By Siddharth Srivastava
The God of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, has decided to retire. God’s don’t fade away, they endure. Youtube videos of Sachin taking on Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Shoiab Akhtar, will remain forever, I am sure recording millions more hits. I am going to be watching Sachin again and again, in Perth, South Africa, Sharjah, like I do a Mohammed Rafi number, a Beethoven flourish, John McEnroe deft touch, Michael Jackson dancing, Satyajit Ray’s haunting Pather Panchali, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor or Rajesh Khanna romancing a heroine.
Obsessing about Sachin, the master batsman is not just due to a phenomenal record, runs scored, 100 centuries. It is about witnessing a wizard, a maestro at play, live over a quarter of a century, except perhaps the last year or so when the prodigious batsman struggled. The great man has now come to terms with reduced reflexes due to aging. Even God’s are entitled to some off time from managing the universe and cricket.
But, mostly Sachin was about a shot perfectly delivered, timing, balance and placement, mesmerizing the stadium, commentators, viewers, opposition and bowler alike. Sachin topped his genius with hard work and discipline to ensure longevity in the game that obviously helped him chalk up the numbers.
Sachin was not about fitting a formula – the brute force of Chris Gayle or MS Dhoni, swish of Virender Sehwag’s bat for a six over point till recently, dour defense of Rahul Dravid in England, or to extend the logic further, even a clever song, dance, action and comedy mix of a Bollywood masala movie.
Sachin was about delivering a brutal shot without losing the sensuality and sensibility of wielding the willow like an artist, like a Madhubala seducing her audience with the twinkle of her eyes rather than prancing around in size zero bikini, as with Bollywood heroines today.
Sachin was about hitting a six or four the way it can only be done holding a cricket bat, not bludgeoning the ball out of the ground like it happens in the gladiatorial T20s nowadays, like a road rage incident.
Does it matter in a T20 whether a batsman holds a cricket bat, piece of wood, tree trunk, baseball bat or hockey stick? This is kabbadi cricket in which only the result counts. With Sachin, it was achieving the ends all right, but the means meant everything too. It was about perfecting an art, like it is for a writer, singer, director, musician, painter or actor. It was about creativity. The cricket bat, like a violin, was a musical instrument emanating the sweet sound of ball hitting wood in the middle, defending, attacking, flicking, hooking and more.
There have been other practitioners. Brian Lara, Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting. I liked Mohammed Azharuddin, for the sheer artistic wrist play. But, there were too many grey areas in Azhar’s off field activities, including alleged hobnobbing with bookies that has eroded his genius.
For me, Sachin has been the peerless one. He had the (cricketing) qualities of all the aforementioned, if you ask me, which is why he outlasted each one of them. Co-incidentally the Sachin phenomenon happened in the 90s and the decade that followed, the period when the Indian economy witnessed high growth, incomes, jobs and all round happiness. Sachin epitomized the middle class dream – excelling via hard work, diligence, merit and honesty, importantly both in his personal and professional life. He has remained rooted and humble.
Ironically, Sachin has decided to exit when India faces an uncertain economic and political future. Perhaps the destinies of the two are linked in some way.
Maybe, Sachin needs to find a new calling to excel again. India would too I am sure. As a Member of Parliament, could politics be his new vocation? This seems unlikely as Indian politics today is about the scum and the silent. Sachin can be neither.
Post Sachin, I am going to be following some live cricket action that strictly makes some sense. Those I won’t care about include the ongoing India-Australia series of commerce and convenience in sub continent conditions that allows even a Suresh Raina to scoop sixes. Or the recent T20 championship, the name of which I don’t recall. I do remember Sachin and Rahul Dravid speaking to each other for one last time on the cricket field. I did not bother to watch the match though.
I am never going to switch on the TV for another India-Sri Lanka series even if the promoters decide to hire cheerleaders for test matches or one day internationals. I am never going to try and recall the names of all IPL teams, including the new ones that may be formed, though I will watch some IPL matches for the T20 adrenalin fix topped with some good wine. It can work well at times, especially to lighten a dull evening. Or else, I will just watch Sachin on Youtube or maybe Dev Anand.
(Formerly a journalist with the Times of India in Delhi, Siddharth Srivastava is based in Gurgaon. He blogs as Mocking Indian)