October 17, 2008

A blessing and a curse

Perhaps now, with all the records behind him, Sachin Tendulkar can enjoy a second childhood and bat with something of the insouciance that made Brian Lara so captivating to watch

What might Sachin Tendulkar have done outside of a culture so obsessed with the individual? © AFP

For Brian Charles Lara, the moment to capture in sepia came against one of the game's all-time greats. When Glenn McGrath drifted on to the pads on a belter of a pitch at the Adelaide Oval, Lara worked him down to fine leg for the single that took him past Allan Border on the all-time run-scorers' list. The record was the perfect way to end an Australian adventure that began with a sublime 277 at the SCG 12 years earlier.

Anonymous in the first two Tests of the series, Lara came alive on a pristine batting surface at one of the most beautiful grounds in the world. By the time he put AB in the shade, he had already gone past 200. The 226 that he finished with would have been a fitting farewell note to Australia if not for the fact that his second-innings failure and the seven-wicket defeat encapsulated the frailties that had seen the West Indies' star wane even as Lara continued to shine.

There was no legend confronting Sachin Tendulkar at the PCA Stadium the first ball after tea. The clock had just ticked past 2:30 when Peter Siddle set off on his long run to the bowling crease. A bustling workhorse rather than a pace thoroughbred, Siddle had done little wrong the first two sessions, but when the first ball of the third was pitched a touch too wide of off stump, Tendulkar opened the face and steered it down to third man as he'd done so many times before. Three runs scampered and history made, a generation after a similar stroke, albeit off an offspinner, took Sunil Gavaskar into hitherto uninhabited 10,000-run land.

The autumns of the two batting patriarchs of our age couldn't have been more different though. The last five years of Lara's career saw a batsman at ease with the world, freed of the burden that he had lugged around for a decade. The haplessness of those around him was probably a factor. Stadiums that were once island fortresses were easily breached by visiting sides, and away from home, West Indies had a record every bit as depressing as that of Bangladesh. With the team winning next to nothing and seldom coming close, Lara went out and expressed himself. In those 34 Tests, he averaged 57.50, well over his career figure, while scoring a staggering 13 centuries.

There was always something of the Caribbean joie de vivre in Lara's batting, an air of the carnival that brings his native Trinidad to a standstill. Even his Australian swansong was indicative of that, with the 226 runs amassed from just 298 balls in truly buccaneering fashion. The team may have been mediocre beyond belief, but Lara refused to be shackled by their limitations.

Tendulkar's journey took him in a very different direction. An often-solitary beacon capable of ravishing strokeplay when in his pomp, he has seldom enthralled over the past half decade. Injuries undoubtedly played a part, as did the fact that he was no longer the fulcrum of India's batting push. Virender Sehwag scored quicker, Rahul Dravid looked more resolute and VVS Laxman more elegant. And as India finally became a half-decent side away from home, the focus shifted to individual milestones. He has ticked them off one by one - 10,000 runs against Pakistan at the Eden Gardens in 2005, the 35th century that took him past Gavaskar (against Sri Lanka in Delhi in 2005) and now this.

Long before he even turned 30 though, Tendulkar had ceased to be just a cricketer. For a developing nation, aspiration is the name of the game but even then the expectations of him were so outré as to be ridiculous

Along the way, the audacious strokeplayer of old emerged from hibernation now and then, notably at Sydney and Adelaide last January, when you could glimpse the teenager who caught Sir Donald Bradman's eye with centuries at the SCG and the WACA. For the most part though, he became an efficient accumulator, albeit with troughs that were so uncommon during the halcyon years.

Long before he even turned 30 though, Tendulkar had ceased to be just a cricketer. For a developing nation, aspiration is the name of the game but even then the expectations of him were so outré as to be ridiculous. His life became reality TV, and all that was needed was the Police to reassemble and sing Every Breath You Take for the soundtrack. Newspapers would publish illustrations from Grey's Anatomy, while TV anchors would steel themselves to say "superior labral antero posterior tear".

