– By Sanjay Jha
1999. It was a decade since his debut in international cricket. He had already become a global phenomenon. India had begun worshipping their national idol with spectacular unanimity — a rare feat by itself. The World Cup tournament was underway, the biggest cricket show on earth. There was mounting euphoria and breathless anticipation all around as India had returned to their ground of renowned conquest of 1983 – England. India was considered a dangerous threat to reigning champions Sri Lanka and looked a redoubtable claimant to the prestigious throne. But every match mattered especially at the qualifying stages. Then suddenly his father died. Sachin Tendulkar was all of 26.
What followed can be easily fathomed. The shocking heart-breaking disclosure. A long and lonely painful flight to India over 10 hours. Security checks and perfunctory procedures to be followed. A family reunion under emotionally draining circumstances. A widowed mother. Pain. Memories. A loss that can never be humanly compensated. But he returned. Another 10 hour long flight. A jet lag, may be. Words of consolation from team-mates. Media attention. Maybe another sleepless night five days in a row. But he was still back. Determined. Resolute. Passionately committed as ever.
We watched him in awe and admiration—virtually thunder-struck, bowled over by his incredible batting. His father’s s funeral was perhaps not behind him but still within. But he had summoned preternatural energies, invoked his own inner faith, found his fortitude. Sachin Tendulkar was at Bristol playing a key group match against Kenya. He went on to score a resplendent 140 not out (101 balls), and on reaching the century mark looked up at the skies, in a silent poignant conversation with his just departed father. Perhaps watching him from the heavens. It was a moment that no one who saw that match will ever forget, and even if you were to watch it now, it will bring a lump to your throat. I believe that knock at Bristol symbolizes Tendulkar. A fighter whose love for the game surpasses mortal comprehension. A team man to the ultimate conceivable core. Exceptionally tough from within, with a capacity to internalize adversity, not easily decipherable in that soft voice and chubby cheeks in a still boyish impression. Above all, a very proud Indian.
I am not going to reminisce his several illustrious great knocks and statistical achievements because they are already of legend and will be forever repeated but I do believe there are besides the Bristol knock two other instances that manifest the man Sachin Tendulkar more realistically. I thought his decision to resign from the Indian cricket captaincy has never been properly understood. Or appreciated. There were many who intensely criticised him for chickening out of what seemed as his next natural responsibility in and for Indian cricket. Tendulkar, however, did not think so. He did finally what his inner convictions told him. He had no false illusions. No delusions of grandeur. Leadership is beyond mere cricketing greatness and requires several other human traits to make for impact. His decision to quit captaincy reveals the ultimate test most human beings fail in — knowing oneself. They say knowing others is wisdom, knowing oneself is enlightenment. Tendulkar chose to play to his strengths, and despite the power, prestige and pride of leading India rejected the top job because he sincerely believed that he did not possess the mettle to take charge of a struggling, beleaguered Indian team requiring a different kind of dynamism at the helm. He would be happier contributing to an Indian win, after all, wasn’t that the real reason for playing cricket anyway? As it happened, India was to find a suitable skipper in his southpaw colleague Sourav Ganguly who would go on to become one of India’s greatest captains. I think we should also credit Tendulkar for letting that transition happen with dignified ease.
The controversial Multan Test match declaration against Pakistan saw for the first time an emotionally disturbed Sachin, taken perceptibly aback by the sudden decision by his long-standing team-mate and captain Rahul Dravid . He was 5 runs short of a truly hard-earned double hundred against an obdurate bellicose adversary in their own den. I think Sachin felt hugely let down as for the first time he publicly expressed his distressed reaction to the world. What bothered him was not that he had missed a personal career record perhaps but the unfortunate corollary that he was playing for personal milestones. He was grievously hurt. What Rahul and he talked in person will have to await their personal autobiographies, but I think it altered personal dynamics within the Indian team forever. It was a defining moment which revealed a visible streak of emotional vulnerability in the brilliant sportsman.
For any professional player in any sport , a physical injury is a horrendous nightmare, a psychological scar that can have serious consequences in their future career. It can destroy a susceptible mind. I remember a famous weekly magazine that had drawn an MRI scanned image of Sachin’s entire backbone on the cover with a story that headlined something akin to — “Is Sachin Tendulkar’s career over?” This was after the agonizing defeat by 12 runs against Pakistan in that literally back-breaking and traumatic Chepauk Test loss. Ten years later the man scores a hurricane 175 in 141 balls and runs faster than his 20 something non-strikers. I think the Hyderabad exhibition was to perhaps send a not so subtle message to a Yuvraj Singh & co that you never call a playing colleague with the mental toughness of raging bull – ‘Grandpa.’ Ever.
Tendulkar’s innumerable innings will be perennially cherished, but those who saw it say that his double century within a single day at CCI against Australia where Bombay won the match in three short days, mentally pulverized Shane Warne perpetually into a mango pulp. The Test series victory that followed seemed a logical progression. Almost all my friends only wanted the Sachin Tendulkar tee-shirt that he wore for us in the CricketNext.Com match in Dhaka in 2000. I frankly believe that he is one of the most credible outstanding actors in a television commercial — even as a brand ambassador his sincerity shows. After all these years, his first captain K Srikanth is still selecting him and erstwhile team-mate Kapil Dev has developed a healthy golf handicap. Tendulkar shares the dressing room with Ishant Sharma , almost half his age. Adaptability has been his characteristic hallmark. It shows.
I was on a flight with him many years ago and Tendulkar was on his way to attending a training camp in Chennai. As we walked from the flight to the arrival lounge I asked him what I think he has been asked a million times. “Just how do you handle the constant and increasing madness of insane public expectations, the distracting cacophony that accompanies you to the ground every time you walk in? The irrational belief that you must score a blazing hundred time after time.” His answer was brief and instant. “It is easy. Once you take guard, settle down and take your stance everything else recedes effortlessly into the background. Everything. Then it is just the bowler, his hand and the ball coming at you. Nothing else.”
In 1989 I was 28 years. Since then, to use a cliché, change has been a constant. I remember Rajiv Gandhi’s dimpled smile and earthy innocence in his handsome countenance. LK Advani’s rath-yatra and VP Singh’s caste card was to change India’ political future and electoral logic. Manmohan Singh’s breakthrough liberalization policy and partial devaluation would bring India into the global sphere, even as we watched Jimmy Connors make a dramatic run to the semi-finals of the US Open at the age of 39 on Star Sports, on a satellite channel. Dr Prannoy Roy dazzling us with The World This Week and Newstrack with Madhoo Trehan. Aamir Khan play the charming tapori act in Rangeela and Shah Rukh Khan winning a near-billion hearts with his inimitable romanticism in DDLJ . Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes capturing grand slams. Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh , stock market booms and woeful scams. Kargil. A war. A nuclear test. Malls, multiplexes, mobile phones and MS Dhoni. Marathi manoos and Abhinav Bindra . A new India. A new tomorrow.
But somewhere quietly right behind them all, rising unobtrusively into the endless skyline above, towering away and beyond into the blue skies, that same young curly haired boy from Bandra. Sachin Tendulkar. Nothing else.