October 16, 2000

Sachin Tendulkar: Man, myth or product of the times?

Sachin Tendulkar...
highest run scorer in ODIs

© CricInfo Ltd
On the occasion of Sachin Tendulkar becoming the highest run getter in one day internationals, CricInfo's Anand Vasu analyses the unique contribution of the master batsman to Indian cricket

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. At 27 he is not a sportsman anymore, he is a bloody phenomenon. Reams of newsprint have been filled with description, analyses and tributes to his genius. Websites have dedicated huge amounts of space and attention to every little thing he does. Everything that needs to be written about the man has already been written. Or has it?

Young cricketers have injected much needed optimism and vigour by performing splendidly under pressure. Nothing will do more for this revival than a Sachin Tendulkar hundred at Sharjah, even if he did not get one in the ICC KnockOut tournament. Is he under pressure to perform? Does he feel the pressure lifting because some others are also coming good?

Who really knows what happens in the mind of Sachin Tendulkar? One notices a collection of details about the man that is not always visible in other cricketers. He is always the first to practice sessions. Once he puts on his pads to have a session at the nets, he does not take his pads off very easily. Even after he is done with batting, he makes it a point to bowl in the nets till the last man comes off. He does not say a single unnecessary word to pressmen. Unless he is terribly mobbed, he always stops to sign autographs for children. If a photograph is requested, he is polite to a fault. He always takes a bit of time to ask kids what class they are studying in, or some similar question that makes them feel that the little master cares. When disappointed with a decision, he does not make any untoward gestures. He may look crestfallen, but never steps out of line.

So is he a paragon of virtue? Certainly not. His manner of captaincy has left room for a lot of criticism. Firstly he found the task of marshalling a disparate group difficult. On top of that, his own batting form took a beating. Another charge that has been leveled against him is that he tends to look after his friends with special care. But of course this allegation is rather unsubstantiated.

However, at a time when cricket is going through arguably its most troubling episode, people are desperate for someone who stands for all that is good about the game. And Tendulkar is often the man who has to carry that cross. Does he want to be known as an example of all things good? Probably not. He wants to be Sachin Tendulkar. With all his weaknesses and faults. Do we the people let him be that? Certainly not.

A majority of us look to him to make us feel better. When he walks out to bat, the weight of the nation's inadequacies is on his shoulders. What we can't achieve in our day to day lives, we look for Tendulkar to make up for on the cricket field. If he slams a century and takes us to victory, all of a sudden the world looks a better place.

Tendulkar is excessively professional in his approach. He is one cricketer whose integrity has never ever been questioned. One look at the intensity with which he approaches the game makes it plain that no bookie would have the guts to approach the man. And yet he got together with Mark Mascarenhas and WorldTel long before cricket became the multi-crore industry it is today. The boy wonder signed a landmark deal that guaranteed crores of income from endorsements. To fulfil his contractual obligations, he turned up at various functions, endorsed a range of products from watches to car tyres to credit cards to toothpaste. Was he selling out? No one remotely suggested that. While a host of television advertisements based on cricketers has been taken off the air after the match fixing scandal broke, Tendulkar remains an eminently saleable commodity.

If an avid cricket lover finds an old lamp, shines it and a genie pops out offering him any one wish, there would be very little dilemma. "I wish I could spend 24 hours listening to what goes on in Sachin Tendulkar's mind" would be his knee jerk reaction. If such a thing could be done, it would provide priceless insights into modern sport. At the end of the day one has to admit that Tendulkar is a true product of his times.

The marketing, the hype, the drive. It is certainly a recent phenomenon. There was always a drive for excellence. But for someone to be such a public figure and influence the minds of millions is a phenomenon that has come about in the last few decades. He is no statesman, no politician, no religious leader. And yet he holds sway with as much power of as any one of the above. Whether he faces it or not, he is one of the few Indians who binds the whole of this country. Probably, no other person in the country is as uniformly admired as him. He is in a position of immense power. Did he choose to get to this position and work towards it? One reckons not. The price he has had to pay as an individual is incomparable to the rewards. Okay, so a majority of youngsters in this country would kill to be in his shoes. But what about the maestro himself? Fortunately or otherwise he doesn't have a choice.

It is tragic however that a man who has given so much to the country and touched us all in some way or the other cannot enjoy a moment of peace when he wants it. If he wants to take his wife Anjali and kids out to dinner there would be such a mob at the restaurant it would be claustrophobic.

And what of his kids? Can they ever have a normal upbringing? Will their friends treat them as just any other kids? That is hardly possible given the fact that Tendulkar is not any other man. He is special. Very special. And trapped by that.

When his back injury threatened to ruin his career, the speculation was immense. Major newspapers and magazines carried detailed medical diagnosis and plainly asked whether his career was over. There was even a case of a teenager committing suicide on merely hearing that Tendulkar might not be able to play again. God forbid, but if something like that were to happen, where would that leave Sachin Tendulkar? Sure, he's made enough money to live luxuriously for the next few generations. But would he be able to live with the fact that he was ordinary once more?

The media, the sponsors, the people of India have in the last few years made it extremely difficult for Tendulkar to live with himself if he was ordinary. A classic product of our times, Tendulkar's life goes parallel to the likes of Pete Sampras and more distinctly Tiger Woods. When modern society sees an outrageous talent that is coupled with the drive to be successful, it seizes upon it like never before. Even if Tendulkar were content with his achievements and decided to call it a day, he would not be allowed to without a hue and cry. Let's face it. He runs the cricket industry in India. Who can see a headline that has the word Tendulkar in it and ignore it?

If Sachin Tendulkar has a breakdown of sorts at any time, we all will have blood on our hands. That's a fine way to thank someone who has given us so much, isn't it?