September 8, 2012

The joy of Sachin

For what Sachin Tendulkar has given me over the years, I remain deeply, profoundly, grateful. Those calling for his retirement should be too

As Sachin Tendulkar walked back to the pavilion after being bowled for a low score in the first innings of the second Test against New Zealand, I heard a man in the row behind me say: "Time to think of retirement." This was a heartlessly cruel remark, especially in Bangalore, where India's greatest batsman has played some magical innings over the past 20 years.

There was worse to come. In the second innings, when Sachin failed again, the murmurings became louder. More people in the pavilion began voicing thoughts unthinkable a year ago, when, after India's World Cup victory, there was a widespread demand for the Bharat Ratna to be immediately conferred on Sachin.

The Indian cricket fan is notoriously fickle. No doubt the middle-aged men in the pavilion of the Chinnaswamy Stadium calling for Tendulkar's retirement earlier this week had been the most vigorous advocates of his being awarded India's highest civilian honour a year ago.

I am proud to say that I stood apart from the herd then, and I shall stand apart from it now. The Bharat Ratna should be reserved for great scientists, statesmen, scholars, social workers, and - at a pinch - classical musicians. As mere entertainers, cricketers can't and don't qualify. On the other hand, when this remarkable batsman is experiencing a lean time at the crease, it behoves us to not call for his retirement but to recall his better days.

In the early 1990s I lived in Delhi. I first saw Sachin in a match at the Ferozeshah Kotla, soon after his debut tour of Pakistan. He did not bat in that game but I remember, most vividly, his alarm and nervousness when hordes of fans rushed towards him as he went out to field, clutching at his sleeve, his cap, his foot, his arm, as is their wont. Three years later, by now an established Test star, he played for India against Zimbabwe at the Kotla, where he was involved in a long stand with his childhood friend and schoolmate Vinod Kambli.

Zimbabwe had one top-class spinner, John Traicos, who, although then over 40 years of age, had a fine high action, immaculate control, and subtle changes of flight. While Kambli came down the wicket and drove Traicos hard and high, Tendulkar stayed in the crease and deftly worked him past slip and behind square leg. When he had reached about 60 he mistimed a cover drive off the other spinner, a journeyman named Ujesh Ranchod, and was superbly caught at cover by Traicos, diving full-length in front of him. Kambli went on to score a double-century.

Soon after this Test, I moved back to Bangalore. The first time I saw Tendulkar play in my home town was in a match against Sri Lanka. Muttiah Muralitharan was then new to Test cricket, and the master took apart the novice, treating him much as he had done the veteran Traicos, with a series of cuts and sweeps. When the second new ball was taken, Tendulkar hit the fast bowler Pramodya Wickramasinghe for a series of cracking boundaries through the off side. He had got to 96, when, trying to cut that other journeyman spinner Don Anurasiri, he lost his off stump.

Four years later I returned from the west coast of the United States just in time to watch a Test against Australia. In the first two matches of the series, the Indian batsmen had comprehensively dominated Shane Warne. Navjot Sidhu, Tendulkar and Azharuddin all made merry at his expense, albeit by contrasting methods - Sidhu by lofting him straight, Sachin by sweeping and pulling him, Azhar by guiding him past point and flicking him through midwicket.

By the time of the third and last Test of the series, Warne was wholly demoralised. India batted first in Bangalore. This day, too, Sachin was in complete command, hitting a series of searing straight drives off Michael Kasprowicz while picking the spinners for twos and threes. He went on to make what at the time was his highest Test score, 177.

Fast forward five or six years, to another India-Australia match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, a one-day game this time. I was sitting in the galleries, where the mood and spirit of the crowd is at its most revealing. The visitors, batting first, scored in excess of 300. India lost a couple of wickets, but so long as the great man was in, the game was not hopelessly lost.

The Indian cricket fan is notoriously fickle. No doubt the middle-aged men in the pavilion of the Chinnaswamy Stadium calling for Tendulkar's retirement earlier this week had been the most vigorous advocates of his being awarded India's highest civilian honour a year ago

Sachin played a series of magically inventive shots, inside-out over cover, paddle sweeps behind the keeper, sublime late cuts, testing the anticipation and athleticism of some of the world's finest fielders. With every four he hit, the men (and boys) around me would raise their eyes to the heavens, and intone: "Sachin! Sachin!" They were privileged to have seen the divine in the flesh, performing acts of heroism and devilry more innovative than our gods had thought of, and against more devilishly asuric enemies too. It was a truly fabulous innings, made more remarkable by the timid showing of the batsmen at the other end. Sachin got to 89 off about 80 balls before he tried one late cut too many and was bowled.

