Raza Habib Raja
As someone who associates very closely with Indian identity and feels a great degree of warmth towards modern political India, I have always made cricket field as an exception in the sense that I have always backed Pakistani cricket team and almost ferociously.
In my opinion sports is one place where emotional patriotism is somehow or the other alright. I loved India- Pakistan cricket fixtures and always passionately backed the green shirts. Hence during the fixture, I always wanted Tendulkar to fail.
And needless to say he often disappointed me.
I vividly remember despising Tendulkar during Pakistan India World Cup encounter in 2003. Pakistan had scored above 270 and it was a high pressure game. I sat in front of the TV when the Indian innings started. Barely 30 minutes later, I had to switch off the TV set as in merely 7-8 overs, Tendulkar thrashed Shoib Akhter, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram all around the park and literally took the match away. The body language of the Pakistani bowlers was signaling an abject surrender. I knew, it was pointless to watch beyond that point.
In those days, Indian team was so dependent on Tendulkar. I remember in the final which was played between India and Australia, Ricky Ponting pulverized the hapless Indian seam attack. India was set 360 to win which in those days was considered impossible. And yet, literally everyone knew that if one man could turn it around, it would be Tendulkar.
And this time since India was not playing Pakistan, I actually wanted Tendulkar to play well and give us all spectacle of an exciting chase. And once again Tendulkar disappointed me though this time by not scoring runs. I switched off literally after the first over as Tendulkar got out after hitting a four. I still remember the yell of Glen McGrath and extreme jubilation of the captain Ricky Ponting. They all knew they had won the match.
In some ways my feelings towards Tendulkar were ambivalent and they oscillated between love and dislike, depending whether he was playing against Pakistan or not! Whereas the feeling has oscillated, my respect and admiration for Tendulkar both as a great cricketer and a human have always remained constant. I have always been amazed that how someone so talented, who is also adulated by literally millions, could remain so humble. Even more extraordinary than his talent is his humbleness. And it is a kind of humbleness, which actually makes you feel ashamed of all your own weak moments of megalomaniac pride. If a person of this stature can be so humble, then all of us are mere mortals.
And the love Tendulkar has received is extraordinary and it was literally fanatic once upon a time. I remember there was a time when one could not even question Tendulkar’s greatness as a batsman without inviting wrath of the Indian cricketing fans.
Famous Indian actor Dalip Kumar had once said, “ Fame can turn you into a monster” . This is almost like a universal truth. Men are often at their worst when famous and hence also potentially the most fallible. They boast. They womanize irrespective of their marital status and they become rude beyond imagination.
And yet Tendulkar remains a strange exception. No one in the world has received this much adulation and yet his career is ending without a controversy involving rash behavior or womanizing. Through all that maddening worship and literal elevation to a God like status, his humbleness never eluded him. Every time, he came into bat, he would be carrying expectations of tens of millions of cricket loving fanatics and yet despite the enormous pressure, he would most of the time deliver, sometimes even exceeding expectations.
But Tendulkar is not merely a cricketer. He is much more than that. To understand the Tendulkar phenomenon is in some ways is to understand Indian collective psyche of passionate adulation, of hopes and aspirations and also of acute disappointments. Entire stadium roared when he scored and was stunned into silence when he underperformed.
Any state with diverse ethnic mix tries to cultivate civic nationalism. For that it needs symbols and some shared values with which all the ethnicities can identify. Sachin in modern times actually became one such symbol. I remember when Tendulkar got Times Magazine cover some years back the cover story article gave a very apt description of the Tendulkar phenomenon in the following words: “Nothing unites India and its one billion population like Cricket and the star known as Sachin Tendulkar”.
Sachin Tendulkar’s rise was concomitant with the rise of corporate India as the country started its economic ascent with liberalization. As India became more important internationally, due to its huge markets and rising power, the consciousness of being an Indian grew. In such times, a nation wants symbols of national pride and Sachin became most prominent symbol of that pride.
The corporate India lapped him up and Sachin became the most prominent star in the advertisement world also. Commercial and corporate India literally rode on his fame and in the process helped to further increase his adulation.
Due to Indian team’s one time dependency on Tendulkar, the adulation reached a fanatic level. However, Thank God, those times have changed as Indian team is no longer that dependent on Tendulkar. In One Day format, the team India started its separation from almost total dependency on Tendulkar from that fateful day in July 2002 when despite being 146-5 ( with Tendulkar back in the pavilion), young Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif engineered one of the most dramatic victories in modern times when they successfully chased a mammoth 326 against England.
That victory in my opinion was extremely beneficial not only for Indian cricket but for Tendulkar himself also as it relieved him from enormous pressure of being the “sole hope”. As Indian team went from strength to strength ( at least in One Day format), Tendulkar was no longer the sole star. However he continued to score prolifically in both formats of the game. The great man had no problems in sharing the lime light.
I do not want to throw statistics here as this is kind of a personal tribute. His statistics are amongst the best of the best but in my opinion numbers often do not completely reflect the greatness of a player. He has scored the highest amount centuries in both the formats and is the highest run scorer as well. But a player is truly gauged by the kind of opposition he has faced and in what conditions he has scored runs. The fact that his finest performances have come against Australia, the dominant team during 1990s and much of the last decade, is enough to show how great he is. Another measure of his greatness is that he has scored consistently for 24 years and is one of the very few people to have played cricket in four decades!
But the biggest proof of his caliber is his ability to perform despite under constant pressure. Sachin had to perform because he was the hope of millions. He had to perform because he was also a brand. He had to perform to live up to the enormous hype created by media in these overly commercialized times. He had to perform because he had become the biggest embodiment of Indian national pride. And yet he performed and at times against the odds. He has seldom disappointed.
But on a personal note, he has disappointed me. As I said earlier, he often scored when I did not want him to and would get out when I wanted him to score. Today my heart missed a beat when he was caught at 74. I really wanted him to score a mammoth hundred. It may well be the last innings as tomorrow West Indies are likely to suffer an innings defeat.
Today as he walked after being dismissed, and the entire stadium rose to its feet, I felt teary eyed. I grew up watching him, loathing him, admiring him and respecting him. Cricket will never be the same again and in some ways perhaps even life will never be the same again. Sachin after all is much more than a cricketer.