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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sachin – the evergreen bestseller

Anand Philar

Sachin Tendulkar is to Indian cricket what Beatles were to music. Never has a single cricketer aroused so much emotion and passion as Sachin has over the past 19 years since he first represented India as a curly-haired 16-year-old. I vividly recall the sensation this wonder kid from Mumbai created when he made his international debut at such a tender age back in 1989.

We could hardly believe that one so young was thrown into such a competitive arena to face the likes of Imran and Akram in Pakistan. We cheered every stroke he played, every run he scored and gasped in disbelief as he took on the Pakistani attack despite suffering a bloody nose. To think that we continue to follow every move of this little man in 2008 is a testimony to his greatness and iconic status.

Perhaps, it would take a Neville Cardus to do justice to Sachin’s cricketing ability that evoked wonderment from even the reticent Sir Donald Bradman. A million words have already been written on Sachin surpassing Brian Lara’s record and going on to become the first batsman to cross the 12,000-run milestone, and in this context, I admit I am a late arrival in applauding these feats that underline his endurance. Nevertheless, it is always a pleasure to write about a player who set our heart aflutter every time he walked in to bat.

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There has been the usual comparison between Sachin and Lara. The former Aussie captain Ian Chappell perhaps summed it up nicely the other day when he said Sachin learnt to reinvent himself with age while Lara at the end of his career batted in the same as he did at the start. I would say that Sachin is more like quality wine that matured with the passage of time and something to be sipped and savoured while Lara was a heady cocktail, much like the potent Jamaican Rum!

Despite all our admiration for Sachin, we have also been guilty of castigating the great player every time he failed, without making allowance for the law of averages. From the onset, he had set such a high standard that even a little drop would see heckles rise.

In the recent past especially, we overlooked his great deeds and wrote that it was time he bid adieu. His own Mumbai crowd booed him in a moment of madness at a time when Sachin was struggling with form and injuries. Yet, we didn’t get any reaction from him except that he continued to bat on as if he was unaware of all the criticism hurled at him.

And at Mohali when he crossed Lara’s record and went on to make 88, Sachin in his inimitable style made his critics to eat their own words. It was typical of him to let his bat do the talking rather than get tangled into an unseemly war of words.

Looking back at his career, Sachin nearly made it to the Indian team on its disastrous tour of the West Indies under Vengsarkar in 1987-88. Sachin had made waves with his triple hundred in a Harris Shield schools tournament and also a world record partnership with his mate, Vinod Kambli. Many believed that Sachin was good enough to face the fearsome West Indian fast bowlers at that time, but wiser counsel prevailed and he was not included.

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In 1987, when I was working in Bombay, some of my friends urged me to do a piece on Sachin. One of my colleagues said: “You got to watch this boy. He is an amazing talent and perhaps, we should do a feature on him.” I dismissed the suggestion thinking rather cynically that making runs in schools tournament was no big deal considering the quality of bowling. Till to date, I regret the opportunity that I missed.

So, what is it about Sachin that sets the entire country afire? The obvious reason I can think of is that he is living our dreams. After all, most of us nourished an ambition of playing for India, hitting the fast bowlers for fours and sixes, making a century and winning or saving a game single-handedly. Sachin did all of these and, going by his Mohali form, is not in sight of the finish line.

If I were to pick one flaw in Sachin’s personality, it is that he failed as a leader. Had he been successful in his two stints as India captain, it would have polished those little rough edges in his persona. But then, even a Bradman was denied of perfection that only lies in the realm of Utopia. I am sure, it would have pleased Sachin a great deal more had he shaped the team into a fighting unit, like Ganguly did after him.

Off the field, being a very private person and extremely sensitive to exposing his family to public glare, few really know Sachin the man. I have spoken to a few who have closely followed his career and life, but none could throw light on his family life, or rather, chose not to talk about it for reasons that are a mystery to me.

Perhaps, a day would dawn when Sachin decides to write an autobiography and I have no doubt, it would be a best seller, much like himself.

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