Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sachin Tendulkar: A Journey of Two Decades

The time of growing up is very interesting; very often, it is a time of innocence. A time when the vagaries of the world seemingly leaving us unscathed. For a person like me and my generation, the beginning of the decade of the 90s was still embalmed in innocence. The hard realities of the world seem to be not affecting our morale. I would still vouch that, many facts and realities were yet to sink in. It was after covering great distance, from my formative years, that one is able to come to terms with those years. I could not understand, that the Post-Rajiv's assassination, the Narasimha Rao government at the centre was in fact in minority; I was still trying to understand the communal polarization being built up after the Babri demolition; the nitty-gritty of the 'Manmohanomics' in the form of economic reforms were still to be dissected; corruption and scandals in the form of Harshad Mehta, Hawala, were still throwing up new truths and one was yet to see Shahrukh Khan as the Badshah of Bollywood!! Life for a school boy in the beginning of the decade of 90s was dominated by only one image built stronger by conversations among the friends.....a time when everyone just watched him and forgot the happenings around them...perhaps his act was that of a transporter, who took us on a ride, into surrealism, away from our troubles and miseries........SACHIN TENDULKAR!!

Every person needs someone to look upto as he/she grows up......Every generation have their icons to remember...........My generation of the 1990s have not had anyone better than him. The first instance of observing him was the 1992 World Cup. Catching up with the rage and seeing a short, sturdy guy playing solid cricket shots was nothing sort of magic. Cricket for us was then identified with him. He was the 'Be All' and 'End All' of everything associated with the game. He was the prized wicket and his dismissal ended all the high hopes. The nuances of his game were still not understood. Neither were his array of shots nor his poise. The only thing that mattered was his image, his presence to face the bowler. The shouts were only for him blast the bowling and cart the deliveries all over the park. Eager eyes followed his exploits, at home against England, as he scored his first test hundred in India, at Chepauk-a ground where he has continued to maintain a great record-in Madras. On one early February morning, on the way to the morning school assembly, a friend informed that Sachin had made his debut as opener in the ODIs in New Zealand and scored an aggressive half-century. One still fondly remembers, how curses were breathed, for not having a cable connection at home. The feeling was one of missing the good things in life!! Curiosity and passion ruled the minds, as one saw him score his first ODI hundred at the Premadasa Stadium against the Australians in Colombo in 1994. Life has from then, carried on along with his journey, watching him score heavily in the 1996 World Cup till that stumping by Kalu off Murali in the Eden Gardens on that fateful day.

As one grew out of boyhood, into the responsible time of adolescence, the image of Tendulkar changed from a dasher to that of an accumulator. Along the way, he also accepted captaincy, where despite his best efforts he faltered. The most challenging time for him definitely seemed to be that test match at Bridgetown, when in the face of the gettable score of 120, the team just wilted away and crumbled for around 90. Nobody would have been more dejected than the skipper himself. It was only when the growing up as a youth was complete, that a closer peak into Sachin's beginning years could be developed. His exploits for Sharadashram along with mate Kambli under the tutelage of the Achrekar in the Harris Shield. The Mumbai cricketing nursery had produced another gem, having been tested in the fire of the different leagues in the city. The Bombay school of batsmanship was driven into him deeply. His performances in the Harris Shield and the Kanga League catapulted him into the Mumbai Ranji line-up. Scoring heavily, he also made a Century on Debut in the Ranji trophy as well as in the Irani trophy. As a 16 year-old, Sachin's only purpose on this planet seemed to play cricket. In fact, in one of his last interviews before his demise, Raj Singh Dungarpur remarked as how the Cricket Club of India had to revise its rules to allow the teenager to practice at the venue. Having been selected for the Indian team at the tender age of 16, he was straight away thrown into one of the toughest cauldrons, to tour Pakistan. That challenge was not only uphill, but was also demanding mentally for any youngster. His first captain, Krishnamachari Srikkanth got him into the final XI and he had to literally undergo his Baptism by Fire. Facing the pace of Wasim Akram along with another tearaway from Burewala-also making his debut-Waqar Younis, along with the astute leader in the fiery Pathan, Imran Khan, at Karachi, the 'boy' was not one to be intimidated. Even though hit by a snorter of Waqar in the second test at Faislabad and having his nose bleeding, Sachin defiantly carried on and made a half-century. Navjot Singh Sidhu was his partner at the other end. It was on this tour that he even took on Abdul Qadir for 16 runs in an over.

