His own book of world records

Image, today, is everything, and Sachin Tendulkar's agents have painstakingly fabricated an effective persona for their ward

Samanth Subramanian

December 13, 2001

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Image, today, is everything, and Sachin Tendulkar's agents have painstakingly fabricated an effective persona for their ward. His new Visa ad says it best. Tendulkar, to his adoring public, is naive almost to the point of being simple, an all-round good guy who, on having a few dozen beers taken off him by the opposing team, grins sheepishly and flashes his credit card to pay for them.

To say that it could not be further from the truth is not intended to portray Tendulkar as an evil schemer plotting to take over the world. But to call him naive would be to toy untruthfully with the word. Tendulkar is quietly canny, a child more of measured judgement than of impetuous instinct, and if substantiation were needed, the barely perceptible shift in his batting style should provide it.

When the fancy strikes him, Tendulkar can be a Mozart of mayhem, as shell-shocked spectators in Sharjah and Chennai will breathlessly testify. Strokes flow from his blade with suspicious felicity, and it is common to see the ball, unwillingly parting from his presence, hurry madly and fling itself exhausted over the ropes, waiting to be thrown back into the game and kiss that MRF-emblazoned surface one more time.

But Tendulkar's innings of late, especially in Test cricket, have more of the diligent labourer than the craftsman about them. The birth of each significant knock, in particular, is spectacularly unspectacular; Tendulkar resolutely avoids temptation, eschewing any tendency to flash into a pull or waggling his bat outside off-stump too early in the day. Those sort of human qualities, one feels, have been bequeathed to VVS Laxman.

His approach suggests almost that Tendulkar, making a cold analysis of his talent and position, calculated that he could, with some application, pocket every batting record in the history of the game, barring of course the Don's Jove-like career average. Once decided, he has begun to practise that unattractive art parading under the innocuous term of "percentage cricket."

Tendulkar's 27th Test century may have brought him on par with Steve Waugh and put him behind only Gavaskar and Bradman, but it was a dreary affair to watch. Only the odd stroke evoked quiet moans from the aesthetes; more often, the ball rebounded precisely off the blade into the gap, and a single was taken. No Beethoven-esque pomp, just a humdrum Chopin imitation to the strains of the crowd's "Ganapathi Bappa Moriya."

All, no doubt, in the interests of the team, but Tendulkar's genius should be, and has been in the past, able to marry spectacle and substance, as his Caribbean counterpart so recently did in Sri Lanka. Gleefully taking every chance to cut and drive his way to a mind-blowing 688 runs and a series average of 114.66, Brian Lara yet did not compromise on flair and strokeplay. The risks, consequently, were still there, but Lara was able to minimise them enough to be negligible.

Regressing into his former mindset might not be the easiest task in the world, but cricket fans irrespective of their nationality will be hoping that Tendulkar can do so. The records will still be there for the taking, for he has age and talent on his side, but he would be gladder for the shift in approach. It is, after all, much more pleasing to think that, 70 years down the line, old codgers on park benches will avidly discuss one particular Tendulkar innings rather than merely recite a weighty list of records.

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