The Endulkar is nigh
At the very outset, let me alert readers that I am not writing this piece as a sports writer, a cricket expert or a former cricketer. I write this as a layman who has followed the game of cricket over the last three decades, and like any other Indian, who, whether he likes it or not, is initiated into the game from his toddler days.
A lot has been written on Sachin Tendulkar’s failure to post a big score on his home ground in the last India-England Test match. Allow me to correct myself, a lot was written not on Tendulkar’s failure with the bat but on the booing and hissing by a section of the Mumbai spectators.
Almost every ex-cricketer like Bishan Singh Bedi, some current players, almost every cricket writer and so-called cricket experts, lambasted the spectators for indulging in this ‘shocking, unsporting’ behaviour. Some even berated the crowd for coming to the stadium for entertainment and not to watch the game. “Mumbaikars have got used to watching entertainment,” others remarked.
I was not part of that crowd at the stadium. Let me tell you, though, that in the comfortable confines of my home, watching the match on my plasma, I did the same thing. Jeered — not because I don’t care for the game but precisely because I do, like all those in the stands who must have collectively groaned when Tendulkar lost his wicket, twice.
When a certain top class Bradmanseque batsman gets out while flirting with a ball going outside the off stump that even a galli cricketer would have the sense to let go of, it leads to a sense of all-round disappointment. And deja vu. How many times has Tendulkar given away his wicket in this manner? When will he learn? Or is it too late? No one doubts the fact that Tendulkar is a world-class batsman. But then, is he sacred? What puzzles me more than the by-now oh-so-predictable Tendulkar game is cricket writers losing their objectivity. Instead of analysing Tendulkar’s game, they spent valuable column space on crowd behaviour.
Many of them forget that in Latin American cities and even in London, riots have often broken out between fans in the stadium over a game of football. Often, there have been serious tragedies in the stadium leading to the loss of hundreds of lives and even an occasional war.
All this because a favourite team may have failed to convert a goal. At the Wankhede Stadium, mercifully and rightfully, the audience was restrained. They did, of course, express themselves on what exactly they thought of their idol, something that writers and ex-cricketers didn’t have the moral courage to do. What all these cricketers and those who write about them forget is the fact that like any other sport, cricket, too, is spectator-driven. It is this very money-paying audience that fuels the economy of cricket. Were it not for their love for the game, there would be no gate money to collect and subsequently no crowds, no sponsorship and no big money paid to the cricketers by the BCCI.
They have every right to demand decent play from players whom they adore. They don’t pay money to watch abject surrender. They pay to watch a game of cricket, not a circus. Losing is acceptable to them. But it is the manner in which the game is lost which irritates them.
And the same may be said for Tendulkar’s batting. Every one calls him a batting genius. I agree. But there have been geniuses in the past in the Indian team. Batsman like Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath and others. Today there is Rahul Dravid. All of them were good batsmen. Some of them are even geniuses like Tendulkar. What they had and what Tendulkar does not have is reliability. Whenever Tendulkar takes the crease, the audience is never sure how long he will last there. How many times have we, spectators, asked ourselves this question: will Sachin play today? Do we ask the same question of other batting geniuses?
How many times have we seen Tendulkar survive chances in the first 20 or 30 runs of his innings before he goes on to post yet another ‘great’ century? Therein lies the difference between Tendulkar and other batting wonders. When Sunny would take the crease, 99 per cent of the time we would be sure of seeing him there five hours later.
The same can be said of Dravid and even less glorified batsmen like Dilip Vengsarkar, Roger Binny and Mohinder Amarnath. They were paid to bat and bat they did. Good, solid, knocks.
Yes, Sachin has style. Yes, he plays his strokes like no one else does. Yes, Sachin has flair and panache. Yes, he has scored the highest number of runs. Yes, Sachin is Great. His supporters scream, “Look at the statistics. The numbers prove his greatness.” I agree. But cold and dry statitsics are not what the game of cricket is all about. It is about passion, love, agony, hope and every other possible human emotion. Stats can never reveal that.
Numbers can be read from either side, twisted to buttress whatever point one is trying to prove, like company analysts reading a balance sheet and arriving at different conclusions though they may be holding the same number sheets. But Sachin is not a cricketing God. For Gods are not supposed to fail consistently. Ask Sir Don Bradman.