March 16, 2012

Damn the 100th

Why don't we all just give it a rest and enjoy Tendulkar, and the sport, while we can?

I don't know how you feel but increasingly I find my love for cricket assaulted from all directions. I feel it has been kidnapped, bundled into the boot of a car and dropped off in an area with no phone signal. We fret, we are obsessed with landmarks, we build conspiracy theories, we get angry, and I wonder: What happened to the simple joy of watching cricket? What happened to the reason we were drawn to this great game?

I've come to the stage where I have told myself, "Damn that 100th". It is a great milestone and no one else is going to get there, but we don't watch a game merely for a milestone. We watch sport for the joy of seeing great performances from elite sportsmen, sometimes riveting ones from those less skilled. We watch it as the greatest display of emotion and skill on a public platform. We want to marvel, rub our eyes in disbelief, occasionally grieve but be aware that tomorrow is still ours. We want to feel blessed for being allowed to sit in on such contests.

And then numbers happen. They are good tools for comparison (though not always), but they are by-products of performance. If we watch sport for numbers, we watch it for the wrong reason. You can count numbers anywhere, generate statistics anywhere - the largest set of people to collectively leave Mumbai's CST station on a Thursday, for example; or the percentage of unemployed every January since 1901. Don't get me wrong, collecting numbers is not bad - as I said, you often get good insights from them - but obsessing over them is a poor reason to watch sport.

This obsession with Tendulkar's 100th isn't affecting only him, it is affecting us even more. Suddenly we have lost all objectivity, become unaware of the presence of other players (thankfully the Dravid retirement got the place it deserved), forgotten that cricket is a contest between 22. And now I'm bored by it all and fed up with the angst over it. If Kohli and Gambhir make fine hundreds, I don't want to see or read of Tendulkar's innings first and theirs as a filler.

Sadly Tendulkar is also a financial instrument. Yes, he makes very serious money out of the game but people make just as much out of him. Ad revenues go up, so do attendances when he plays, but just as important, supplements and special programmes sell. Praising him sells and criticising him does, and so, whether he wants it or not, whether he needs to be or not, Tendulkar must feature in the news, on specials, in features. If there is no Tendulkar story, we must create one.

So I say, damn that 100th. Let us enjoy watching a supreme exponent of the game while we can; let us revel in being part of the journey, let us gasp at the cover drive one more time, for Tendulkar, at 39, is playing his endgame. Let's bring back the little joys for as long as possible. If the 100th happens, we'll celebrate a great achievement but if it doesn't, he won't become a lesser player.

Then there are these debates; endless spewings of venom, factories of anger. If an Australian player mutters something as he passes, or makes a gesture, a half hour is devoted to Indians being wronged. If Greg Chappell says something we don't like, another orgy of temper, trembling voices lamenting an attack on India's pride. We scream of racism. One person called Chappell a "pathological case". (I hope he knew what that means, for I don't.) Anger, anger everywhere. Sport was meant to be uplifting but I wonder if that doesn't sell enough on a daily half-hour slot.

I recently did four Test matches in Australia for ABC Radio and it was like being transported to my childhood. There was laughter and joy, good words to describe good shots. Cricket was the theme of happy conversation and every morning I got up excited about trying to be a friend to all those who couldn't be at the ground. I was back, living with the simple joy of watching cricket. And tell me honestly, isn't that what you really want?

So I say, damn that 100th, turn off the anger, put the conspiracy theories where they belong, and ask yourself why you really watch cricket.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 19, 2012, 9:38 GMT

    Hello Harsha, I don't know that my words could find more convincing but spotting to the point, even I do enjoy cricket when a cricketer plays at his best. I do feel SRT's 50 against Pak was better than the mile-stone. As you said, I don't see numbers when the game goes but sometimes forced if a batsman hangs out for 100 after being paced up. SRT does play very slowly in the late 80's and 90's. My point is when a batsman is set, eyes are fixed then why does he go like a tortoise. He's like a cheetah but disappointingly drops off the accelerator. I still believe Sachin is a great player and his records can't be broken, 99.9% faith on him. But sometimes this 0.01% puts Newton's 3rd Law come to effect when he puts the reverse gear. At that moment, I feel he plays for himself. I feel he is selfish for his own runs.Apology for the harsh words but a 'century' is a century doesn't matter if its against Aus or Bangladesh.A hit is a hit doesn't matter if its a Sajid Khan film or V Bharadwaj.

  • Jay on March 18, 2012, 23:41 GMT

    Harsha - I stated earlier: "You have only your profession to blame: media-hyped scribes & number-obsessed commentators". BTW, you pretty much inferred the same in your Jan 13 column "The media doesn't play cricket". You were right on. You called out the reporter from The Australian & its "acerbic, contemptuous look at Indian cricket". I wasn't surprised at all. In my response then (which was not posted), I pointed out that The Australian is part of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire - now trapped in a mega-scandal in Britain. That should tell you a lot. This culturally "very sensitive" Aussie reporter's fessing up to "compulsions of having to project a certain stance for the public" is a sign of desperation & sensationalism. Conjuring up sinister stories to attack the opposition is reckless. This "psychological warfare" is a media disease. Sachin's been at the receiving end. Let's hope his 100th stems this disease. Let's also hope you enjoyed watching cricket today! Cheers!