Lara's failures, and there were a few given his cavalier style, evoked some disappointment, but never the sort of viciousness that accompanied a Tendulkar setback. It makes you wonder how many more runs he might have made had he lived in a country that didn't specialise in headlines like Endulkar, and where every other TV debate chaired by some stiff didn't ask the profound question: Is he past his best?

What might he have done outside of a culture so obsessed with the individual? Even the landmarks appeared to become troublesome chores rather than milestones to be bypassed as a matter of course. And even as he remained an intensely private person, an entire parallel universe was constructed around him, full of inane trivia such as a fondness for milk laced with turmeric at breakfast.

The career graph dipped, as it inevitably does even with the all-time greats, but he was still good enough to score 494 runs in Australia last winter. And until Siddle summoned up a fine delivery with the second new ball, he was on course for a tenth century against the team that have set the standards for most of his 19 years at the top.

Perhaps now, with all the records behind him, he can enjoy a second childhood and bat with something of the insouciance that made Lara so captivating to watch. Such comparisons are unfair though. If Lara's career was It's a Wonderful Life, Tendulkar's has been a Kieslowski, shot painstakingly and sometimes weighed down by the cares of the world. We're fortunate to have watched them both.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chamara on October 21, 2008, 10:30 GMT

    It's true everyone has their own favourites.,but I think apart from favourites there are greatness to be reckon. I think the person who has scored the most runs in not only in a test match and a first class game is the champ. Because he has achieved the highest goal in the game. In that case Lara has done it in the both leagues. I think it's enough to consider him as the better one. Not only that he is the player with most double centuries after Don Bradman, only man to score 400 runs in a test. I think the only factor favour the Tendulkar is his average...but see this, Lara has only 6 not-outs to Tendulkar's 26+. If Lara had the same amount of not-outs(even with half of 26) he could have easily surpass the Tendulkar's average.And don't forget lot of West Indians wanted Lara to retire earlier and on the other hand all of the Indians wanted Tendulkar to play as long as he can and as he wanted.

  • Viraj on October 20, 2008, 5:30 GMT

    Do people like CheGuvera and the rest really think that they understand the game and batting better than Sir Donald Bradman, well then so be it.

    I hate comparing Lara and Tendulkar - I would say one is one of the 3 best left handed batsmen (Graeme Pollock, Sobers and Lara) - while Tendulkar is one of the two best right handed batsmen (Sir Bradman and Tendulkar).

    You can never do an apples to apples comparison. If you still wish to compare for some statistical reason - compare each at his best and worst Used to love Lara's batting, but he was really susceptible to certain kind of bowling Mcgrath being his bete noire. Never saw Sachin getting out bad deliveries till very late in his career.

    Sachin at his best was sheer godly. Lara pretty close as well - just holding the bat the other way :-) I guess I am yet to see Sachin's worst.

  • Sanjeev on October 18, 2008, 15:38 GMT

    Having watched cricket for over 45 years and enjoyed the cricket of such greats as Sirs Garfield Sobers, Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd,Rohan Kanhai, Geoffrey Boycott, Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Mohammad Azhruddin, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Mindad, Alan Border, Sanath Jayasurya, etc, as a pure admirer of the game, I cannot begin to describe the sheer joy it is to watch the genius of Sachin Tendulkar's batting. To true connoisseurs of the game, he will be akin to a master conductor in motion, a supreme ballerina in action, and a brilliant painter at work... We could all argue about the records he has accumulated and the stats he compiled or could have sewed together, but there can be no doubt of who provided the sheer joy and majesty of the highest form of batsmanship artistry...

  • Anoop on October 18, 2008, 13:32 GMT

    The scale of his achievement will only be evident to the rest of us maybe years from now. Let's not forget that for the longest time, Indian cricket meant the batting of this one man, for obvious reasons. At my blog outsideedge.wordpress.com I've paid my own little rudimentary tribute to the man. Like that old adidas ad said "When Sachin bats...all else...is irrelevant"

  • Ratin on October 18, 2008, 6:54 GMT

    Sachin according to me is the greatest cricketer of all times. For last 19 years,I was growing seeing him breaking all records and making India proud.He is having burden of billion people on his shoulder everytime he came to crease and we all have great feeling when he scores 100 or out duck,happy or sad...he is a inspiration for all of us...I admire him from the bottom of my heart.For last 19 years,not a single time I have heard him saying bad words for any player, he is such a dignified & noble person ever existed on this planet.His love for sport and love for country is so divine that if every indian follow him india will difinitely become superpower.What BCCI now is because of Sachin...richest board of cricket in the world...not only cricket but any other sport...because sachin drags people to stadiums. Sachin's love for cricket and his devotion towards cricket is so big that if we indians loves what we do with all our efforts we will be a successful human being.Sachin u r GOD.