He reached his first big landmark of getting the initial three figure mark at the Old Blighty in the company of Manoj Prabhakar. But he would have scored that earlier in the year, on the tour to New Zealand. However, in the midst of a well-made 80, he was caught by John Wright. His room-mate on that tour, Sanjay Manjrekar during his commentary in later years, remarked as to how little Sachin cried for missing that hundred. But it was his tour to Australia that put him in an altogether different plane. His remarkable tons against the marauding pace attack of McDermott, Whitney, and Hughes in Sydney and Perth displayed his strengths. Driving good length deliveries, he also cut and pulled well. Perhaps, the best shots were the punches down the ground, that were played with supreme class and precise timing. The hundred at WACA at that age, is still adorned and forms part of the folklore. Over the years, following and keeping track of him has been an exercise, worth every single pie. The country cried as he lost his father in the midst of a World Cup and stood together in solidarity as he cracked a hundred against the Kenyans immediately after his return. That battle for Tendulkar was one he fought within himself more than with the opposition. His grit and determination were best displayed in that knock of 131 against Pakistan on a searing hot day at Chepauk in 1999. Fighting a back injury,while wickets were falling all around him on a fifth day track, he held one end up and almost took India home. One of the most epic chases with just the climax being different. Falling to a skier off Saqlain, Sachin walked off and India were left high and dry by 12 runs. People still remark how he didn't come to collect his Man of the Match award and just cried the entire day.

As time has progressed, his body has also undergone enough wear and tear. Playing for two decades is no mean achievement. Injuries have plagued him greatly and there is no part of the body left, which has not been placed under the scalpel. His stroke-making has changed. The booming drives and dances down the track have become less pronounced. But the sobriquet of the 'Run-Machine' still holds onto him. The timing and compose is always there. he still shifts gears with ease. Take the match in World Cup 2003 against Pakistan for instance. he just tore into Akhtar and rest of the attack. Missing the ton by just a whisker, it was wanton display of brutal, but still calculated aggression.

The 1990s had only one image of the Maestro: that of him taking the entire burden of the team on his shoulders and getting into the assault mode. Many a match can be remembered for analyzing this effort of Sachin. The battles against the Aussies in Sharjah in 1998, in the famous 'Desert Storm' was one such. Scoring two back-to-back hundreds-one in the final on his birthday night-wherein he launched himself against Kasprowicz, Fleming and Warne, was an image etched in stone.So me of those towering hits still encapsulate his batsmanship. Switching gears according to his will, he took control by being in the driver's seat. No wonder, the Aussies still consider him the biggest threat!! The team's fortunes hinged on Sachin's show. How he batted and how his work report sounded became the benchmark for the team's upward mobility. That clearly overburdened the champion, but he never let the team down. It was only in the beginning of the Sourav Ganguly era, where the vision and trajectory of the team changed. Greater challenges were identified and determination was plugged in to fulfill targets. The Indian batting became more stabilized with the emergence and flowering of the Dravids and Laxmans. New talent was unearthed and nurtured in all departments of the game like Sehwag, Zaheer, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Kaif, Raina, Rohit Sharma, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, Ojha, Nehra, Irfan Pathan. The team began to win tests and even series abroad. The raw talent was getting more polished with greater exposure and more competency through the astute coaching under John Wright. New thoughts and ideas were planted and germinated. A New purposeful Aggression was visible in the march of the Indian team. Followers began to believe in the team itself as a whole and not just limit their interest in Sachin getting a hundred, even if India lost in the process. The New Sachin was born. Gaining the status of an elderly statesman, he was more a guide and a father figure to the youngsters. That certainly freed Sachin, making him more reassured that there were others to shoulder the burden and he could play lot more freely.

