Like Muhammad Ali was to boxing, Tiger Woods to golf, or Jordan to basketball, he was the face of cricket. An icon that transcended the boundaries of nationality and redefined cricketing longevity. In only the fourth Test of his life, he was struck on the nose. Blood gushed out, but he refused to leave the field. He went on to score 57. A dream had been born, of talent and aspiration. He was our aspiration, our dream and thus, we never had the stomach and the guts to accept a failing Sachin Tendulkar.
For all of us, who were growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, Tendulkar is what we wanted to be. When every household craved for an engineer (or a doctor), we imagined ourselves adjusting that vital guard, smiling at the bowler running in from the other end, and soaking in all the tension in the atmosphere. It was never a question whether he could digest the occasional failure or not, because we couldn’t. We could not imagine ourselves not being Tendulkar. Over the last year, we kept pushing him to the edge before ultimately, he called it quits. That is because we could not dare to see him (ourselves) fail one more time.
Holding him tight in their minds, a nation dreamt through 23 years, dreamt through repeated failures, through sneaking success, through tensions, through riots, floods, droughts, through massacres, through festivities… dreamt in stadiums, in streets, in offices, in toilets, in front of the television sets. A nation dreamt every morning, for 23 years. And then one day, they were woken up. The Superhero couldn’t go on and on, he gave up, revealed that he too was a mere mortal.
It is we who turned Sachin, the cricketing genius into Tendulkar, the God of Cricket. Deification is rooted deep in the collective Indian psyche. But when our Gods do not respond to our petitions, we take to vengeance. How dare he fail when we have pinned all our hopes and aspirations upon him for over two decades, bought MRF bats and drank only a certain cola? How could his failure coincide with the team moving downhill? Vengeance boiled within us, stones turned into bricks as we successfully assassinated our self-created God. Apart from the magnificent batsman and the sporting legend that he is, history will also remember Sachin Tendulkar for being the perfect example of how deification destroys gods.
As rude and ungrateful as it may sound, but I believe that Tendulkar’s partial retirement marks the necessary end to a necessary phenomenon.
“If your PE teacher told you, like me, that we were genetically brainier, and less brawny, just tell them that Sachin Tendulkar taught you otherwise.”
Sachin’s decision to hang his boots should serve as reminder to all of us to stop immortalisation of humans, stop dreaming about not having to face the inevitable. The deification of Sachin Tendulkar has turned him into a full-fledged industry, with many careers, thousands of professionals, and hundreds of families dependent upon it for their livelihood. Can you imagine what must have happened to Mumbai when the Little Master made the inevitable call? The streets must have been flooded with Tendulkar masks, souvenirs, mouse mats, posters, statuettes, and also probably foundation stones for a few of those white busts. But in the midst of all we did to keep this industry flourishing, a few more relatively unsung heroes faded away. Brand ‘God’ overshadowed the sheer talent of VVS, the might of Ganguly, the determination of ‘The Wall’, and the fighter within Anil Kumble. These are just a few names, just the obvious names. And do you think it is Tendulkar who decides when this industry shuts shop? Well, that’s a whole different discourse altogether.
Recently, a British journalist remarked that Lionel Messi wouldn’t have received 4 consecutive Ballon D’Ors had the likes of Zidane, Ronaldo, Maldini, Beckham etc. been 10 years younger. With cricket, the situation was a tad different. VVS, Saurav, Rahul, Anil and a few others would have longed to play in some era when the deified Sachin wasn’t. I say that the end of the cult of Tendulkar was necessary because his stature transcended the boundaries of obsession. Obsession that blinded a billion from appreciating the true genius of a few of his teammates, at least.
No country, no sport, no industry can run on the Sachin model without a Sachin. Ramakant Achrekar would have kept searching for the next Sachin by drawing the young boys with pennies on bails, but even he would agree that only a fool would expect another Sachin to hold the cricket bat. Any great sportsperson, in today’s date, sells his knowledge, skill and prowess to the money devil, they get paid more than the annual budgets of a few third world countries for a decade or two, and then they fade away, as a new industry takes their place. But with the Sachin model, you see the flip side of the millions. When a Sachin seeks peace, serenity and retirement from the game, the devil demands his part of the bargain. Keep playing. Keep bringing in the money. You have to feed and clothe those who have invested in you. Like Sachin, who never learnt to do anything apart from playing cricket, the industry around him has given livelihood to many who wove their entire lives around his deification.
“Sachin Tendulkar made poets of prose writers, even if his strokeplay has demonstrated the futility of conveying in words the brilliance of his batsmanship,” said one of the best cricket writers and an ardent Sachin fan, Suresh Menon. Their poetry went in sync with his form, it turned into irritation when he lost his form, and then as he retires, there seems to be a flood of autobiographical features on their prose’s relation with the Maestro’s journey. If we compile the 100 headlines of the 100 centuries, we find the player overshadowing the sport. We find a 23-year long phenomenon which documents the career of Tendulkar as the journey of Indian cricket.
Cricket is a sport of 11 players playing as a team. Unfortunately, Indian cricket was never built on that basic rule. Starting from the heroics of a Dalit spinner, Palwankar Baloo, continuing with the leadership skills of Nawab Pataudi and Kapil Dev and then to the above mortal stature of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, Indian cricket has grown on the pillars of individual brilliance. You cannot expect another cricketer who would attend all the optional practice sessions even after 20 years of being in the game. And that is why I believe the inevitable end to Tendulkar’s journey could lead us to the start of a new cricketing era. We need to find and nurture a capable all-rounder, and not expect another Kapil Dev, we need a quality spinner who wouldn’t bother about the track, but not desire for another Anil Kumble… we need to develop a set of technically abled batsmen. We need to treat sportsmen as mortals, we need to alter the fact that despite being such a giant nation, we are sporting lilliputs. We need to alter our deification culture, because we do not need sporting heroes, such few and far between.
If your PE teacher told you, like me, that we were genetically brainier, and less brawny, just tell them that Sachin Tendulkar taught you otherwise. And tell yourself that he taught you to walk taller, dream even bigger, and that you too could take on this world.
Your chance is no more round the corner. Your chance is now.
P.S. Let us not wait for another Tendulkar.