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Centurion

Of Tendulkar among other things

A genre-defying new book brings together sport, philosophy and fiction

Sharda Ugra

January 6, 2013

Comments: 7 | Text size: A | A

Cover of <i>Centurion: The Father, The Son and the Spirit of Cricket</i>
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Players/Officials: Sachin Tendulkar
Teams: India

Cricket fiction, like a team's innings, often depends on the openers. Mike Marqusee's Slow Turn - "In Madras the umpire was murdered and it made us all uneasy" - was Sehwag-like in the boldness of its take-off. Then there's the deliberate Alastair Cook-ness of Joseph O'Neill's deeply introspective Netherland. "The afternoon before I left London for New York - Rachel had flown out six weeks previously…" etc. Shehan Karunatilaka's wonderfully zany Chinaman says, "Begin with a question" and keeps you hooked all the way to suburban New Zealand.

Centurion starts with "Hi." That's as open-ended as can be, and given that author Pramesh Ratnakar chose not have his name on the cover, eccentricity is to be expected.

At its centre, is a fictional imagining of the psychological footprint left by Sachin Tendulkar's father - a professor of Marathi literature, a genteel scholar who belonged to a world of books and words - on his son, a man of action, vast fields and open skies.

Centurion examines worlds from individual to global, and contains a variety of voices and narrative styles. Everyday conversation (hence the "hi" that opens it) turns into an interior monologue (of a character who could be Sachin Tendulkar), followed by a legal trial and a stretch of dialogue that hovers between Biblical and Vedic.

The book ends with a q&a, and in a final flourish "Tendulkar" saves the world. In normal circumstances that would be somewhat of an eye-rolling cop-out. In Centurion, though, the end is not the point of the entire exercise. Subtitled "The Father, The Son and the Spirit of Cricket", the book is a languid, expansive exploration of the tenuous links between sport and study, the educationist and the utopianist, man's inner and outer worlds.

The book centres around a job interview for a maverick professor to head the college where Tendulkar's father taught in real life. It ends up talking about conflict and humanity, and includes the thoughts of 14th century Maharashtrian poet-saints Muktabai and Janabai, Japanese poet-saint Basho, English lawyer-philosopher Sir Thomas More, 19th century American Indian leader Chief Seattle, and the poetry of Professor Ramesh Tendulkar. The characters in Centurion may be fictional but the words of the poet exist. Including a mystical idea of a "string of uncertainty" that turns every game of cricket into a "lyric on the playground".

Centurion is inventive, unusual, and full of fictional insights and in-jokes - some of which sound spookily true. In one instance, the fictional character speaking in what could be Tendulkar's voice says:

"I don't shout and scream like McEnroe but make no mistake about it. The crocodile lives on in me - careful and camouflaged. When people talk about my 'humility', it smiles - and if you were to look deep into my eyes you would see all its teeth."

It is hard to read that and not think, "holy moly".

Centurion: The Father, the Son and The Spirit of Cricket
by Pramesh Ratnakar
HarperCollins India
Rs 225, 150 pages


Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by   on (January 7, 2013, 23:52 GMT)

I think most of you are missing the point. This is fictional, and as Sharda says it interweaves the world of cricket, philosophy, and literature. I don't think the author wants to disrespect anyone, or paint Tendulkar in a certain way.

Posted by   on (January 7, 2013, 9:16 GMT)

When I read the article, I almost had the feeling I was reading Page 2. But even if it would have been in Page 2, I would still not appreciate the jab at Sachin's late father. You need to should some respect to the dead. And about his humility, I dont know much, but I can say that if you were half as talented as him, and had done about one-tenth of what he has achieved, you would be screaming you head off from rooftops, claiming to be the Messiah of this generation who has saved the world from an Apocalypse.

Posted by   on (January 7, 2013, 4:48 GMT)

mvcric, you are not much one for subtletly, are you? Ever heard of the iron fist in the velvet glove? Sachin thrashing Zimbabwe in Sharjah, literally going berserk and strutting enough to make Viv Richards blush; even Saurav at the other end smilingly urging his partner to calm down. Then the post-match interview and Sachin saying words to the effect that 'people' had spoken about his failure against an attack so had just proved them wrong (Olonga had got him out for 11 in the league match and Sach now showed Olonga and Zim who was boss of whom). That's the crocodile lurking just beneath the surface of the still waters of Sachin's humility. BTW, I'm not picking on Sachu, just pointing out that every super achiever in any field has the croc or the 'killer instinct' in them. McEnroe, Ponting, Muhammad Ali can't or don't hide the croc. Sachu, Murali, Imran, Alastair Cook, Schumacher all do keep it on a tight leash. (I'd better stop now; this is beginning to sound vulgar!!)

Posted by hfiery89 on (January 6, 2013, 14:27 GMT)

rtruth90, have you ever watched cricket in your life before.. in his first series he played imran, wasim, waqar bleeding n did u forget sarjah n 175 against Aus n so so many like this..

Posted by rtruth90 on (January 6, 2013, 13:35 GMT)

Tendulkar plays for records and chokes in pressure situations.

Posted by mvcric on (January 6, 2013, 7:15 GMT)

So, what is Sharda Ugra suggesting? That Sachin's humility is a facade? One can put on a pretense for some time but not for 23 long years. It's insinuations like this that make one sick when reading about what some of the journalists write about Sachin.

Posted by   on (January 6, 2013, 5:46 GMT)

"if you were to look deep into my eyes you would see all its teeth"- brilliantly put..

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