I mulled over it for a few days and decided to nonetheless wade through the muck and dirt flying around in Indian cricket currently to write this paean on Sachin Tendulkar. If anything, he seems the salve for the bruises caused to Indian cricket if stories of the shenanigans and chicanery doing the rounds are true.
In two days time, Tendulkar turns 37. That’s cricketing middle age, even in these times of Twenty20, when players are seen extending their careers into their 40s. In his case, however, it is pertinent to remember that he began when he was 16. In his 21st season at the international level, he is a cricketing geriatric, no less.
Over the past few years, there have been several revisionist opinions and theories about him, all of which now stand in ruins. Even less than five years ago, it was being touted that his prowess was on the wane, and but for his mighty reputation, India’s selectors would have been looking urgently for a replacement. But beginning with the 2007 tour of Australia, Tendulkar appears to have hit a purple patch, reaching the acme of his form in the past six-eight months.
I jogged my memory back and forth over 20 years and have concluded that this has been Tendulkar’s best season ever. I halted for a while on the 1991-92 season when he made two Test hundreds against Australia, one of them on a flyer at Perth, which established him as the game’s best emerging talent. I also dwelt awhile on his incredible sequence of scores in 1998, again largely against Australia, including the two back-to-back hundreds at Sharjah, now notified in cricket history as “Desert Storm”. In between, I also considered 1996, when he had a hugely successful tour of England and was later the most prolific run-getter in the World Cup.
Flying high:In the run-up to the semi-finals, Sachin Tendulkar was the leading scorer in the third season of the Indian Premier League. PTI
But for sheer quality of batsmanship and consistency in run-getting, there has been no season like the current one. Too much has already been written over the past 45 days about his magnificent form in the Indian Premier League (IPL), but that is only one-third of the story. In seven Tests this season, he made five centuries, and even if two of these came against lowly Bangladesh, three were made against the quality attacks of Sri Lanka and South Africa.
At least one of these centuries—against South Africa in Kolkata—not only ensured that India would win the series, but also retain the No. 1 ranking just when it seemed that they would be knocked off this pedestal prematurely (it is not widely known, of course, that it was only on the insistence of Tendulkar and some of the senior players that the Board of Control for Cricket in India arranged the two Test series against South Africa).
In the One Day series against South Africa, Tendulkar’s form acquired a more aggressive and vibrant dimension, culminating in the first-ever double hundred in this format. The country went into paroxysms of delight, and there were clarion calls for rewarding him with the Bharat Ratna. Somewhat misplaced perhaps, but expressing nevertheless the emotional hook he has on the Indian psyche.
Runs in the IPL were icing on the cake, as it were, given the hit-and-miss nature of T20 cricket—but in Tendulkar’s case, not without great significance. In the previous two seasons, his form had been at best warm, not hot. To a few, it seemed he was diffident about this format; to some, too old. In 13 matches leading up to the semi-final, Tendulkar was to prove both opinions were without basis. He was the best batsman on display by far, scoring runs with an aplomb and authority that made others look like novices.
In the months that spanned the challenges of playing all three formats in quick succession, Tendulkar showed why and how he was a cut above the rest. The aspect of adaptability is often forgotten in these times when players move from one format to the other almost without a break. Add to that surety of footwork and balance, sublime timing and the vast repertoire of strokes—all of which bespoke a batsman in prime form. A few months short of 37, he was playing like a man just a few months past 21: Such was his enthusiasm and joie de vivre.
A “second wind” is not uncommon in long-distance running, when an athlete suddenly finds the wherewithal of stamina and strength to continue at top form and with less effort. But this is impossible if the mind is unwilling. Tendulkar appears to have hit this second wind because he seems to have rediscovered the joy of playing cricket. The gay abandon which had marked his earlier years seems to have returned, with a deeper sense of understanding of life and his responsibilities, on and off the field.
This has been manifest even in his discourse with the public, media, et al. He has been in sparkling form with words, using wit and repartee to get his point of view across, or tellingly terse when it came to grim issues like taking a stand against the petty parochialism of the Shiv Sena or its cousin, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). All this makes him not just a master batsman, but also India’s most enduring icon; someone who not only makes runs, but also unites, delights and reassures the entire country with his presence on the field.
It’s been a terrific reiteration of his genius this season, regardless of what happened in the IPL semi-final. While the clamour for displacing Don Bradman with him in the pantheon of batsmen might have been a trifle contrived, who can doubt that Tendulkar has been the don of his era?
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at firstname.lastname@example.org