiated an unadulterated joy with his Viv Richardsesque approach to batsmanship. The first signs of trouble came during the knock of 136 against Pakistan in Chennai in 1999 when it became apparent that his back was causing him trouble. A defensive and watchful approach seemed to take over his mindset and accumulating runs was paramount.

Tendulkar’s greatness lies in the fact that there is none of the fragility of character that we have got to see in a Brian Lara or a Shane Warne, particularly away from the cricket field. To have played for so many years and not attracted controversy speaks much for his careful positioning. His steadfast refusal to let Mohammed Azharuddin and Nayan Mongia come back into the Indian team was the only spot of controversy that Tendulkar ever allowed to rest on him.

You can turn around and say that this has perhaps been the result of the fact that he does not have a forceful viewpoint on issues that concern Indian and international cricket. I have seen him let his guard down but only rarely. And when he does this, breaking into a smile, all the innocence comes through from the depths of his pure heart. He is careful about his image. Nothing wrong with that, is there? It has caused a lot of people to complain that he is not exactly approachable nor is he the epitome of eloquence.

My favourite Tendulkar story – and I will never tire of relating this – is more than a decade old. I was interviewing him for the first time during a match at the Lal Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad and I remember asking him what was uppermost in his mind when he scored a century – happiness or satisfaction. He took his time and told me that the two things were different states of mind.

“I am allowed to be happy when I score a century because it is a milestone but if I allow myself to be satisfied, I am denying the facts that I may have edged a few deliveries or may have been beaten or mistimed a few shots in the innings. Satisfaction is like engaging the handbrake in a car and hoping the vehicle would move forward,” he said.

He could not have given a better expression to his hunger for excellence. It was a great lesson in living. Sachin Tendulkar. We can only thank him for so many of those wonderful moments that he has given us. Not only to celebrate them but also to ruminate on some of those in our moments of solitude and reflection

Dec 16, 2005 8:13 am