As the country celebrated the first anniversary of India’s World Cup triumph on 02 April 2011, batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar tweeted - “Time flies but memories last forever”. This emotion expressed by Sachin in many ways encapsulates my emotions about the little champion, his batting genius and his persona. Time will pass by, Sachin will retire one day and we will be left with replays of his batting to watch on television and articles and books to read about him, but the memories that the cricketing legend has bestowed on us will last a lifetime. Every innings that I could watch (though sadly I missed some) will be imprinted in my memory forever. So all I want to say to him is – THANK YOU.
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Lot of Sachin baiters said a lot of uncomplimentary things about him when he went without scoring a century in 33 innings since the 2011 World Cup. But his detractors had no impact on a rock-solid fan like me. I never once doubted his commitment to the game and his ability to prove everyone wrong as he had done in the past. This is not the first time that his critics were gunning for him. He has fought his injuries and bad form with grit and determination and has always let his bat do the talking. Remember, by the time Tendulkar played in the 2007 World Cup, many were sure that it would his last outing at the event. But we all know what happened in the ensuing years and the rest is history.
Yes, 2007 was a bad year for Sachin but from 2008 to 2010 it was vintage Sachin at his best who scored prolifically. He was named ICC’s cricketer of the year in 2010 and also returned to number one spot in ICC Test rankings.
Having said that, I must accept that at times it did frustrate me to see Sachin struggle during the past year and get out after getting a start. The feelings are best described by Sachin’s coach and mentor Ramakant Achrekar when he told a reporter after Tendulkar’s 100 in Bangladesh - “Sachin failing again and again was difficult to understand. I would get tensed and my mood would sour every time he was dismissed.” When analysts of the game and former players started the talk that Sachin must call it quits, I too asked myself this question – was it time for him to bid adieu to the game that he loves so much, at least in the ODIs. And however much I would like him to continue forever, I did feel at times that he should not continue in the 50 over format. But never once did I doubt his place in the Tests. Also, I gave him the benefit of doubt when he decided to pick and choose to play in the ODIs telling myself that there must be a reason to it.
So does that make me an irrational and die-hard fan of Sachin Tendulkar who thinks that he can do no wrong? Maybe yes. Nonetheless, neither do I feel guilty about it nor do I think I am in the wrong. I simply don’t care. For me he is a genius whose batting has been sublime to watch. Feelings of admiration, liking and love are more often than not spontaneous. You meet two people who may be more or less the same but you become friends with one. There may be two actors who may be equally talented but you develop a soft corner for one. And there may be two sportsperson of probably the same stature but you start following one. Some things in life cannot be explained. Just as some of my friends can’t understand my partiality for Sachin, the same way I cannot understand their criticism of him. And anyways, in the confines of my home, I have the freedom of choice to watch what I want to watch on television and follow whom I want to. As the French philosopher Voltaire said - “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” Yes, I feel just like many in this country feel that Sachin belongs to me and all that is good in him belongs to me too.
No one is saying that Sachin should be playing forever but he can and must play till he is as good as others if not better. Why should his place be questioned in the team just because he has reached a certain age? Sachin has the legitimate right to fight for a place in the team as much as others. The young should be given a chance but no team wins just because of young blood. A good team all over the world is one which strikes a fine balance between the young and the experienced. Also, the young need to prove themselves. How many of our generation-next cricketers have been able to impress and be consistent in recent times? But that is a matter of another debate. And if someone wants to take Sachin’s place in the national side then he will have to earn it. Just as Sachin after serving the country for more than two decades has earned the right to decide when he will retire.
Various aspects of the game of cricket may be analysed threadbare by experts, day in and day out - batting technique, bowling actions, various shots, weaknesses and strengths of various players and so on. But at the end of the day for many it is simply a game about the ball being hit by a bat. And the joy of watching Sachin hit the ball with the bat has surpassed all other cricketers that I have watched, even though I have admired the likes of Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly.
