March 23, 2012

Tendulkar and the burden of the 100th

The quest of the landmark affected his performance over the last year, and we must ask ourselves whether we are partly to blame for his predicament
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Sachin Tendulkar's ascent to his 100th hundred was probably like the last leg of a Himalayan conquest. I say "probably" because I have experienced neither, nor am I likely to, but he seemed weary and consumed by the thought - in itself an unusual occurrence.

He had started to fret a little bit, had refused to meet the media in Australia because he knew the 100th would be the focus of conversation. Like Betaal, the vampire spirit from an ancient Indian tale, the landmark clung to him and wouldn't let go, however hard he tried to ignore its presence. Eventually it got to him and the man who has always taken great pride in playing for India was forced to play for the hundred.

Therein lies the inherent contradiction of life; you want the landmark, but if that is what you play for, you don't get it. If you can hypnotise yourself into thinking that the landmark doesn't exist, you get it quicker. If the 100th hadn't been on Tendulkar's mind - and we must take part of the blame for that - he might have got it earlier. The more he thought of it the more distant it grew and the more distant it grew, the more it began to suffocate him.

You could see that in Australia. When he batted with an end in mind, even close of play for that matter, he seemed tentative, his feet burdened. When he batted freely, he took your breath away (and that is why his insistence that he was batting well in Australia). But then suddenly the landmark, like a ghostly mirage, loomed and he was locked in at the end again.

I find this phase fascinating because it tells me that even the mightiest, the very greatest of them all, have the very insecurities that normal folks have. They fear like we do, they fret and brood and wake up in the middle of the night like we do, and they attract what they fear, like we do. They are humans too; to call them God is to wilfully suspend reality, even to mock at their perseverance.

Many years ago I asked Tendulkar what was on his mind as he walked out to bat. "I would like my mind to be blank," he had said. He wanted his instinct to play the ball and for that he needed a fresh mind, not one clogged with thoughts. He said he thought about the conditions, the surface, the opposition, what shots would be good and what wouldn't, but all that was well before the game started. Once it began, he had a good day if his mind was blank. I suspect, over the last eight months, the mind wasn't blank enough, like a bit of dust in the carburettor playing havoc with a finely tuned engine.

Just as surprising was his admission of stress, for I know he has been through much in life without making an issue of it, without offering it as an excuse. But I wonder if physical pain is sometimes the lesser burden to carry into a game than mental stress, for Tendulkar has carried pain into a match innumerable times and overcome it. A century in an Asia Cup match against Bangladesh on a slow, low surface cannot be the most difficult to score. I haven't seen all his hundreds but have seen many achieved in more difficult conditions. In Dhaka, as indeed in every game he played since the World Cup, the greater battle was with himself, with the expectations of him, both of which he has conquered in the past; certainly the second, which he has lived with all his life.

But Tendulkar's imprisonment and, I hope, subsequent release must force us to ask unpleasant questions of ourselves. Is India, as a nation, obsessed with the individual? Do we reward individual performances over those that might be achieved collectively? Do we therefore encourage selfishness as a society? Or is it the necessary by-product of our population and our resultant struggle to merely exist?

But now it is done. Joy at a landmark that will never again be achieved must necessarily, and sadly, be accompanied by relief. And in spite of having watched him closely for almost 25 years, I am excited by the thought of watching a liberated Tendulkar, for there are no consuming landmarks to achieve (and hopefully our ability to conceive them will stay perpetually dulled).

We could go back to the pure Tendulkar. What joy that will be!

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • lgnandan on March 27, 2012, 11:14 GMT

    Harsha, you're the real writer of Cricket. I'm fan your articles. Yes, Harsha, India is a country where glorification of a individuals happens all time. It might be in politics, cinema or any field. I don't know whether people's tendency is like that in India or not. For the matter the majority of the "race" itself is fond of this "behaviour" of glorification. The main culprit is a part of media which is very powerful and has no knowledge and ethics of real journalism. We have to leave this matter behind because there is a proverb in Kannada, "We can't make tail of dog straight after tying it to a stick!". Media will keep haunting Sachin if he pleads them get away from him. Obsessed people.

  • sachin86 on March 25, 2012, 18:08 GMT

    Granted sachin played slowly for his 100th hundred as he wanted to get rid of the monkey off his back so that he can play freely...but what gives dravid fanatics reason to criticize sachin for his 78 SR innings when dravid hardly crossed SR of 80 in his career and his career SR is 71?clear case of pot calling the kettle black...what about those 100s of ODIs india lost because of poor Scoring rate of dravid?sachin very rarely played slow in ODIs even though wickets used to tumble at the other end...but we Indian public labelled dravid as "the wall" and "Mr. dependable" that he was always exempted from criticism...Now dravid fanatics shouldn't complain that he never got his due or recognition because he never got his fair share of criticisms as well...this is what sets apart the best from the good,dravid was never in spotlight like sachin where one can be showered with flowers as well as tomatoes and plastic bottles...sachin endured all this and came forth as a champion.