Batting is just class. It is not just about taking the attack to the opposition. It is in fact an Art Form; an Amalgamation of lots of components. The essential features includes timing, placement, transfer of body weight, playing with soft hands, using the bottom hand to good effect, rolling of those magical wrists-typical to the batsmen of the sub-continent-and much more. The battle is also of the mind. To overcome pressure; to know that one may be still on high after getting a ton, but the next incoming delivery may send you back to the hut. Its about concentration, perseverance and elegance. The beauty of watching Tendulkar on song cannot be compared to anything else. Its a magician or great artist at work. Working the ball into the gaps, running hard converting ones into twos and twos into threes along with launching those big hits. The lovely straight drive, the crisp cover drive, the short of the jab pull, the hook, the mesmerizing square cut, nice on-drive, the brilliant punch back past the fast bowler, the elegant late cut, the cheeky paddle sweep, the mighty slog, the calculated reverse sweep......these and much more are all integral part of the Tendulkar book of batsmanship. Pure orthodox cricket shots, nicely off the meat of the bat....that sweet sound as the ball wheezes off to the boundary. But the most rapacious picture, without doubt is his dance down the track to hit the spinner down town. The way in which he picks the length early and positions himself to unleash his barrage of strokes. Even the way in which he scored the last of his test hundreds against Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad, he reached close to the hundred after getting one past the ropes, after picking it up from outside the off-stump off Welegedara and depositing it away from mid-on. The experts have often opined on how he dictates terms; how the opposition bowls to his own terms. How the picking of line and length makes the bowlers to bowl, not to their fields, but to how Sachin wants to bowl. That puts forth a psychiatric pressure from the master!! He may have cut down on many of those shots with the age catching up with him. But he still displays them on the needed occasions. Just like that innings of 175 against the Aussies in Hyderabad, few days back. Hitting back-to-back sixes of Hauritz, keeping the run-rate ticking; Even if there was a dip in the rate in one over, he compensated it in the next over with those meaty blows. Even when the going is tough for him, he still is able to come out with flying colours and finding opportunities in adverisities. The Double Hundred(241n.o) at Sydney in 2004 was made in the backdrop of a string of poor scores in the earlier 3 tests. In fact during that innings, he did not play a single boundary through the off-side. That was a complete story of leg-side shot making. Such was his planning and execution that the double hundred became more sweet.

It is not only his batting, but his bowling also need strong mention. He was on his own terms, a mystery bowler, by not moving him into any category. He was a tweaker, bowling both the off-breaks and the leg-breaks. He even bowled pace up at times. Captains have used him often as a breaker of partnerships. Whenever, given the ball, he has most of the times delivered. His best have come in high pressure games. Those three wickets in the defining test match against the Aussies at the Eden Gardens in 2001, with his victims including the dangerous Gilchrist, trapped in the front. The two important wickets of Damien Martyn and Steve Waugh at Adelaide, caught by Dravid in the slips ensured that the Australian second innings was broken, later opening the doors for Ajit Agarkar to get a six-wicket haul, that in turn culminated in India winning that epic test match. Again, his tight bowling during the Hero Cup semis against the Proteas in that final over amidst great pressure ensured the team's passage to the finals. Also, the two 5-wicket hauls against Australia and Pakistan in different years in Kochi. It must be noted that whenever he didn't shine with the willow, he made for it with the ball. His bowling even finished careers-the tweaker to Moin Khan in the Multan Test match in 2004 on the final ball of the third evening, squeezed through between the former's legs and crashed into the stumps. And ever since, Moin Khan did not play any international cricket!!