  • Shankar on March 18, 2012, 12:21 GMT

    Tendulkar is not above the game or the country. Criticizing him doesn't require knowledge of the game or a track record that is 'worthy' of criticizing him. In a democracy, we have the right to criticize anyone who represents the country. I don't have the right to abuse anyone, but criticism, yes. Especially if that person represent my country. With this context, I say that his pursuit of 'playing cricket because I am still hungry for runs' is a selfish pursuit. Will a valuable slot in the Indian XI be left to satisfy personal hunger of one player? Especially if the player is not available for all matches? He is not god. He is merely a cricket player with good talent and a good track record, so that's that. But all good things have to come to an end. And the selectors have to be firm and strong like Australia to say "Thanks Steve Waugh, you are out". They gotta say "Thanks Sachin, you are a legend, but you're out".

  • Ravi Kanth on March 18, 2012, 9:28 GMT

    100 in 23 overs is not good strike rate against Bangladesh. He took 36 balls to score 20 runs from 80 to 100 where he should have accelerated selflessly or should have been given the wicket where others could have accelerated. Please do not worship your favourite players. I like Sachin and he is a great player that does not mean what are all he is doing is right at this moment. I do not have any favourite player but I enjoy cricket very much and if India wins I am the happiest person but the loss to Bangladesh is very sad.

  • Hasibul on March 18, 2012, 7:15 GMT

    To all Tendulkar critics: It is not Tendulkar's fault that your bowlers can't ball. Tendulkar did his job, but others couldn't. Tendulkar was cautious enough to keep his wicket and score 114 in 147 balls at a strike rate of 77+ which is very good. I doubt if Indian batsmen could stay on pitch till 50 overs had Tendulkar not stayed that long. A big slap on the faces of those who kept on saying Tendulkar finally got 100th 100 after he got a weak country like Bangladesh. See, Bangladesh has got a better bowling lineup than India. And this is the very first time Tendulkar could score an ODI hundred against Bangladesh. I remember India had no time for hosting Bangladesh in India. Now I understand why. Indian cricket board is scared of loosing against Bangladesh. loosers...

  • Milind on March 18, 2012, 4:57 GMT

    You're right, Harsha! Damn the 100th. I don't want to see people chasing personal records if it doesn't help the team win! In his rare press conference, did Sachin express his disappointment at the team's loss? or was it all about the pressure he's been under, and the relief etc. I don't want to see anymore records from SRT.

  • Vinod on March 18, 2012, 4:37 GMT

    to all those who are saying SRT played slow, consider this - even with the strike rate of 85 (his career strike rate) which will be considered good for any opening batsman in ODIs, he would have scored 125 runs which would be 11 more. do you think bangladesh would not have scored those many runs? pathan, dinda and ashwin would have bowled juicy full tosses, half trackers and no balls to make up for those runs. it was foolish bowling by the likes of ashwin and pathan that lost the game. 290 is a very good score in mirupr. btw, even kohli's strike rate was only 80. finally, BAN is a good ODI side. they may beat Sri Lanka as well.

  • Rajiv on March 18, 2012, 2:00 GMT

    @BillyCC - Bradman has the highest average of course he is the greatest batsman ever. If the 'if' clause can be used, if sachin was in his 20's then he would have made 200 100's. Please dont be jealous on this great man. Also if Sachin has only played against one particular country then also he would have made 300 100's.

  • pradeep on March 18, 2012, 0:40 GMT

    Harsha...i always loved your smile. Even if we lost you always had that honest smile. An i was shocked not to see you when i woke up early for the test series vs Australia.Anyway i would like to mention and take peoples attention to our bowling attack, which looks very weak And i want those person to compare todays bowling with the previous attack with Agarkar, Nehra and Khan.Everyone critisized Agarkar for his economy rate....mow compare it with todays bowler..Everyone will now see that it will be hard to beat Agarkar's record...the wicket taking bowler he was...i think time has come when people give respect to Agarkar. I am his biGGGGest fan.N congrats to Tendulkar...we love him...!

  • Billy on March 17, 2012, 22:35 GMT

    @harshthakor, you're right, Bradman wouldn't have been able to match Tendulkar's 100 100s; he would have beaten it comprehensively and already has. The 100 100s is not unique in terms of cricket matches, it has been done plenty of times in a Test cricket/first class cricket context. And it's been done by people who have played plenty of matches. Bradman of course did it at an average of 95 and having played far fewer matches.

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