Wednesday, 17 December, 2008

Sachin eludes law of diminshing returns

Watching Sachin Tendulkar lord over the proceedings of the Chepauk test match on the final day of the first test match with England, a plethora of emotions held sway over the mind. 19 years after making his international debut, the realization that Sachin – “The Wall” was as constructive as and no less destructive than Sachin – “The Master Blaster” hits you with a pang of guilt thrown in. Haven’t we all not been guilty of writing off the champion, haven’t we cribbed about the waning of his batting abilities, haven’t we all thought that perhaps Sachin was a spent force, every time he failed to put up a good score or when he had to grind his way for runs?

In 1989, a 16 year old, bloodied in the nose from a Waqar Younis delivery shrugged off all requests for medical attention and straight drove the next ball to the fence. Later in the tour, he belted 27 runs off an over by retiring Abdul Qadir in the one-day series that followed. Of course all this is cricketing lore, but India had discovered not just a new idol who played cricket to the needs of television, but also a whole new generation of youngsters devoted to watching the game. I would know, because I was a 9 year old then, who started desperately following Sachin’s exploits on tv, newspaper, radio and finally on the internet. And after 19 years, on Monday, December 15 in the autumn of Sachin’s career, the long held dream of watching him play in front of my eyes materialized. And he didn’t disappoint.

Cricket has become a big man’s game with almost every player out on the field being powerfully built or standing six feet tall. And there was Sachin who looked a midget in comparison, but with the magnetism that accompanies great achievers, dwarfing every other player in sight as fifty thousand pairs of eyes willed him on to a century and an Indian win. The pitch misbehaved – it gave the spinners turn and the pacers uneven bounce. Through every watchful stroke, every run, every conversation with Yuvraj Singh, the determination that he would finish the task without leaving it for another man was evident. Cricket lovers are quickly forgetting Tendulkar’s erstwhile breathtaking shots as they realize the efficacy of his stoic defence, perfect technique and the wizardry of his behind the wicket shots.

Spoilt by powerful television cameras that slow down the cricket ball at delivery followed by slow motion views from several angles, the viewer in me at the stadium realized, not without a little shock the blinding speeds at which the ball reached the batsman, whether bowled by a spinner or pacer. The split-second decision to go for the behind wicket shots, and the tight precision needed to get the bat to the ball for those stock shots by Sachin, made me bow down to his amazing resilience towards the way his game, his body, his team and his relevance has changed over the years. Sehwag, Yuvraj and Dhoni may be the future. Bradman, Richards and Lara are of the past. But none can deny that any of these players had to face the weight of expectations that Sachin has had to shoulder for the last 15 years. At 99, with the Chennai crowd roaring manically for his hundred, a fellow journalist quips, “This is crazy. How can he not go mad? Others would have crumbled!” Superhuman. I could think of no other word.

P.S - Feature written for sports page in college newspaper.