Playing it My Way: My Autobiography
Hodder & Stoughton
Rs 899; PP 486
I don't want to write an autobiography because I would become public property with no privacy left," says Stephen Hawking, the world's most celebrated physicist and cosmologist. "I believe there's only one autobiography you can do," says the irrepressible, irascible tennis great John McEnroe.It takes a high degree of boldness and irreverence certainly - perhaps even madness - for an iconic figure to open up to the world to the world, warts and all. This becomes even more difficult in the case of a sportsperson with a larger than life persona.
In this respect, McEnroe's autobiography, 'Serious', is certainly one for the ages. It tells you about him as a person, the lover, the husband, the young prodigy, the angry young man and the angry older man: and yes, also McEnroe the tennis player. By and large, most sportspersons put things 'on record' for posterity. There is a reason why it is so: even the best and greatest finish when they are still fairly young. The autobiography is not so much a hark back over a lifetime as over a career which fans want to know first-hand.
Playing It My Way is designed to fit the Sachin Tendulkar universe as his fans have known it. This is accomplished with efficiency, tracing the growth of a precocious youngster into, arguably, cricket's biggest star, listing almost all his major achievements, for example, growing up in Shivaji Park, the first Test century, the 100th hundred etc.
But the book's strength (Tendulkar's memory is razor sharp, almost every delivery he faced still vividly recalled) is also its weakness. Where it scores in packing in most statistical highlights, it lacks in insights beyond the perfunctory. There is no journey within the journey, so to speak, and this limits understanding an outstanding cricketing career.
For the initiated, an obvious similarity (in tenor and rhythm) emerges with Sir Don Bradman's 'Farewell To Cricket' (1950) written soon after the Aussie legend retired (in 1948), summarizing his remarkable cricketing career for posterity. But in Bradman's era, information and analyses for cricket followers was meagre and television nonexistent: Tendulkar's career, on the other hand, has been diced and dissected threadbare in all forms of media in real time, leaving virtually no fact inaccessible to the click of a mouse.
The old genre of autobiographical writing is now fatigued. Even 'controversies' (Dravid's declaration in Multan, 2004, when Tendulkar was stranded on 194, or match referee Mike Denness accusing him of ball tampering in South Africa in 2001 and MonkeyGate in Australia (2007-8) have been thoroughly documented, including Tendulkar's points of view. For the most, Playing It My Way takes the old route which whets the appetite but leaves the 'seekers' wanting more.
However, the incident involving coach Greg Chappell asking to form a power centre with him (in which then captain Rahul Dravid would be deposed, something that Chappell has denied) is revelatory. I can't remember this having been in the public domain earlier. Interestingly, Tendulkar goes on to say that he spoke to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) officials of Chappell's divisive ways, asking them to drop the coach and that senior players would manage the team for the 2007 World Cup.
This is latently sensational stuff but inadequately developed. What happened then? Were there any discussions with other senior members of the team on how to take this forward? Why was the proposal spurned? In the light of that incident and other issues that have cropped up since leading to the current IPL corruption case in the Supreme Court, everybody wants to know how the BCCI functions. You get a hint from Tendulkar, but not the whole dope, alas.
The most engaging parts (and there are nuggets scattered through the book) come from outside the grim business of international cricket. For instance, the anecdote where Tendulkar relates how his school chum Vinod Kambli started flying a kite in the middle of a school match (and for a good 20 minutes!) draws out the innocence of childhood as well as the latter's mad hatter ways that were to become the subject of much debate later one. My best passages are about how he met and married Anjali Mehta: He was 17, she was 23 when they first came into contact. It was she who wooed him initially.
To meet him more often, she even went to his house pretending to be a journalist so that suspicion about their romance wouldn't be aroused. It didn't fool everybody in the Tendulkar household, of course. Finally, in a complete role reversal of how things work in middle class India, the responsibility of taking up the matter of marriage with his parents was subsequently also left to Anjali! This is a charming story of an unusual romance told with warmth and candour.
From a demanding cricket writer's point of view, there could also have been a sharper perspective on the contemporary game: DRS, chucking, modern bats, reduced boundaries, not to mention youngsters managing careers in the IPL era where the threat of being induced into corruption is omnipresent. The last mentioned aspect is important.
WhileTendulkar has drawn some criticism for dismissing the match-fixing scam, which hit Indian cricket circa 2000, in just a couple of paragraphs, it can be rationalized to an extent. Naming names, unless there was incontrovertible proof, would invite legal action. As Tendulkar explained when the book was released, unless he was absolutely sure of what had happened in an incident he didn't want to write about it. (Intriguingly, no leading player of the same era - Gilchrist, Warne, Ponting, Pietersen etc - has dwelt on this issue in their autobiographies.)
Yet Tendulkar (along with colleagues like Dravid, Ganguly, Srinath, Kumble, Laxman) were the pillars on which India's cricketing prestige was resurrected in those dark days. It is because of these players that India is the epicentre as well as the El Dorado of cricket currently. However, Indian players (especially the young and the non-stars) are still the most vulnerable as events of the last few years have shown. More on how Tendulkar coped with the anguish of corruption, and on how to remain focused and ignore the ruses of extraneous influences would have been beacon-like and would, undeniably, have filled a void.
Ayaz Memon is a senior journalist. He is @cricketwallah on twitter