Standing on the shoulders of giants
With Sachin Tendulkar's announcement that he intends to retire after two more Tests, there is a certain sense of sadness. Being present at the ground and witnessing a historic innings unfold has an almost tactile quality. It gets under one's skin. Unfortunately, some of us living in the US never had the privilege of watching him live in the throes of battle and had to be content with satellite feeds or ESPNcricinfo. While television coverage with its close-ups and replays from every conceivable angle is a far superior watching experience than would be possible if one were sitting in the stands about 100 yards away from the action, it also robs one of the energy, excitement and anticipation that can only be experienced by being at the ground. The sense of immediacy and presence is absent. With just two more Tests to go, the chance of watching him live will be gone forever. Tendulkar, however, will continue to inhabit our consciousness and collective memories for a long time and none us is in a hurry to retire him from there.
It is very likely that no cricketer will threaten Tendulkar's record of 100 centuries, 34,000-odd international runs, 463 ODIs and potentially 200 Tests. These are awesome accomplishments. Difficult to comprehend, even though the numbers are understood. Something like saying our nearest neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda, is about 6 million light years away. The numbers are understood but we can scarcely comprehend the distance.
In every field of endeavour, the one who reaches the pinnacle will be found to have built upon the knowledge and experience of someone who preceded him. We always stand on someone else's shoulders. For all his natural abilities as a cricketer, Tendulkar might not have amounted to much if those abilities had not been channelled, chiseled and honed. For that, we have to be grateful to all those who were involved in nurturing him, including his brother, and, of course, his coach. Let us not forget his wife either. Then there is the inspirational value of a hero. That is where Sunil Gavaskar comes into the discussion. While it is not generally known how much direct influence Gavaskar has had in Tendulkar's life, the inspirational value cannot be denied.
Gavaskar, as the grey-haired generation knows well, took the Indian cricket lovers by storm in 1971. Till then, no one in Indian cricket had displayed sufficient guts, the technique or the commitment to stand up to such hostile fast bowling as he did. There has never been such a belligerent battery of fast bowlers as the West Indians in the '70s nad '80s. Gavaskar stood up to them without a helmet. Not only did he hold them at bay, his greatest success came against them. He was not merely a solidly defensive player; he accumulated runs by the bushel. "Gavaskar," Garry Sobers explained in one word when asked why West Indies lost the 1971 series.
Records inevitably tumbled before Gavaskar. Bradman was passed, 34 centuries scaled, 10,000 runs posted. All unheard of and unthinkable till then. Gavaskar was in a one-man club and in the '70s and '80s carried the hopes and aspirations of a nation. Imagine a young lad, his fantasy ignited by witnessing all this, saying to himself, "I want to be like him". Imagine the lad looking up to Gavaskar as his role model, and being inspired by the opportunity to finally meet him face to face when still in his formative years. The Gavaskar phenomena preceded the Tendulkar phenomena.
Tendulkar may have, in any case, been a leading batsman in world cricket, but it cannot be denied that Gavaskar, in some subliminal and unconscious ways, perhaps even in direct ways, helped launch Tendulkar toward and beyond the rarified peaks he first scaled. ML Jaisimha, at the top of the batting order in the 1960s, for Gavaskar; Gavaskar for Tendulkar; Tendulkar for Sehwag - the only triple-centurion from India, twice, who watching his hero on TV said, "I want to be like him". And all of humanity on the shoulders of the ape who never held a bat but said to himself, "Hmm, I want to stand up and walk on two instead of all four."
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