Shortly after this innings he was afflicted by tennis elbow. This affected his mobility and his shot-making, so much so that in a column I wrote that the genius had become a grafter. Rest and expert treatment, however, cured him completely. In 2010 I saw him hit a magnificent double hundred in a Test against Australia at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, where he unveiled his full range of strokes - cuts, pulls, cover drives, leg glides, and sixes into the stands.

Six months later I saw Sachin score another sublime hundred in Bangalore, in an early match of the 2011 World Cup. Once more, what stood out was his mastery of spin and pace. He demolished England's best bowlers, James Anderson and Graeme Swann, the former through flicks and glides and the latter through drives over and into the straight field. His innings was superbly paced, being matched in this respect by Andrew Strauss, who scored an equally fine hundred in England's chase, which ended in a rare tie.

I watched my first Ranji Trophy match in 1968, my first Test match four years later. In these four and a half decades of cricket watching, live, at the ground, no batsman has given me as much pure, continual pleasure over such a long period as Tendulkar. Not even GR Viswanath, the hero of my youth, the first Test cricketer I shook hands with, the jewel of my home town and my home state, and whom (unlike Sachin) I also often saw make runs (and with what exquisite grace and subtlety) in First Division cricket (for the State Bank of India) and the Ranji Trophy (for Karnataka) as well as for India.

For what Sachin Tendulkar has given me over the years, I remain deeply, profoundly, grateful - and so should those foolish and fickle-minded cynics in the pavilion of the Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Historian and cricket writer Ramachandra Guha is the author of A Corner of A Foreign Field and Wickets in the East among other books

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on September 11, 2012, 19:17 GMT

    @adityasarin:You call Mr. Guha "Out of touch with the Cynical Fans". But you are also forgetting that there are real fans of Indian Cricket who have the same feelings for Sachin as the author!, These Fans are prepared to wait for Sachin to announce his retirement when he feels ready to do it rather than being bullied into it. Here is a truly great batsman who gave it all for the Indian Cricket & helped them reach #1 spot in Tests + world cup in ODI's. Huge progress from Post Raj British era!. Sachin brought the Bombay stock exchange to standstill when he came to bat. He was so popular. Now we see a whole bunch of "Cynical Fans" (as you call them), crying out for Sachin to quit - just because his last 3 innings were 19, 17 & 27= total 63. The very same guys forget that the young (25) & "most" talented Rohit Sharma totalled 15 in 5 innings in SL!. They are not bullying Rohit to retire, Are they?. With Indian openers faring badly Sachin is needed more then ever now - "Agism" must stop!

  • Satyajit on September 11, 2012, 8:26 GMT

    @jay57870, sensible comment. Sachin's presence is required more now that Rahul and VVS has retired. The young Indian middle order with some talents like Kohli and Pujara do require some more guidance from a stalwart. Coming to Ramachandra's qualification list which in a way subscribes to what was orginally written by constitution makers, I beg to differ. Pre independence India and right through consecutive decades till 80's continued ignoring sports as an important aspect of life. That resulted into poor sporting culture and sportaman getting neglected. Indian constitution is not something written in stones and that has been proved by multiple constitutional amendments. Time has come to make changes into this outlook. Sportsmen of the highest order need to taken as seriously as achievers in other fields. Yes, it should not be cheap and very few sportperson should get it(Anand and Sachin are two names coming to my mind). Also, for sportperson you can always wait till they retire.

  • Aditya on September 10, 2012, 13:42 GMT

    As mere entertainers, cricketers can't and don't qualify. ??????????? Are off your rocker mr. guha? you admit " I am proud to say that I stood apart from the herd then, and I shall stand apart from it now. ' , i think that all you want to do, be different.

    "For what Sachin Tendulkar has given me over the years, I remain deeply, profoundly, grateful - and so should those foolish and fickle-minded cynics in the pavilion of the Chinnaswamy Stadium" - since when did you become what a sachin fan should be....just because you have the privelge of being read/heard does not make the 'cynical' ones irrelevant.

    absolutely out of touch with the 'fans'.

