January 29, 2008

Australian idol

Just what is it that endears Sachin Tendulkar to crowds and cognoscenti alike Down Under? We asked a selection of Australia's great and good for their opinion

Loved to bits: the SCG gives Tendulkar a standing ovation after his 154 © Getty Images

Back in Melbourne, "Aussie Ana" was adding to her ratings. Twenty-year-old Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, the 2008 Australian Open finalist, endeared herself to sports fans Down Under thanks as much to her knockout good looks as for her tennis skills. A nation that feeds off the deeds of its sportspersons, Australia has always welcomed the talented with open arms. It was the same 16 years ago, when another youngster, the 18-year-old Sachin Tendulkar, arrived on his maiden voyage and returned with two spectacular centuries, leaving behind impressions that still endure in the minds of the natives.

Now, nearly two decades on, it is almost as if they have adopted him as one of their own. There have been other visiting champions during this age, such as Brian Lara of the West Indies, but none has attracted quite the sort of rapturous applause that has greeted Tendulkar every time he has walked out onto a cricket ground in Australia during this series. Yes, much of it has to do with this tour probably being his last, but it was much the same in the 2003-04 series, and in 1999-2000.

Just what it is about Tendulkar that the Australians so love? The reasons have as much to do with Australia as with the man himself.

Bill Lawry, the former Australian captain, points out that Australians have always had time for champions. "We've always enjoyed champions and they could be in any sport." Peter Roebuck, who captained Viv Richards and Ian Botham at Somerset, and enjoys something approaching Tendulkar-like status in cricket writing himself, reckons it has to do with the sentimentality of Australians. "It's a new country, and its people get excited when they see great innings like Tendulkar's." He goes on to stress that the likes of Lara and Shane Warne were "mixed blessings", while Tendulkar is not.

Gideon Haigh, historian and cricket writer, agrees that his countrymen admire anyone who does well against them, but presents a unique point. "It is partly a mark of respect, partly a symptom of national narcissism. I think Australians are also fascinated by Tendulkar's status in India. Australian cricketers are hugely popular in their own country, but they do not need protection from their fans in the fashion Tendulkar does. His fame, to us, makes him an emblem of Indian extremity and exoticism."

There is also the matter of two ringing endorsements, delivered by Australian greats.

When Tendulkar was at his peak in the mid-to-late-1990s, one day Sir Don Bradman called his wife Jessie to the television set and said how he could see himself in the young man he was watching play on the screen. Then Warne, talking about his contests with the Indian, said Tendulkar gave him "nightmares".

Mark Taylor, another Australian captain who played against Tendulkar and has been an admirer from the day he first watched him play, thinks the Bradman compliment was a major head-turner. "Suddenly people thought, 'Hold on, you don't have the greatest batsman saying things just like that.'"

Taylor also points out that part of the admiration has to do with the sheer amount of runs Tendulkar has made in Australia. Six of Tendulkar's 39 Test centuries have come in Australia, each worth its own photo album. Haigh's personal favourite was the MCG Test of 1999. "The Indian batsmen struggled awfully. [Rahul] Dravid was lifeless, inert," he remembers. "But Tendulkar was so immediately at home that it was almost like the Aussies just gave up trying to get him out and decided to work around him." Haigh calls Tendulkar not just a great batsman but a fascinating batsman: "so correct, so compact, as intricate and exquisitely functioning as a Fabergé egg."

Tendulkar came to Australia for the 1991-92 series as a impressionable youngster. His legend was already on the way to being established, thanks to the world record he had set with Vinod Kambli in school cricket. When he arrived in Australia, people wanted to see the young phenomenon. "People loved him then because he seemed to be still a boy but played brilliantly," recollects Mark Ray, a senior Australian journalist.

Ray, the author of Cricket Masala, a brilliant photographic travelogue of his various cricketing tours, touches on another aspect of Tendulkar's appeal. "His modesty is a bit old-fashioned these days and appeals to many Australians. We have an image of being tough, very self-confident sportsmen, but most of the public here still prefer the modest champion. He stands out in that regard." Jim Maxwell of ABC Radio believes it's Tendulkar's flawless character that has defined him. "Australians like the humble, the laconic, no-complaining types, which Tendulkar is."