  • Sandeep on October 18, 2008, 1:54 GMT

    I find it amazing how most of us try to cover Tendulkar's sedate and almost soulless batting in his so called second half as something the genius has adapted to for the greater good of the team. For one, he got the timing of the two phases completely off - he should have been more cautious in his first half when there was no one else to do anything worthwhile when he used to get out rather than now (or in the recent past) when the team is much more multi dimensional. His 2nd innings record will always be a HUGE blemish - it's impossible to argue against it. It is almost embarrassing to see him struggle against mediocre bowlers these days. I think it is safe to say that most fans do not care/remember the averages/records...what you remember is how he could impose himself and win games. And to win games, you have to score your runs quickly (exceptions aside)to give you bowlers ample time in this day and age of slowing pitches. If you want to be called the greatest, the bar is high.

  • Greg on October 18, 2008, 0:36 GMT

    Tendulkar is a supremely gifted batsman, yet for the second half of his career there has been an air of a wonderful machine at work rather than the Peter Pan-like prodigy he was in his youth. And the pressure placed on him by his fellow Indians is much to blame. He is a modern Atlas, carrying so much weight of expectation that he formulated a way to be an incredibly successful artisan but at the cost to himself of not being the batting artist he may have become. Remember: all artists are selfish. For example, Brian Lara. Who knew which Lara was going to turn up on any given day? Immensely talented but a mercurial temperament, capable of batting deeds no-one else could match, capable of deserting his team in the middle of a match. India, enjoy your jewel while you can, for he will leave, never to grace your cricket fields again. Treasure him, do not burden him with the dross and the banal. Let him be, and may he shine on in the gloaming of his batting life. An Australian admirer.

  • Sri on October 17, 2008, 20:05 GMT

    People who genuinely understand and love the game would never compare Sachin and Lara. Sachin and Lara are two very different batsmen, who played for very different teams, and under very different circumstances. Insouciance or not, Kieslowski or not, watching Sachin bat has been nothing but a pleasure. Personal opinions account for nothing really. Fact of the matter is, no one in cricketing history has held the records for highest aggregate runs and highest number of centuries in both forms of the game at the same time and will probably never do so again. That should end the discussion really, but we will still read pieces comparing him to Tom, Dick and Harry.

  • Cricinfouser on October 17, 2008, 19:19 GMT

    Sachin would always be a prolific accumulator of inconsequential and meaningless stats...Unlike Brian Lara, he never scored more then 500 runs in a single series to have had the opportunity to single handedly or at least play a major part in guiding his team to a series victory...Unlike Brian Lara for West Indies, when India needed him the most he tended to choke...there was always high scoring accumulation when the attack was bare as was the case in Australia in 2004 or when the opposition was meek, unbeaten double hundred against the hapless Bangladeshis to get out of a funk......Not one single innings in Wisden top 100, Lara has a few and on top of that Lara possessed all the flair in the world and half the time didn't even try...No comparison to Lara, hands down the best batsman of his generation

  • omer on October 17, 2008, 19:14 GMT

    (Continued) Mcgrath and Warne hunting as a pack is better for both of them individually rather than either of them bowling alone. Lara never had a reliable batsman at the other hand who could carry along with him and help him consolidate. It also takes a lot of heart for Lara to carry on despite repeated failures of the team. In an average person, at some point the passion would recede if individual efforts weren't materializing into more consistent team-wins. Lara was great in his own right. I'd rather not compare the two at this point in time, as Sachin has just reached the milestone and, in the end, both are great players after all.

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