I missed Sachin Tendulkar reaching his century two nights ago. So kill me. But once I heard that he was Rishi Kapooring his way to 150, and after being filled in about what I had missed — “Oof, that cover drive!” “Ohh, that swivelling pull shot” and other shorter, more guttural descriptions of ecstasy that can’t be reprinted in this newspaper that plays the straightest of forward defensive blocks — I was on the edge (of a bed that had two sleeping kids, three excited kids, and a gaggle of fellow grown-ups milling around a TV set) egging on the greatest man to have walked the Earth since Mohammad Ali.
As I was in the thick of a friend’s birthday party, I was also caught in the crossfire of opinions about the man in the middle zinging all around me: Did Sachin alone have to bear the weight of the world? Does the Indian system only have a place for geniuses to shine? Isn’t it unpatriotic to go crazy about Sachin’s masterful performance while the Indian team goes down under?
These are all difficult questions to answer even on a calm, collected day. They are infinitely harder when you’re holding a drink the colour of the Australian jersey and following a precarious scoreboard with Sachin’s score ticking away like a bomb strapped under a car in downtown Rawalpindi.
The sheer sugar rush of watching Sachin (pronounced ‘Such-chin!’ each time he hits a boundary) single-handedly take on the Aussies as if he’s Karna in Kurukshetra (and we know what happened to the Kauravas, don’t we?) made it tempting for us to believe the next morning that one-day cricket is as far from being dead as the dodo is from coming alive.
But one swallow does not a guzzling habit make. It was my ever-sober colleague Rajiv Arora who pointed out on Friday that most of us (at least with jobs and birthday parties to attend to) locked ourselves into the India-Australia match only after we were tipped off that a vintage Tendulkar had been uncorked. Most of us were, indeed, picking up snatches of the scoreline throughout the day. — unlike in the hoary past when we would glue ourselves to the telly to watch the whole 50 overs. But on Thursday, we also made a big show of rolling our sleeves up to ‘get back’ to our drudgeries when we heard that India had to chase a whopping 350 runs to win the match.
At the risk of sounding like Karan Johar about an Ingmar Bergman movie, one-dayers are so boring to follow over the span of 100 overs and half a day. What still does catch our fancy, though, are the spells of excitement — usually appearing over the last ten overs of the second innings and maybe during the first ten overs of both, especially if wickets of the other team start tumbling. What happened on Thursday was an anomaly — a whole National Highway stretch of excitement fuelled by good old-fashioned brilliance from the start of the Indian innings courtesy ‘Such-chin!’ right till the end, when, even after Sachin’s departure in the 48th over with the score at a tantalising 333 for 8, we hoped that the match would be won by India not for anything else but for Sachin’s sake.
The next day, sounding like a vaastu-master, Ever-Sober Rajiv made the most uninebriated analysis of the match yet: India wins matches when we don’t behave as if the honour of our families depend on them. Well, of course he’s only half-right. We do win (some) exciting matches. It’s just that when India loses a match we aren’t that excited about, we don’t get gutted.
The thing is that on Thursday, Sachin under the bright lights didn’t allow us the traditional protection that 50-over cricket allows us: casual interest. To not have been deliriously hooked to his choreographically paced 175 off 141 balls would have been to deny human joy. Not human justice, or human meaning — for Sachin’s team did lose — but human joy. Which is a different ball game altogether.