Mike Coward, the eminent cricket writer, says: "Humility and civility have followed him all his life." For Coward it is Tendulkar "who has raised awareness about Indo-Australian cricket, given it a profile more than anyone else. He is someone people can relate to."

'Australians like the humble, the laconic, no-complaining types, which Tendulkar is' © Getty Images

Tendulkar for his part has valued the importance of gaining the respect of the most feared opponents around. Ravi Shastri, a team-mate at the time, recalls how Tendulkar, even on his first Australian tour, wanted to take the fight to the Aussies. "We were at the SCG and the contest was getting heated. Both of us were batting well and the Aussies were shooting sledges from all directions. I told him that I would take care of them while he focused on his batting. He was mentally charged. I still remember him saying, 'Let me get past my 100, then I will give it back', in Marathi. Let me point out again that he said he wanted to get to the century and only then would he distract himself."

When asked recently if Australia ever felt like a second home to him, Tendulkar said, laughing: "I only have one home. But it's truly a special feeling to walk in to such a reception, when I don't know if I am batting on zero or on 100."

In private conversations with friends Tendulkar has talked about his appreciation for the respect he has been accorded in Australia. He told a senior Indian journalist friend how satisfying it was to score his 39th Test hundred at the Adelaide Oval, the home of Bradman, who would have been close to a hundred years old if he were still alive. Tendulkar wouldn't admit that in the public lest it was mistaken for false modesty, but thereby he adds another layer to his greatness.

General Peter Cosgrove, a former head of the Australian Defence Force, delivering the 2008 Sir Donald Bradman oration at the University of Western Australia two weeks ago, said, "Australians are among the most overtly competitive people on the planet. Cricket defines our approach to competition: it has rules and teams, it demands focus and self-confidence. It entails an intense desire and will to win; it needs an abundance of skill, stamina, courage and perseverance." Indeed, these are the qualities Sachin Tendulkar has come to define for Australians among others. And in so doing, he has come to represent an unreachable ideal.

Greg Baum, columnist at Melbourne's Age, wrote in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine a few years ago: "Here is a man not susceptible to human failing in any endeavour, a man not so much invincible as invulnerable." He ended his appreciation by calling Tendulkar "the game's secular saint".

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sunil on January 30, 2008, 4:40 GMT

    I agree with Haigh's choice. My favorite is also the MCG innings. Both of them infact. His second innings of 52 was a masterclass act cut short by -- bad umpiring ofcourse; he was given out lbw to Shane Warne padding up to a ball that pitched outside leg. A close second comes the innings he played against Pak. at Chennai scoring 136. These innings are special in that he hardly got support and that has really been the story of much of his career. One can only wonder how successful he would've been if a bulk of his career was spent playing with the luxury of decent openers or in a side that had the bowlers to bowl oppositions out when he did a bulk of the scoring.

  • Dan on January 30, 2008, 2:34 GMT

    What reason does one have not to like/appreciate Tendulkar? In this day with the prima donna attitudes, the temper tantrums, the in-your-face celebrations, a bit of class goes a long way! In batsmanship and character! This is a dying breed in all of sports though, so enjoy it while it lasts!

  • Waj on January 30, 2008, 1:30 GMT

    How can you compare two legends. I am Indian, but I have admired Gilly so many times. He started the trend of Boards looking for a wicket-keeping batsman in their team. The number of test victims he's got tells the story. I don't agree with some ones comment of Dhoni or Brad Haddin getting to Gilly's stature. Similarly, Sachin is a legend. You can be an egalitarian but you can never rule out the fact Sachin got in to Sir Bradman's team, which is not a team by some outstanding cricketer. Comparing Gilly or Ponting with Sachin seems pre mature. They are two different type of players. Both of them will be in the cricket's hall of fame.