Many say that Sachin is not a big match player and he does not stand up and deliver when it matters most. But I say that for years the onus to score and perform was virtually on Sachin’s shoulders. Till he was batting everything used to be fine, but all hell broke loose the moment he got out. Remember the fighting 136 against Pakistan in Chennai on 28 January 1999 that he scored with an excruciating back pain – ranked by critics as one of the greatest Test knocks ever. The whole team let Sachin down when they lost to our neighbours by 12 runs after he got out. It is said that Sachin cried that day and the whole nation cried with him.
Or the 175 that he slammed in 2009 in an ODI against Australia in Hyderabad (100 in 81 balls) – the rest of the batsmen caved in after Sachin got out and we lost a match which we should have won. Or the 2011 World Cup match against South Africa at Nagpur where Sachin scored his 99th century with a strike rate of over 100 and once again after he returned to the pavilion, the rest of the team frittered away the good work done by him. But when Sachin scored 114 in 147 balls against Bangladesh in the recently concluded Asia Cup, there were many who blamed him for India’s loss against the minnows forgetting the contribution of the bowlers. Tendulkar once rightly said, “If one man is representing India in cricket, then yes, blame that person when things go wrong. But it doesn’t always happen according to plan.”
The burden and the scrutiny on Sachin has been so intense that the usually reticent man finally could not hold back his emotions after scoring his hundredth 100 and told the media, “I am not God, I am Sachin Tendulkar.” He also added sarcastically, “My critics haven't taught me my cricket.” It is times like these that you realise that the man is human too. When he said - “I felt that even after 22 years, the cricket God was testing me over the last one year. I will be honest, I was frustrated at times but I never gave up” – we fans could almost feel his pain.
He also said, “There is no doubt the 100th hundred was the most difficult to get. I really don't know why but it was - may be because it turned into a national obsession. May be because I wasn't able to escape talk of the 100th hundred and it was affecting me at a subconscious level. May be God was trying me harder.” Come on guys, give Sachin a break, enjoy his cricket and thank God that he was born an Indian.
Sachin has had the guts to accept his failures in the past and has not shied away from his shortcomings. A case in point is the time when he accepted that he could not deal with the pressures of captaincy and it had started affecting his game. He was honest about it and passed on the mantle to Sourav Ganguly who he thought could do a better job. One day just as honestly and courageously he will walk away from the 22 yards when he realises that the time is right to do so.
To Sachin baiters I would also say - credit the man with a little bit of intelligence and pride. The man who has conducted himself impeccably on and off the field will never drag on and force himself in the team the day he realises that his time is up. That day he will quietly walk into the sunset with his head held high albeit I am sure with tears in his eyes. He did say recently that the day he feels “a little less passion” when going out to bat for India he will “give up the game”.
For me the best statement that Sachin has made in his entire life was when he pointed at the national emblem on the helmet with the handle of his bat looking towards the dressing room after scoring his hundredth 100 at Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur. Yes Sachin, we know that every run that you scored, every shot that you hit, every half-century that you reached, every hundred that you slammed, every catch that you held and every wicket that you took has been for India. And if this does not shut-up your critics then nothing will. So just ignore them and get on with the game. As Sourav Ganguly said in one of his columns, “The tricolour is still imprinted on his helmet and I am sure, it will be there for a few more years.”
In the same column Ganguly called the master blaster <i>‘Chotu Babu’</i> which he said meant the ‘Special One’ in Bengali. Yes, there will be the likes of Virat Kohlis who will wear the India cap in future, yes, the old order will give way to the new and yes, the game of cricket will go on. But what will not be is the fact that there will never be another Sachin, just as there never was another Don Bradman. And when I say this, I also say with pride that I wear my patriotism on my sleeves. I celebrate when India wins and I cry when India loses. But Sachin’s presence made the Indian team a wee bit more special.
<i>Postscript:</i> From being a ball boy during the 1987 World Cup semi-final between India and England to scoring his first century in 1990 at Manchester in England to reaching the milestone of 100 centuries, it has been a long and memorable journey for Sachin. And it has been memorable for all of us who have been a part of that journey. So Sachin, thank you for this and much more that is yet to come. For me, the memories will last a lifetime.