Bharat Ratna Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar — sure sounds sweet to the ears!
What better way to felicitate the greatest cricketer in the country by bestowing upon him the greatest adulation that we as a nation can shower. And what better way to show the journeyman who retires valiantly into the sunset after 24-long-years that he was indeed the greatest sportsperson worthy of being the first sporting hero in the country to bag the honour. Wait. Greatest Indian sports person? Did that come out right?
Each one of the crores whose eyes moistened at the glimpse of Sachin touching the hallowed Wankhede pitch as a mark of reverence for all that it had helped him achieve will vouch that he is indeed the one. Surely awarding someone’s achievements didn’t mean that the others were lesser sportspersons. Or did it?
Sachin stands in august company of achievers who have been conferred with the Bharat Ratna. And there was arguably a better way to set the trend of honouring sportspersons with India’s highest honour, than to begin with Sachin—undoubtedly the best cricketer India has ever produced.
Surely Kapil Dev is credited with galvanizing the batch of 1983 to achieve the seemingly impossible. And through his 10,000-plus-runs-long career Sunil Gavaskar showed what mettle Indian batsmen were made of as he countered the fiery pace of West Indian bowlers with fire. But they too agree that 24 years is an awfully long time to play cricket at the highest stage. A lion’s share of these years Sachin spent carrying the burden of a fragile batting line-up on his shoulders.
But some eyebrows were raised on the manner in which the Sports Ministry’s recommendation of Hockey wizard, Dhyan Chand, was hastily bypassed to bestow the honour upon Sachin. Conspiracy theorists ran amok calling it a populist measure by a government whose rankings had taken a beating. But conspiracy theorists are conspiracy theorists after all—they’ll find a semblance of conspiracy in anything under the sun.
But Dhyan Chand’s was no mean feat. He was the star striker of the Indian hockey team that won three Olympic gold medals on the trot— 1928 in Amsterdam, 1932 in Los Angeles and 1936 in Berlin. Legend has it that after his wizardry helped India pummel German 8-1in the 1936 Berlin Olympics final, Hitler offered him a chance to move to Germany and the post of Colonel in his army. But Major Dhyan Chand chose his motherland over an assumed title and went on to score over 1000 goals in his illustrious career. In a country that was battling British oppression, this was no mean feat. We salute the major!
He passed away in 1979, his birthday August 29 is celebrated as India`s National Sports Day. But it would perhaps require another hockey wizard to scale similar heights of achievement to attract youngsters to the sport. And this is what in my opinion sets Tendulkar apart.
When he was inducted into the side, Sachin was often the difference between a win and loss for India. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar —greats from across the border aver that during team meetings all they planned was how to dismiss Tendulkar when he came onto bat. The rest of the batsmen they felt were easier than him to dismiss. Taking nothing away from his fellow batsmen during the 90s — Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and the likes—but the opposition felt he was something special. He could decimate any bowling attack and turn the game in India’s favour.
Funnily a major burden on Sachin’s shoulders was shared by his ‘clone’ (if I may say) — Virender Sehwag. Viru modeled himself on his ‘Sirji’ Sachin and boy it was magical when the two opened the batting together for India and were on song. The current crop of go-getters—Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma—have all grown up watching Sachin and they were attracted to the game he played. Sachin came into a side that struggled abroad but he along with Ganguly and company changed all that and India started winning in places like Australia, South Africa and Pakistan. Now, he leaves a team that has clinched World Cups in both the formats, topped Test rankings and is oozing with youthful exuberance. For someone who doesn’t follow the game, my mother effortlessly sums up Sachin’s greatest achievement, saying, “He made the game popular.”
(P.S—In 2011, 82 Members of Parliament had jointly recommended Dhyan Chand`s name for Bharat Ratna. And in January 2012, the Sports Ministry forwarded his name along with Olympic gold medallist shooter Abhinav Bindra and mountaineer Tenzing Norgay for the award.)