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Sachin stands solid in vicissitudes

Tendulkar is our link to an India that existed before page three invaded our homes, writes Rajdeep Sardesai.

india Updated: Dec 12, 2005 12:05 IST

Where were you when Sachin Tendulkar made his test debut? I was at The Times of India in Mumbai, at a time when Girilal Jain had just retired as editor and when the marketing department had still not taken over the running of a newspaper. VP Singh had just become India's prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi was alive, the Babri Masjid was still in place, we relied on an MTNL lineman to provide us a decent phone connection, Infosys was still a start-up, Osama was a US ally, Shahrukh Khan was a struggling actor, Doordarshan was still the sole source of small screen entertainment and the concept of even one 24-hour news channel was an outrageous flight of fancy.

Sixteen years, 35 hundreds and 30 news channels later, the world has changed dramatically. What has remained remarkably constant is the presence of Sachin Tendulkar at the crease, blue helmet in place, the slight shuffle in the crease as the bowler approaches, the eyes unflinching in gaze, head firm, and the short backlift only a mask for the power that lies behind each stroke. Through all the upheavals of the last decade and a half - and the scale of change has been truly tectonic - Tendulkar has stood rock solid, a reassuring sign in an era where there are no guarantees what tomorrow will bring.

All that has changed is the boy with fluffy cheeks and curly locks who we watched excitedly on the maidans of Mumbai has become the man of India, his skills paraded in every major world stadium. Forget the fact that he hadn't had a proper shave when he hit Qadir for four sixes in an over in his first series, and that today he is a multi-crore match-winner…

For many of us, Sachin will always be the boy wonder, a rare symbol of national pride and excellence, someone whose achievements have become our badge of identity whenever we've felt down and out.

I still recall being caught in the middle of a terrible power cut in Delhi a few years ago, the summer heat virtually exhausting both body and soul. While we despaired over the state of infrastructure in the national capital, Tendulkar was in Sharjah playing an innings that would light up the night in a manner that no power supplier could. Instead of feeling depressed by the "we pay our taxes, but get no benefit" refrain, we rejoiced in the knowledge that Sachin had taken India to a famous victory.

Then, there was that momentous day against Pakistan in the World Cup two years ago. Billed as the "greatest contest on earth", this was Sachin versus Shoaib, the classic confrontation between an aggressive batsman and a tearaway fast bowler. The battle lasted just an over. With one slashed six over point - a shot which cricket historian Ramchandra Guha suggested had ended a decade of Indian inferiority against Pakistan - and a string of boundaries, Sachin established himself as the dominant force in the match.

It almost seemed as if all the national anger of an attack on Parliament, the war in Kargil, the death of innocents in Kashmir had been avenged with one single innings in this cricketing war without weapons.

Sometimes, one wonders whether we have placed too much hope and expectation on the shoulders of a single individual. Its almost as if we demand a century from Sachin every time he walks to the crease. What is even more astonishing is that Sachin has fulfilled all those expectations to score as many as 73 international centuries.

In England, they celebrate a Graeme Hick when he scores a hundred first class hundreds. Here, you have a cricketer who is poised to score a hundred international centuries, and there are still critics who wonder whether he has the motivation to stay on top of his game. It's a bit like seeing a Kohinoor in front of our eyes, and still wondering whether we should make a trip to the Tower of London. Pause for a moment to also think of Vinod Kambli, Sachin's school soul mate and batting partner. Kambli once spoke of how "Sachin had taken an elevator, while he had climbed the stairs to the top." But after one great series against England, Kambli found that it was even more difficult staying at the top than just getting there. Which is why Sachin is sui generis. In cricketing terms, only Sunil Gavaskar, the man whose record Tendulkar now owns, and Kapil Dev can be compared to him. The holy trinity of Indian cricket, you couldn't get three more different players: Gavaskar the architect, Kapil Dev the innovator and Tendulkar the artist. Obvious talent apart, what binds them together is their sheer determination and commitment, a glue which has laid the foundation of modern Indian cricket.

In a sense, Sachin is our link to an India that existed before page three invaded our homes, before instant celebrities were manufactured by the media even if their achievements are shorter than the length of their skirts.

This is not just some one film hit star, who dances his way to the box office. Sachin's achievements are based on solid performance, on rigour, on durability and, above all, genuine skill, qualities that have made him a national icon.

This is a moment to be not just proud of, but grateful for. Thank you for the memories Sachin, and making it a little easier to live and grow up in modern India.

(The writer is editor in chief India Broadcast News, IBN)