Critics have often passed judgements stating that he had failed to take the team to victory batting wise, or falling at hurdles on the way. But as recently, he has dismissed those notions through his willow. Not a great deal of time has passes since that hundred against the Englishmen at Chennai chasing 387 on the final day, a century he later dedicated to the victims and Martyrs of the Mumbai Terror Attacks. Or his innings of a ton and 91 in the two finals of the CB Series against the Aussies in Down Under in 2008. Even the latest 100 against the Sri Lankans on the final day of the Ahmedabad test was a sign of him putting himself in to save the test match. Out his 43 hundred, one of the testing, of attrition was against the Englishmen in 2001 in Ahmedabad, when Nasser Hussain and his main bowler, Ashely Giles were sticking to negative bowling to dry up the runs and frustrate him. Or how about his 160 odd in that test in Cape Town in 1996-97 in the company of Azharuddin to take the game to the Proteas and saving it ultimately.

In each of the media sessions and interviews on him completing 20 years in international cricket, Tendulkar remarked that he would like to be remembered for 'giving 100 per cent' for team and country. Thats what has come to symbolize him. The perfect balance, both on and off the field. He may have a million endorsements, multitude of fame and have the charm of the global icon; but his feet are still on the ground, the passion for the game growing with each passing day, the hunger for runs still unabated, seeing each upcoming day as a new challenge, willing to learn something every day, trying to gain perfection with those teeny-weeny bits of advice.....that makes Sachin the best!! Retirement may be far off, despite his aching body taking great toll. There are still aims to be fulfilled, even though he may possess the record for the highest runs and most centuries in two leading forms of the modern game. His poise and passion are still intact, the intent well preserved. The aim for larger causes for the team and country still elusive World Cup that has continued to slip from the grasp. Despite coming close on two occasions in 1996 and 2003-when he single-handedly almost won it-the spirit of Sachin being part of a World Cup winning unit is still alive and kicking. That would be ultimate dedication the current Indian team can do to the Little Champion.

Fortunate are we for witnessing the acts and exploits of this Gentleman in this era. Sachin Tendulkar is like the Kohinoor; that diamond only comes once in a generation. The Maestro is like that. People have started demarcating the timeline in international cricket, by drawing in the prefixes of before and after, against Sachin's name. That may be a bit off the cuff, but still Tendulkar has come to be identified as a phenomenon. my generation is fortunate to follow his gamesmanship, integrity, sacrifices, determination, grit and glory. In fact, I have even the audacity to state that I have watched all his centuries now-even if that meant, exploring through various channels to access his knocks in the beginning of the last decade, mainly those in the tests. One can also remember the grounds, opposition, atmosphere and nature of the attacks against which he made them. It was in the Caribbean that he had not scored much. But he erased that glitch too, when he equalled his admirer, the great Don Bradman, after scoring in the second Test match at Port-of -Spain in 2002. Erasing landmarks and conquering new peaks, the voyage of the legend called Tendulkar continues into the 21st year. Tracking and following him as an avid fan has been truly enchanting. Today, the government at the centre is a coalition against a

minority with the Congress party back to the helm, the neo-liberal economic policies have deprived people, the Liberhan report on Babri Demolition is finally public after 17 long years, terrorism is a major challenge, mass struggles are now on the horizon, nuclear deterrence has again been tested, the country has its own Moon Mission, Shah Rukh Khan is now the Badshah, and the country has hit gold spot in the Olympics......Many things have changed and many have stood still; some have even given way to newer forms. But Sachin Tendulkar continues playing and that Age of Innocence still lingers on. The eyes continue to follow him avidly with greater expectations, for that surreal experience, giving that hope for millions watching. As Sachin himself said for the forward march for any player or performer, there needed to be people to celebrate with, to constantly look upto and feel motivated. He was happy that for this precise purpose, he had "A Billion".....Play on Sachin, the world continues to look forward to that sweet music from your hand, whether it be by the willow or by the cherry.

1 comment:

toony said...

He is truly a legend