  • Paresh on January 30, 2008, 0:22 GMT

    No one article will be able to round up The Tendulkar. People, interested in the game of Cricket of this era, are blessed to witness the talent of Sachin. Unlike Ponting (whom the assies so like to compare to Sachin for greatness), Sachin does not need to say things like "we play the game HARD but FAIR" and within the spirit. Sachin does that all the time, since his first day, without the need to mention it. it is no surprise that he gets the plaudits wherever he goes, not only for his cricketing abilities, but for his humble characteristics, living idolistic life and just normal human being with well above normal sporting ability. Thanks Sachin for all the displays of cricket talent, humility and modesty..... i feel being blessed to witness the career (ongoing) of the onle and only Sachin.

  • Justin on January 29, 2008, 23:03 GMT

    It's true, Australians hardly idolise him - we have great respect for him however because he is a great batsman. Australian crowds will always salute players who are quality. It's a shame cetain other rcrowds can't behave the same way. I think saying he plays without controversy is a bit rich...remember the ball tampering and his claim that he heard what harbhajan said? But he is certainly humble and that is a great quality. But we will always applaud class and always enjoy being in a challenge, which Tendulker certainly provides. No point arguing who are the better players...any aussie will say ponting, any indian will say tendulker - bottom line, both class.

  • Ajiesh on January 29, 2008, 23:00 GMT

    Sachin is NOT just another outstanding batsman ,you could tell to your children in future that you have watched sachin play in real or live on TV,they would admire you and perhaps say that you are a lucky one to witness such rare retreat.I have come across few people who dont understand how outstanding is sachin ,perhaps thats because they dont watch closely how this legend plays. During one of the Australia series i ve noticed a rare shot taken by sachin which was send to boundary ,that was a 140 kmph bouncer ball zipping over his head and sachin decides to leave that but in the last fraction of a second he decides to attempt and hits over gilly and sends it to the boundary .I never seen anybody who could change a decision within that fraction of a second especially when the ball is over 140kmph.thats truly a rare ability & geniuses..which perhaps cannot be witnessed in the future.

  • Sunil on January 29, 2008, 22:46 GMT

    I remember the MCG innings to this day. I personally rate those two innings as the best I've ever seen. His first innings century and then the second innings 50. I still remember he was given out lbw to a ball from Warne that pitched outside leg that he had padded up to in the 2nd. Its been a freakish journey for him in the 2nd innings, but no batsman I've known has played the sort of "lone ranger" like he did vs Pak in Chennai for e.g. when he scored 136 in excess of 400 balls - but he scores so heavily in the first that the odds of scoring well in the second are that much lesser. I do believe he is very emotional and self-centered to some degree, but he is a fighter and the best batsman in the world, none the less.

  • Vimal on January 29, 2008, 22:13 GMT

    Every matches may come and go but I pick the sand storm innings as the best. I still remember, all the players and umpires were lying and their faces towards the ground and there is a man who is standing tall and looking at the sky, what else is there to stop him then. That is Sachin

  • Uday on January 29, 2008, 14:40 GMT

    I found the egalitarian society comments posted by Rusty pretty amusing. Even I used to admire Gilly before the Sydney test, but not after that where he went at lengths to support the acts of his team-mates. Coming to the point, players like Gilly come & go, but players like Sachin Tendulkar come only once in a life-time. Dhoni or Brad Haddin can be the next Gilly, but the next Sachin Tendulkar...naah...no one in this life time. I feel to be really fortunate enough to be born in this time period to watch a player of Sachin's caliber and genius. Its not only about his batting - its about his cricketing brain, his personal traits as well (which many Australians might not be aware - he is not a guy for publicity). Hats Off to you - Sachin - and thank you for providing us with such sublime entertainment.

  • SHIRISH on January 29, 2008, 13:42 GMT

    The Aussies can't compare Ponting to Sachin. The number of centuries is not the only thing, it is the quality of shots for one. Above everything is keeping the civility even in your adversity. Sachin epitomises very tough but very civil and modest, humble. Wake up those who still believe that aussies play it only hard. This series showed that they play desparate to win at the cost of civility. Thanks Nagraj for a wonderful piece.

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