All great players are above statistics, figures, records and numbers.
Thus this is not an article about what Sachin has achieved - if you don’t know what that is already, you shouldn’t be reading this in the first place. This is also not about the Sachin we’ve grown up loving, admiring, cheering, praising and priding.
This is about Sachin Tendulkar at the crossroads. It’s about a Sachin who is hurting.
He won’t speak out, leak an email or forward an indiscreet sms. And that’s why somebody today (blasphemous as it sounds!) must bat for him.
Let me dare try.
Ours is a country that plays a hundred games and plays only one. Hockey maybe our official sport but cricket is the national balm. The fates of Saturday nights and Monday mornings (and indeed the whole week) are decided between three stumps on one end and three on another. In this world that weighs down upon the being with all its cosmic strength, the duel between willow and leather is an escape valve.
And so to be robbed of our parole is an unforgivable criminal act. And as a crime has victims, so must it also have a perpetrator. But before we turn our knee-jerk reactions into a free-for-all kicking session, let us stop. And spare a thought for the man.
True that the stage was set for a Sachin Special.
True, Sachin failed against Sri Lanka in an extremely crucial match.
True that the standards he has set have been so lofty that any drop seems like a plummet.
True too that the yardstick will always be less forgiving if your jersey number reads 10.
But for all those truisms, there is another, equal fact.
India’s inability to not make it to the Super 8s cannot be hung squarely on the shoulders of any one person. No matter how broad those shoulders are. In that final match, 5 of our 7 batsmen failed – including Uthappa for 14, Ganguly for 6, Dhoni for a duck and Yuvraj for 7.
These things happen in sport. The tragedy with Indian cricket is that cricket for us isn’t just a sport. And what “happens” in sport happened to so many of our star batsmen, all in the same day. And it happened when we had no buffer points under our belt, in a “perform or perish” game.
In the past, Sachin was the XI. When he got out, the team crumbled. Today, we pride ourselves that that is no longer the case. So why now, when we need a scapegoat?
In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of Sachin over the years has been that he hasn’t won enough games for India. Contrast this with what Srinath, the firebrand ex-bowler had to say after Sachin hit a valiant 136 in Chennai (and 5 batsmen in the Indian tail couldn’t manage 17 runs, leaving Pakistan to resuscitate themselves to a victory): “Is it that Sachin has let down the team, or that the team has let down Sachin?”
Sadly, many Sachin hundreds have been for lost causes and the gods have been unfair to him. But must we be the same?
Because you may question his form, but you cannot question his commitment towards the team. To say that he’s “batting for a glittering array of statistics” is the cruelest jibe to a man who has for 17 years worn his passion on his sleeve, whose body bears the scars of his dedication.
As Rahul Dravid said after the Lankan debacle: “no one knows more than the players the enormity of the defeat.”
And while one game (or two) may make a player, it cannot – and should not break one.
Sachin knows he’s let himself down. Let us down. Let India down. Let us not single him out or rub it in. Let us instead, be fair if we cannot be magnanimous.
Today, I fear Sachin may need us like never before. He needs to know that the people he’s thrilled and made happy, won’t be the ones adding to his already considerable grief.
Only Sachin knows how many years of cricket he has left in him. He knows his game, his mastery of it and what goes on inside his head. If he feels he can still be a proud champion of Indian cricket, let us humbly listen.
Sachin has given us so much. Let us not be the ones to take it away from him, for in denying him we become poorer.
God willing, for some more years to come, we will still be treated to straight drives that will take our breath away, still watch the walk, see the head turned to the sky and hear the stands reverberate with the chant.
In the 22 yards called Sachin Tendulkar, we have loved the man in the boy, and the boy in the man. And both have loved cricket with every breath. But if the experts say that it doesn’t look like the Sachin of today enjoys his cricket anymore, let it not be because of us.
peace, love, empathy
2nd April 2007