I was on the road, with no access to TV, when the text messages started coming. “Tendulkar is playing like it’s an ODI.” After some time, “He’s decided that cautious batting is not going to get him his 100, might as well hit out and get it.”
I was sitting in a boring business meeting when my cellphone informed me: “50 from 55 deliveries!” A few minutes later, it chirped: “Today is the day he’s going to get it.”
Sachin Tendulkar is struck on the torso by a delivery from Australia’s David Warner during the first cricket test match against Australia, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Tuesday. Reuters
I had just finished my meeting and was getting into the car, when an SMS, disguising disappointment through terseness, arrived: “Gone for 73.”
When I finally found myself in front of a PC again, I checked out the ball-by-ball commentary section in cricinfo.com. This is what I learnt of the third ball of the last over of the day: “Siddle to Tendulkar,
OUT, Siddle’s done it! Is this a no-ball? No! Tendulkar’s been bowled through the gate, Still on 99. Top length that, at blistering pace. Tendulkar got on the front foot, but he wasn’t going to reach the length of the ball. That swerved in late, was it reverse? Sachin tried to punch through the off side, but he was playing down the wrong line. The ball thundered through to rattle the off stump. Sachin wasn’t in the best position for that drive, in hindsight.”
A news SMS beeped from my cellular service provider: “Sachin misses ton.” Sachin misses ton. Still on 99. When I had read that last line in the cricinfo commentary, I -- fool that I was -- had been flummoxed for a fraction of a second. Because my friend had clearly informed me that Sachin had been out for 73. Of course, it was only for a fraction of a second. 99, for Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar does not refer to the number of runs at all any more, it refers to, well, you know what.
For days before the Melbourne Test began, I had been reading messages on Facebook that roughly expressed the following sentiment: “Please, Sachin, score a hundred in the Boxing Day Test. What a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s gift that would be for Indians all over the world!”
And all I could feel was -- and feel even more strongly now -- is: Please, all you Indians all over the world, let the man be!
Sachin scored his last international century at Nagpur in an ODI against South Africa on 12 March, 289 days ago. Since then, he has batted 18 times, and crossed 50 seven times, out of which he has been out in the 90s twice. On each of those 18 occasions, the so-called “Indians all over the world” seem to have evoked every god they could think of as relevant or alert on that day to help Tendulkar reach his 100th international 100. The gods are still lazing around, but 27 December 2011 surely marks a small first in the history of media coverage of cricket.
This is the first time that a batsman is out for 73, and the news flash is about him missing a century.
Let the man be, please. He has played for India more and better than anyone ever, is arguably the greatest batsman ever to have graced a cricket field, it is extremely unlikely that his batting records will ever be surpassed—that’s three “ever”s in a sentence, and if one wanted, one could add a couple of more without much trouble. Yet, we keep asking for more. Of course, you will tell me that you want it all for him, and not for yourself, that your happiness comes only from rejoicing in his glory. Sure, but you also want the specious comfort of a nice round number, and what can be a nicer and rounder number than 100?
Let’s not bottle up Tendulkar in nice round numbers. Obviously, he is going to get his 100th 100, and maybe many more, but what if you consider, for a moment, the blasphemously pessimistic possibility?
That he plays 30 more matches, he is 41 years old, his body, already subjected to more ruinous stress than any cricketer’s ever (sorry, that word again), is now making non-negotiable noises, and he still hasn’t scored another hundred? Would you still want him to go on, just to achieve that one milestone you have set your heart on? We have seen at least one great Indian cricketer -- I won’t name him -- plod on much past his prime just to get a world record and once he got it, depart silently, not even getting the grand career-end send-off that he so richly deserved.
So, just one question: would Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar be a lesser cricketer by an iota if he did not get 100 centuries? Obviously, this question is so stupid that it doesn’t deserve an answer.
Then why don’t we just let him be, and just feel lucky that we have been around to see this magnificent cricketer stride the world. And rejoice in his uncalibrated glory.