It could well be an apocryphal story but some years ago, a friend travelling in Germany found a familiar Indian face driving a hard bargain with a shopkeeper in Germany. We know that the owner of this Indian face loves to make the powerful beast tucked beneath the hood of his elegant car respond to his stepping on the pedal when Mumbai finally goes to sleep late at night.
Indeed, for someone who has lived all his adult life in the glare of the public, you cannot blameSachin Tendulkar if, somewhere deep down, he longs for a normal life, doing things that average Indians do. It is a good wager that like a vast majority of average Indians, he too wants to see India win the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 at the Wankhede Stadium in his hometown on April 2.
That would aptly complete the little big man’s romance with the Cricket World Cup that was seeded when Kapil Dev and his team won the 1983 edition at Lord’s and was sustained through 1987 when he was a ball-boy during the heartbreaking semifinal at Wankhede Stadium where India was swept out of the Reliance Cup by England. And then, as the highest run-scorer in World Cup history by making 1796 runs in five editions held in five continents.
So what it is about a man that a whole team wants to win the ICC Cricket World Cup for him, even if former Australian captain Steve Waugh thinks that this is the wrong approach? What is it about him who does not talk of having paid a price and only shows it by working hard at his craft? What is it about him that makes film star Akshay Kumar to say that he brings more gifts to India than Father Christmas?
It is never easy to answer such questions. Come to think of it, he may well have an easier goal to pursue than cricket writers who are charged with the task of coming up with something different, if not new – something that holds your interest until the end. One reckons even bowlers and captains always have a faint chance, hoping that he would make that one mistake every innings. Even as he scored 14,692 runs in Test cricket and 17,629 in one-day internationals, he has made Indian hearts swell with pride. Each time he has walked in to bat, you could reach out and feel the electricity in the atmosphere in the stadium. It would not be an exaggeration to say that India’s collective emotions rose and fell nearly every time he scored heavily and got out.
For someone who not only understood but also explained the difference between being happy and being satisfied – “Satisfaction is like the handbrake in your car that does not let you move an inch,” he said – as early as in 1994, Tendulkar would not need a sports psychologist to point out to him that pining too much can be counter-productive. He knows that being hungry will provide him the mental and physical energies necessary to relentlessly drive himself on the pursuit of excellence.
Having played but two one-day internationals in 2010 – remember, he made a double century in one of those matches – you can expect him to be hungry, indeed. And focussed. Don’t blame the man if he has kept away from interviews in the run up to the World Cup, wanting to focus on getting himself in the right frame of mind. His preparations were been thrown off gear a little bit when he injured his hamstring in South Africa earlier this year and returned home early but you can expect him to be figuring promimently in India’s campaign.
In many ways, the manner in which India has seen the World Cup has evolved with Tendulkar. In its infancy in 1975 and 1979, it did not catch the imagination of many. But it made the world sit up and take note in 1983. And in 1987, when he was a ball boy during the India-England semifinal at the Wankhede Stadium, we were hooked magically to the event. We were by and large innocent to his blazing skills and warming up he carved out three half hundreds, batting in the middle-order in the 1992 edition in Australia and New Zealand.
Just a few months after India opened its market to the world, Tendulkar opened the innings for the first time in New Zealand and started to dazzle the world. Thus, it was in the 1996 World Cup that we got to see him in this role for the first time and all those who watched the series will remember his intense battle with the Australian fast bowlers, Glenn McGrath included, and Shane Warne in Mumbai during his innings of 90 before he was stumped off a Mark Waugh wide. Also unforgettable will be his battling knock of 65 in the semifinal against Sri Lanka before he was stumped one more time.
In 1999, he was conspicuous by his absence in the team’s second game against Zimbabwe in Leicester. He had left the team on the morning of the match to take a flight home and attend his father’s funeral in Mumbai. It was a nightmare that is not easily forgotten – India conceded 51 extras, was also docked four overs for its slow over-rate and, without Tendulkar’s presence at the start of the innings, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Yet, when he came back from home in time for India’s next match against Kenya in Bristol, the team’s campaign was quite in disarray. He made a poignant hundred against Kenya, entertaining us while he mourned his late father, reminding me of Raj Kapoor in Mera Naam Joker. And when he looked up at the sky on reaching the milestone, there was not a dry eye in the ground.
Four years later, he endured pain of the physical kind caused by an injured ring finger to make close to 700 runs and win the man of the series award. Everyone will remember him coming out to bat with guns blazing, giving Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar and Waqar Younish nightmares and India a huge reason to celebrate Deepavali in March. The image of him standing on his toes and square cutting Shoaib Akhtar for six over third man and setting the tone for India’s chase of 274 for victory cannot be erased from the memory of anyone privileged to watch that knock.
Relegated in the batting order, against his wishes, Tendulkar had an eminently forgettable World Cup campaign in the West Indies in 2007. But then, most of the world of cricket found the tournament itself boring, kicking itself alive when Bob Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room and when some top notch cricket action came through sporadically. A half-century against Bermuda, batting at No. 6 – the lowest ever in his World Cup career – is not something he would like to remember. Or for that matter the third ball duck against Sri Lanka in India’s last game.
Pushing 38 years of age, his desire and determination must now combine to overcome the disappointing memories of 2007. They say that of all human emotions, hope is the most powerful fuel as it makes them dream and work to realise their dreams. And, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are praying for that Great Indian Dream to come true. Tendulkar will be aware that prayers alone never sufficed to win cricket matches but the world’s most loved cricketer could be pine like everyone else for a normal life – and the Cricket World Cup.
This is the piece I wrote for the Collector’s Edition of India Today for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.