  • sachin86 on March 25, 2012, 17:47 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas

    Now the true colors are blatantly showing out.So,let me also take out the flat track innings' of dravid as well in his lean period,taking out his gems against BANG,NZ(where harbhajan was the best batsman with two centuries than FTB dravid)...MAT-36 INN-67 No-5 Runs-2028 HS-177 AVg-32.70 100s-4 50s-8...abysmal to the core i should say...a mammoth 67 innings with a paltry Afridiesque average of 32 and he was in the team...had it been sachin world war 3 would have started...Also,FYI,in the previous post of mine i didn't mean to compare their averages but the number of innings of mediocrity that dravid played and how he escaped criticism inspite of...Well,i'm not gonna argue anymore regarding this as it's glaringly evident you are trying way too hard to conceal dravid's failures and show your blazing hatred towards sachin...You've lost credibility....good luck!

  • itsthewayuplay on March 25, 2012, 16:52 GMT

    To pick up an earlier point re SRT and contradictions. SRT today said that to retire at the peak of his game would be selfish because he should serve his country and then goes on to say he achieved his biggest goal of lifting the WC but doesn't know if he'll play in the 2015 WC?! Surely the time to start planning for the next WC is now so that new players have time to bed themselves in. So either make the commitment now or for best interests of the team, retire from ODIs to allow new players the opportunity. Could this possibly be the height of selfishness? Perhaps SRT should consult with the greatest Indian batsman of all, Rahul Dravid, about what is best for Indian cricket.

  • itsthewayuplay on March 25, 2012, 16:40 GMT

    One of the most disappointing things I've seen in a long time was during the disastrous Eng tour. It was Dravid who raised his hand to open the innings when the need arose. because he was 1 of only 2 players with the right technique to deal with the English bowlers in those conditions, the other being SRT. VVS is a strokeplayer in every sense of the word, even more so than SRT, and is at his best when the openers have done their job of seeing off the shine of the new ball. So it made no sense whatsoever to send him at 3 particularly when the first wicket going down early. I don't know what was discussed in the dressing room but surely it should have been SRT coming in at one down but instead chose to stay in his favoured no 4 position despite his poor form during that series.

  • itsthewayuplay on March 25, 2012, 16:39 GMT

    @Nampally Kohli Raina and MSD all had better a SR that Sachin in that game. Surely a winning total will depend on the nature of the pitch. My point is that SRT is an automatic choice if he's fit regardless of form. Competition for places in theory ensures it brings the best out in everyone but where Sachin is concerned. This may be due to 2 main reasons (1) Sachin is a draw for a lot of people and therefore a money spinner for the BCCI (2) The selectors don't have the courage to drop him if he's not in form. You have mentioned on a number of occasions that young bowlers are benched because MSD has his favourites but an out of form SRT is also depriving in-form players of opportunities. It doesn't make sense. I'm was one Sachin's biggest fans when he started out to the extent that it wouldn't matter whether India won or lost as long as Sachin got a century playing the way he used to. But he doesn't play that way any more.

  • PallathZ on March 25, 2012, 13:18 GMT

    continued

    .& for his pride ,I'm sure he skipped Windies again. Batted beautifully in the first 2 Test matches in Australia where all experts were c pointing that a big one was round the corner as he looked in great touch & to be frank ,he looked the best in both the test matches.Then it changed & thereafter everything else started going wrong.Pressure mounted & the great men faced music.This time the pressure was more on him as all the seniors failed.They had to point out to someone. Not easy being Tendulkar ! right …Enjoy whilst he is there.The day he retires,the same guys will pour in with their thoughts on how he was one better than the greatest ever.

  • Nampally on March 25, 2012, 13:17 GMT

    @Red_Rooster: Thanks for your balanced comments.If scoring a century @S/R of 78 as an opener is Selfish & slow then get a guy who can do lot faster- Sehwag.One's love for a Legend should never lead to other Legends being hated.Sachin Tendulkar will always be the little master who is the batting genius of the Indian Cricket.If Sachin was selfish he would not have been out in 90's on > 35 other occasions in Tests & ODI's.He would have stayed & converted each of them to a Century.Against BD, a total of 289 is always a winning total with half decent bowling.If India cannot find bowlers who can restrict the opposition to <250, then they do not deserve any Wins. In an ODI 250 total is the target for most teams. I would call it an atrocious team if leaking >5 runs/over. Focus on better bowling than blaming an all time great - Tendulkar's century for India's defeat.If Sachin had failed, India might have been out for <200. So Sachin gave India a winning chance - This is a debate in futility!

  • PallathZ on March 25, 2012, 13:16 GMT

    As Sachin himself pointed out ,people were fixated on 100th one & forgot about the 99. It was his first one day hundred against BD & am sure if you analyze his 99 hundreds ,his strike rate would mostly be among the top & surely the best in India. We are talking about someone who has been the best in the business. We shouldn't be penalizing him for his brilliance.He was the highest run getter for India in 2011 & was in superb form.Loads of material then was written on what he did right,his passion,technique & class after the world cup & his double in one dayers then. The only issue was probably with the form he ran in,he believed he could straightaway get back to play when it matters.So he skipped WI.Badly needed a hundred at Lords I suppose.England was an eye opener.Things were not to his liking.Then he choose not play WI in one dayers.It started going wrong with the Windies as well with expectations zooming in back home for the Test matches.Mumbai was an ideal venue.He failed

  • honey-lotion on March 25, 2012, 11:32 GMT

    A masterpiece of an article. I'm a big fan of Harsha and his crafty way of dealing with sensitive elements and again he has dealt with the topic so delicately. Someone reading in between the lines would surely be able to get more than the obvious that he has written.

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