What I want to hear from Tendulkar’s Playing it My Way

You have all seen the excerpt from Tendulkar’s autobiography due to hit markets this Thursday:

“Just months before the World Cup, Chappell had come to see me at home and, to my dismay, suggested that I should take over the captaincy from Rahul Dravid. Anjali, who was sitting with me, was equally shocked to hear him say that ‘together, we could control Indian cricket for years’, and that he would help me in taking over the reins of the side.”

The publishers and marketing people have done a swell job in bringing forth the controversy that was widely publicised yet less talked about: in the words of Sourav, that (2005-07) was one of the worst periods in Indian cricket. Clearly, the coach was not listening to the cricketers who were in their prime form; in fact, he did go after each of them and appeared in the media for the wrong reasons.

Now, if Tendulkar is telling his story of his career, and be – we have a reason to believe – brutally honest, then there are sooo… many stories to look out for. My favourite list:

Note: This is rather a testimonial to Tendulkar himself and the wonderful stories cricket matches and gossip have given us over the past twenty years. (Twenty years! I shuddered while I typed it.) We would definitely want to go over them again, and see them in the book itself.

The happy occasions:

The Sandstorm Innings:
Almost nothing can go wrong when Sachin made up his mind to beat the target. So it did happen that India needed 285 to beat Australia in the Coca Cola cup in Sharjah in1998; an interruption that came in the form of a dust storm. The target was then revised to 276 in 46 overs. As it often happens in Indian cricket, there was another important number: score 237 to get ahead of New Zealand and get into the final. Tendulkar is said to have told coach Anshuman Gaikwad that he will go with full force at the Australian attack – Kasprowicz, Fleming, Warne, Moody and (Steve) Waugh. And how he did! The second dust storm of the evening followed, apparently. Australia saved the match but Sachin’s ton helped India get through.

The final face-off happened on Sachin’s birthday (turned 25) and India once again had to chase 273. That innings was nothing short of historic; watch it for the technical brilliance and intent on display and the verve of Tony Greig (the English cricketer who eventually groveled), one of the finest commentators of the game, who dwarfed Ravi and Sunny (both Mumbaikaars) in his praise for Sachin. He whacked, he pulled, he drove, he lofted. He didn’t stop. If you like some drama here, Sachin didn’t take off the helmet as he usually does, as he reached his fifteenth ton. India comfortably reached the target even as Sachin (134) departed after being adjudged lbw by Steve Bucknor.

So with his 98 vs Pakistan in Durban, 2003 WC. How he sent Shoaib’s delivery flying for a six over third man will be talked about for many more years.

His masterly peers: Bhogle, Dravid and Ganguly
Harsha Bhogle, one of the ‘Few Good Men’, was invited by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for the Benson and Hedges World Cup in 1992, and has ever since been a voice of the game. Like Sachin, he too started early; at 19, while studying in Hyderabad, he was already a commentator at the All India Radio. Harsha is the best loved commentator of our times; he can make the ordinary (and some mediocre) look glorious. Take a look:

Michael Vaughan makes a mess of Sachin Tendulkar’s stumps after the latter has played a gem of an innings. A dismissal as soft as they come and people are crestfallen. Shoulders droop in front of TV sets, and in comes Harsha, “Oh what a shame! It was reminiscent of a soldier who survived the war when all the bullets were flying by his nose and then got run over by a bicycle in his native town!”

In the match when Tendulkar scored 200*, MS took charge in the final overs of the game and kept blasting boundaries. Then came Sachin who softly caressed the ball to a boundary. Here is what he said: “We have a surgeon at one end and a butcher at the other.”

Tendulkar and Ganguly have the highest opening partnership runs (6609 in 136 innings) in ODI cricket; 1300 runs ahead of the second best. With Dravid, Tendulkar shared a memorable partnership in the middle amassing 6920 runs in 143 innings – ahead of Jayawardena and Sangakkara, the duo who, it looked, batted forever. The stories of the rise to the top of the Fab Four (Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, VVS) and the team itself are our best memories of the decade that went by.

A few sad ones:

Match-fixing controversy
At the turn of the century, it looked as if Cricket lost its audience in India. Match-fixing made news and several players (including Indian) were implicated. Under the leadership of a new skipper (Ganguly) and coach (Wright), India staged an extraordinary and a less-known comeback. We want to read more on this.

Nervous nineties and the defeats
Tendulkar got out in nineties twenty-eight times and had to wait twenty-three innings after his ninety ninth to get his hundredth ton. He has a dubious distinction of scoring for a losing cause, though stats clearly show otherwise. Yet, there are stories…

Particularly heart-breaking is his knock (175) vs Australia in Hyderabad in 2009. Chasing 351, it looked like a sand-storm all over again. But Sachin fell cheaply for a slow delivery, and the rest failed to get the required nineteen runs of seventeen balls. India lost by three runs. His majestic innings won the MoM. Watch this for the sound of the ball hitting the willow.

The long wait for World Cup
Sachin was a part of all world cups from 1992; he was the top scorer in 1996 when India lost to SriLanka in a forgettable semi-final in Eden Gardens. In fact the match was ‘awarded’ to SriLanka. Again in 2003 he was the player of the tournament; he fell for 4 in the final as India buckled before the mammoth target set by the Aussies. Then there is 2007, which I am sure is written about. That was Guru Greg’s time.

The wait ended in 2011. I really want to read what happened in the dressing room after the openers fell and before MS Dhoni promoted himself up the order. That was the best gamble ever. Dhoni says it is Gary(Kirsten)’s decision but he may be downplaying it. That night Virat Kohli said – and is widely quoted thereafter – “He carried the burden of the nation for twenty-one years; so it’s time we should carry him on our shoulders”. Sure he filled the void left after Sachin’s retirement. Kohli’s phenomenal rise post 2011 made everyone sit up and observe. His important part in the final chase in 2011 – calming down the nerves after two important wickets fell in quick succession and generating runs nevertheless – didn’t go unnoticed.

*

Now the inevitable question – after Sachin who? A refined question may be: will we get another Sachin the cricketer and Sachin the person. We can bank on our enormous cricketing talent but Sachin the person is clearly a product of his times. All along his career, his strike rate stood sturdily at 86. For now, we have Kohli the person, Dhoni the person. What is important – as far as cricket is concerned and wherever cricketers can make amends – is to win matches. That is what the stalwarts of the age that has gone by insisted on. పేకాట పేకాటే!

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