  • VaRUN on September 10, 2012, 13:03 GMT

    When you're young and with great hand- eye coordination, you can get away with playing across the line. Not so much when you get old. He needs to stop playing across the line. Look at all his dismissals in the last three test series. Always caught behind/clean bowled/lbw while playing across the line.

  • Santhosh Prabhu on September 10, 2012, 11:51 GMT

    Is this really Ramachandra Guha?

  • Jay on September 10, 2012, 11:33 GMT

    Listen to what former coach Gary Kirsten once observed: "Look, if Rahul, Sachin or VVS decides to retire it is a major blow ... But as long as the retirements of these players are staggered, rather than everyone leaving all at once ("triple whammy"), it will be a little easier for the team to integrate and groom the younger players"! Sane advice! Yes, Sachin's reassuring presence buys valuable time for the youngsters to develop & mature. This transition has to be carefully managed, not rushed. Best it's staggered, series by series. Yes, we should all be "deeply, profoundly, grateful" to Sachin for being there for the team when it needs him. Peter Roebuck called him "public property, India's proudest possession"! Is he deserving of the Bharat Ratna? It's India's highest civilian award for "performance of highest order in any field of human endeavour". Clearly Sachin fits the bill, notwithstanding Guha's elitist BR qualifications. But it's a topic for another day. Only after he's done!!

  • Jay on September 10, 2012, 11:20 GMT

    Guha is writing as if Sachin is history! Yes, flashbacks of "joy" do validate Sachin as "India's greatest batsman"! Likewise Guha's "fickle-minded cynics" with selective snapshots of the past year/series/innings are also depicting Sachin as history! Sadly it's riled their "herd" instinct to pile on! Emotions aside, but is Sachin really done? Let's pause & reflect on the situation as of NOW. Reality: India's batting has a big void. The "generation of gifted & selfless cricketers, among them Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly & Kumble, but perhaps Tendulkar the most" (per Guha) is virtually gone. Saurav hasn't been replaced at No.6 as yet. With Rahul & VVS exiting, it leaves Sachin as the lone man standing - as it was in his earlier years. Full circle: he's carrying the burden of India's batting at No.4. With rising stars Pujara & Kohli still settling in at Nos.3 & 5, why risk destabilising the batting order with a triple whammy? And sink the team, knowing its bowling is still the Achilles' heel?

  • kannan on September 10, 2012, 7:54 GMT

    for someone who wrote a masterpiece titled " a corner of a foreign field", Guha comes across as completely disconnected with reality. He would know by now, after reading the comments, that he got the pulse of the public completely wrong. The indian fan is forgiving, but is not an idiot. Thanks, Mr Guha.

  • Ali on September 10, 2012, 7:06 GMT

    @Chetan Asher..Absolultely my view, the coming series against England, South africa and australia will be much more difficult than the one india played against a very weak Newzealand side...sachin will be facing bowlers like Anderson, broad, Flynn, onion, bresnan, starch, Cummings, Johnson, sidle(may be), Patterson, steyn, morkel, philander and swann....all these bowlers are far better than the NewZealand's pace bowlers and they must have monitored sachin's ever existing flaw against a delivery which nips back in to the right hander after pitching. After all he is a human too and in 23 yrs, he has still not been able to counter this flaw in his batting. medium pacer like abdur razzaq had got him out bowled on numerous occasions in this way...but the caliber sachin has, one expects him to be tough against the tougher oppositions, although his age, reflexes and power are all against him and he is not going to get younger fingers crossed.

  • Praveen on September 10, 2012, 5:23 GMT

    Sachin's attitude towards game is worrying sign. He says he loves the games so much, but playing IPL is more important than representing a country for him. It shows he loves cricket, but he loves playing whichever he likes to play. After IPL he skipped SL tour. His interests have never been committed to Indian cricket. His place is now guaranteed in a team for many financial deals with companies Sachin has under BCCI who earn money. So, well it's a human tendency to live in the glory and so is Sachin doing that. It has been trend after World cup 2011. May be he have felt that's the final destination he reached that relives him of stress and after that can play freely whichever he feels. Wait Sachin, this is not a Mumbai cricket team to get and go out.Worst attitude towards team is what is worrying sign. He has no plans on how to move forward with India and talk on his plans. It's the simple escaping answer in front of media is always with him. When there is no dedication don't play.Go.

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