Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Has Sachin Tendulkar's genius mind been disfigured forever by stinging criticism?

This post by the author was published in Cricketcountry on 21.3.2012 

The master voices his opinions

When Sachin Tendulkar scored the elusive 100th century at Mirpur, his subdued reactions came as a shock to some of us. The absence of his ever present smile and his gesture towards the Indian crest on his helmet were perhaps tell-tale signs of untold hurt that the past year’s relentless, blatant criticism has left on him.

While the hundred seems to have lifted the monumental pressure that weighed him down all this while, a fact underlined by the sparkling half century against Pakistan two days later, his interview after reaching the landmark raised concerns about the stinging wounds that have probably disfigured the mind behind the genius forever.

A man who had gladly borne the irrational expectations and mindless denigration of millions for 22 years, has perhaps finally grown tired of the turncoat tricks of fans, media and former team-mates. The back he has strained to breaking point in constructing the cricketing fortunes of the country has perhaps had enough stealthy knives plunged into it in surreptitious stabs.

For the first time, ever since he strode out to bat for India as a 15-year old, the master has given vent to emotions with words along with his bat.

It was quite surprising to hear Tendulkar take an uncharacteristic pot shot at some haranguing voices, stating that “there are people he did not respect, and he had a bigger job playing for India.”

No one in his senses, and aware of the accusations of selfishness and frenzied calls for his retirement all through last year, can blame him for the words. Even fewer can question the truth that drips from the statement. Yet, it somehow adds to the conviction that the champion has finally realised that no matter how much his willow serves the nation and the game of cricket, there are some ex-cricketers, media personnel and elements in the public who will steadfastly refuse to open their eyes and continue to heap abuses on the greatest batsman of modern times.

The way many members of the cricketing fraternity have performed synchronised about turns after the hundred only underlines the justice of the statement. However, one cannot deny the indication that perhaps there are ripples of disturbance in the Zen-like serenity of the mind that has till now guided his magical skills on their way to colossal feats.

Timing the retirement

The most stirring part of the interview was perhaps when he aired his views on retirement.

Ever since Vijay Merchant had famously declared, “Retire when people ask why and not why not,” the virtue of calling it a day at the top of one’s game has been an unquestioned axiom. And yet Tendulkar declared, “My belief is that if I feel I can contribute, I am mentally there where I feel I am bringing value to the team, then I should be playing. It's a very selfish thought that when you are at the top you should retire.”

Tendulkar’s opinion challenges decisions made by Gavaskar, Dravid

On the face of it, the opinion seems to challenge the decisions of some of the game’s absolute legends, Sunil Gavaskar being one of them. It also places Rahul Dravid's recent retirement, after one dismal tour preceded by a superlative English summer, under a question mark.

Yet, when one digs deeper, there are indeed merits in the statement that can be glimpsed, raising uncomfortable questions about the Merchant gospel.

Indeed, if we consider a player calling it a day while at the peak of his powers for the sake of going down as a legend who timed his retirement to perfection, is he not playing for the most personal of milestones that one can conceive? Is it not depriving the country of a portion of his very best abilities? Would we really like to end up with say 90% of the potential contribution of the greatest cricketer produced by the country and miss out on the remainder, because he wanted to retire at the peak for the glory associated with the decision? Would it not make him selfish, putting his personal ambitions ahead of the needs of the country?

And, at the same time, isn’t it a ridiculous license for a largely mediocre career to climb to the realms of greatness in public consciousness because of the last small stretch that conforms with the credo of calling it a day while the going is good?

It is questioning a hallowed tenet that has been engraved on the fabric of the cricketing community, but it requires a Sachin Tendulkar to doubt the veracity of what others consider universal truth. It is this ability that has allowed him to leap across frontiers to achieve landmarks that remained invisible to the naked eye, such as the 50th Test century, 15,000 Test runs and 100 international hundreds. Gavaskar famously set the target of 40 Test centuries for a young master and the wizard currently has 51. His thinking is bound to reset the conceptions of mortal minds, however brilliant they may be.

However, therein is the danger of greatness.

Open to abuse

While the writer has full faith in the integrity of the batsman extraordinaire to call it a day the minute he feels he is past it, not all cricketers of the present and future can be worthy of the trust.

A statement uttered by Sachin Tendulkar has enormous bearing, every word carrying the potential to be an agent of change. He is a phenomenal influence and amazing role model for not just Indians, but people the world over. Cricket administrators have used his charisma to sway the masses into quelling fan unrest during international matches. His magnetism has been used for educating the public on social causes. His personal opinions about respective merits of captains had not too far back kick-started a massive regional damage control initiative in the press of a certain section of the country.

Hence, there remains the chance that some future players may piggyback on his words to travel the additional mile as extra baggage for the team. They can quote him to eke out extension periods. In a country where the spine has to be bartered for a place on the selection panel, removing players past their prime may become even more challenging.

Temporary or permanent?

Opponents, including the most infamous of sledgers, have rarely tried to needle Tendulkar, because it is known to be counterproductive. Likewise, the most notorious members of the media have always wisely refrained from asking provocative questions, because Tendulkar has been known to sidestep the bait. Hence his voluntary comments come as a surprise to many.

What remains to be seen is whether this particular interview was the final bit of stress released from the recesses of the soul. Or is it that the ever so familiar wonder boy has been finally transformed by the unthinkable pressure, moulded by the continuous heat of madness and malice, to end up with some sharp edges?

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