Millennium Post

Sachin, the selfish giant?

Can Sachin be doubted? Can Indians ever come to see the first sportsperson to be granted a Bharat Ratna in a light that’s not soft but harsh and unflinching? Can the rigour of plain old and cold statistics outshine the brilliance of a sporting gladiator whose capacity to pull crowds and dazzle them with his style, class and consistency, and at times, sheer presence, is undisputed? Tough call, yes, but it has happened.

Sumit Chakraberty, veteran sports journalist whose column with DNA, called Beamer, was a staple of all cricket-lovers in the country and beyond, has attempted to tweak the myths and tales spun over the last 24 years around Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, our lodestar, our hero, our god. In Master Laster: What They Don’t Tell You About Sachin Tendulkar, Chakraberty throws some stats at the God of Cricket, and lo, you do see cracks in the idol. But isn’t Sachin’s iconic status a holy cow? Not just Sachin-lovers, even a good section of the media is reluctant to get seriously critical in its approach, unwilling to assess the ‘master blaster’ without rose-tinted glasses. 

Chakraberty quips, ‘He was a prodigious talent, who got into the team at an early age with the support of Suni Gavaskar and others from Bombay. It was the start of the TV era in cricket at the start of the nineties. He became a hero and was made into a demigod. I think as a nation we like to indulge in hero worship. And once that happens, the media and advertisers are happy t feed off it. Sports journalists are reluctant to criticise the board and a superstar on whom they depend for interviews, events etc. And on TV, we only have commentary by a chosen few, like Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, who keep talking Sachin up. Not a single critical look has been taken at Sachin’s career in a book. That’s why Master Laster was needed.’

Agreed. But in order to achieve that demigod status, you need to be an astute self-marketeer as well. Sachin understood the game as well as the art of staying on better than others. Charaberty agrees, to some extent. He says, ‘In the beginning it just happened. He was young and talented and it was easy to understand the buzz about him. His elder brother Ajit appears to have been an astute advisor. But once Gavaskar got behind him, there was no looking back. Sachin’s astuteness in self-promotion becomes more apparent in the second half of his career, when he pursued milestones relentlessly - even at the cost of the team sometimes.’

How does he compare with the other middle order batsmen of his era (that’s almost an oxymoron now) Lara, Inzamamul Haq, Ponting, Kallis, among others?

Chakraberty gives back a pointed answer: ‘Sachin had a longer career than Dravid or Laxman, and yet if you look for match-winning second innings knocks of 50 or more outside Asia, you will only find VVS or Dravid, never Sachin. To anchor a Test victory in the second innings outside Asia is the biggest contribution an Indian batsman can make for his team, because it’s difficult and doesn’t happen often. That VVS and Dravid did it seven times between them, and Sachin never is not just a stat - it is the most telling indicator of the extent of this hype.’

Gosh, that’s harsh. Especially because Sachin, in a way, has reinvented himself almost serially. Fifth longest career apart, he has managed to adapt himself to the changing nature of the game: Test, ODI, then even T20. No, Chakraberty doesn’t dispute his talent, which is prodigious by all measure. ‘The nagging question remains about how far his team benefited from it. The problem with our current focus on centuries and other such milestones like reaching a 200th Test is that it tends to make a player self-centred at times,’ the author explains.

Sure. In a way, the 200th Test looked stage-managed almost, with the West Indies acting as straw men who must fall to let Sachin shine. It was his fare well match, and other accomplishments like the century by Cheeteshwar Pujara would be overshadowed and eclipsed from memory eventually. But is that Sachin’s fault? It is us who want the hype, the mania, the spectacle to remain, even if for the sake of entertainment. In a country devoid of role models, Sachin is one of the few actual thrills and real success stories that we are left with.

Chakraberty agrees, only to disagree. ‘Well, he did have the freedom to retire when Dravid did. He could have let new talent like Rohit or Rahane, fellow Mumbaikars to boot, an earlier entry. Instead, he carried on. He has averaged just 26 in his last 12 Test matches in four home series. Newcomer Pujara’s average in the corresponding period is 80. You might say it was the selector’s job to drop him, but Sachin was a larger-than-life figure and also a commercial attraction. 

But what stopped Sachin from doing the noble thing instead of playing on and on in this pathetic fashion for over two years? After Sachin’s last Test hundred in December 2010, Dravid made five centuries, three of them onthat difficult tour of England where everybody else failed. He had more of a claim to retain his place in the Test side than Sachin at the end of that 4-0 whitewash in Australia. But he knew it was now the turn of new talent to do the honours for India ad exited gracefully, without fanfare. Hats off to him.’

There lies the truth. The ‘greatest player’ might as well turn out to be a ‘selfish giant.’ Thanks Sumit for making the counterpoint. It has its glorious place under the sun.
Next Story
Share it