Avoiding being hysterical about Sachin Tendulkar

Before I start writing this article in all seriousness, let me say that I am (and always will be) an ardent fan of Sachin Tendulkar. I have put up a huge poster of the Master Blaster in my room and probably it’s the first thing that comes in my line of vision every morning as I wake up. There should be no doubt whatsoever in anybody’s mind that he is a ‘phenomenon’ and a cricketing ‘legend’. But to the notion of glorifying him as ‘GOD‘, I have some huge doubts!

Sachin savours reaching his ODI double-century at Gwalior on Feb 24, 2010 (Image courtesy: Associated Press, Cricinfo.com)

Much has been said and written about Sachin in the days since his unbeaten 200 in and One-Day International (ODI) against South Africa. A lot more has been conferred on him in terms of awards, mementos, plaques and trophies by almost every Cricket club he has visited. With due respect to the man himself and the organizations rewarding him for his achievements, was all this exhibition really necessary? Instead of increasing the number of contents of his trophy cabinet, could these very organizations have donated money to charity in the name of Sachin? Wouldn’t that have made the ‘real’ difference? Sachin himself has always been involved in many goodwill tasks and charities. Wouldn’t this have recognized ‘Sachin, the person’ better?

It’s not surprising, though, for a country which is obsessed with making demigods out of living people. Cricket, like Football and Hockey, is a team sport. The contribution of one player can make a difference, but often it is not enough to secure a positive result. I wonder if Sachin would have made all those runs if he hadn’t had support from the other end of the 22-yard Cricket pitch. Shouldn’t they be credited too for his numerous batting records, and in turn the contribution to the team’s success? For an answer to this question, one should read the scoresheet at the end of the epic Test in Chennai in 1999 against Pakistan, where Sachin single handedly took India within reach of victory, and still the team lost by 12 runs after he got out. The same story repeated 10 years later, this time in an ODI against Australia at Hyderabad.

What if nobody was willing to stand his ground so that Sachin could reach his century in a particular match? What if the political situation in our country wasn’t as free for the growth of the sport as it is? A brief look at the career of another incredible batting genius, Andy Flower from Zimbabwe, and you’ll know the answer to that question as well.

The comparison of Sachin with some greats of the yesteryears is another thing which irks me. The environment, be it social or political or financial, in which former champions like Sir Don Bradman and Sir Garry Sobers played was very different than the current one. Even comparisons with the original Mumbai wonder Sunil Gavaskar aren’t warranted. The laws, interest in the game, notions of player safety, coaching methods, and fitness regimes have undergone a sea of change. Each one was, and is, a legend of his time. This is why distinguished sports personalities are inducted in a ‘Hall of Fame’, and not given the title of the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of a particular sport.

Sachin has always been a very good ambassador not just for the game of Cricket but for India too, but to call him as the country’s ‘greatest sports personality’ would undoubtedly be too harsh on other sports which traditionally have not had the massive fan following which Cricket has enjoyed, especially when the number of countries having a national Cricket team are so few. The name of Indian legend Major Dhyan ‘Chand’ Singh is spoken on Hockey fields worldwide with the same fervor, even 50 years after he stopped playing the game.

A few days ago I came across this quote, and it struck a chord with me instantly:

“By idolizing those whom we honor we do disservice both to them and to ourselves, we fail to recognize the fact that we could go and do likewise.”Charles V. Willie (Professor of Education, Emeritus at Harward University)

For me, Sachin’s real legacy will never be scoring all those runs in the Test and ODI arenas or breaking almost every batting record you could think of. His most enduring legacy will be the fact that his style of play popularized the game of Cricket in the small towns and cities of India, and maybe in other countries too. Over the years youngsters have looked up to him as a role-model, not just for his on-field magic but also for his off-field composure in the midst of a Cricket-crazy populace. Present Indian superstars like Yuvraj Singh and current team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni were inspired to be what they are right now because they saw him playing on TV. They wanted to bat like him ever since they were kids. These people come from relatively lesser known cities, places which were not short on talent but on good role-models and infrastructure, and therefore were often overlooked while selecting candidates for the national team.

In his early days as a budding cricketer in Mumbai, Sachin was asked in an interview, whom he would liked to be known when he grows up. He replied, tersely, “I would be liked to be known as Sachin Tendulkar”. That says a lot not just about the man’s confidence but also about his maturity, vision and practicality. Here’s another one of his early interviews –

As he went about making a mockery of the bowling attacks of other teams worldwide, he had his feet firmly rooted on the ground. He might have gained magnanimous amounts of money through awards and product sponsorship deals, but his approach to the game never changed, even when he was going though a rough patch a few years ago. Whenever he’s queried on how he feels to be called as one the game’s greats, he replies by saying that he doesn’t get overawed by the praise and is just thankful that he’s got the talent to see the ball a little bit better and earlier than other contemporaries which makes him able to hit all those stunning shots. In fact, this feeling is shared by one of Sachin’s favorite sports personalities, Michael Schumacher, who says that he just happens to be a person who can drive the Formula One race car faster than anyone else, and is similarly thankful for the talent but not overawed by the success he’s received over the years.

Sachin still ‘enjoys‘ being on the cricketing field. He still ‘enjoys‘ batting. He still ‘enjoys‘ being a part of a team which had just won a Cricket match. He prefers being out on the field under the hot sun with the temperature reading 50 degrees Celsius, instead of sitting at home in the comfort of his air-conditioner. The fact that personal accolades never interest him over a team cause can be gauged by his body-language while accepting the Player-of-the-Series award after the 2003 Cricket World Cup final match in South Africa, in which India lost to Australia. This is what we should learn from him – the passion and the enjoyment in doing what interests us.

Obviously, Sachin is as human as you and me, and is liable to making errors in judgement from time to time. I think he should be revered and remembered not as a ‘GOD‘, but as a sportsman who did his best with the talent he had; and that in itself is something most of us rarely achieve in our lives!

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