Looking at a couple of the other comments on that post, I’m astonished by how many people think SRT has an obligation to be the Best Batsman in the World for all time. This for instance:
Expectations are always from Sachin Tendulkar because he is Sachin Tendulkar. Because he is one the greatest ever. Because he can make a bowler ask this question to his mother “Why was I even born?”.Look at that chest-thumping first paragraph and then the shrill second paragraph, and see if you can reconcile the two opinions stated. Assume for argument’s sake that everything said in the second para is true (at least over the past 2-3 years). In that case, wouldn’t this be the logical conclusion to draw: Sachin is NOT the best batsman in the world anymore and it isn’t fair to keep judging him by that standard.
However, time and again, it has been noted that he has not delivered when it mattered the most and when people looked up to him to save the matches. India has failed miserably every time he has failed. And of late, he has been failing continuously when we need our best batsman to give his best.
In fact, as any balanced observer of the game (even his biggest worshippers, like yours truly) would know, SRT hasn’t been the world’s leading batsman for at least six years now; he hasn’t even been India’s best batsman for at least four years, going back to roughly the time when Rahul Dravid had those great series in England and Australia. (For much of the period since, he wasn’t even India’s second-best batsman, at least in Tests – Virender Sehwag was.)
There’s a delicious irony in the nature of Tendulkar-directed criticism. On the one hand, people lament that SRT is in the team solely because of his past achievements and the weight of his reputation, and that he should instead be judged strictly by his current worth. This is fair enough. But on the other hand, these same people use those very past achievements as benchmarks to condemn him.
The real question to be asked (as Amit does in his post) is: Is he still good enough to be in the Indian side? Forget about what he once was and what we wanted him to be, and think about the here and now. As I’ve said before, back in 1989 when that 16-year-old kid walked into the Indian squad, he did NOT sign a pledge to the entire Indian populace that he would be The World’s Best Batsman and the sole repository of all their hopes and ambitions for the next 20 years, and that those were the only terms on which he would play cricket. In the history of sport, great champions have suffered far stranger and more dramatic declines than what has happened to Tendulkar in the past 4-5 years. Deal with it.
Amit’s answer to the question “Is Tendulkar good enough on current form?” is “Yes”. I’m not so sure myself – I don’t know enough about India’s bench strength and to what extent promising young players have been kept out in the past few years because the middle order has been so established and so “untouchable”. I also think there’s some merit in Gaurav Varma’s comment that with an eye on building a team for the future there’s a case for dropping SRT even if he’s good enough to figure amongst India’s top six batsmen.
But my concern here isn’t the “should he be dropped” debate, it’s the very ugly nature of the criticism directed at SRT over the years. I’m aghast at the irresponsibility of most of India’s sports media in this respect. Through discussions with sports-journo friends and acquaintances, I know that there’s a strong current of anti-Tendulkarism in these circles – has been, in fact, for several years, even going back to the days when he was the country’s best cricketer. And given the way many media insiders really feel about him, it seems like a diabolical conspiracy that newspapers and TV channels have continued (with a subtle mocking undercurrent) to refer to him as “the world’s best batsman” in reports, long after that label ceased to be true – using it to repeatedly pull him down and gloat over his failures. Whenever India suffers an embarrassing loss, don’t we all know what photographs we’ll see blown up on the front page of every newspaper the next day? Tendulkar getting out bowled. (Admittedly, that is an enticing photo option, especially when he’s down on his haunches.) Tendulkar walking forlornly back to the pavilion, a huddle of excited opposition players in the background. A beaten/dispirited Tendulkar, used as a symbol of our supposed National Failure. The Man Who Let Us All Down. Once again.
And when he plays a good innings in the next match, every TV channel will dig up at least one idiot ex-cricketer (Kris Srikkanth, anyone?) who’s willing to come and say something like “see, this is why he is the best batsman since Bradman”. And the cycle is perpetuated all over again.
There’s also the persistence of the ridiculous hype around “Tendulkar and Lara, the two best players in the world”. To anyone who actually knows their cricket, this idea has been irrelevant for years. In the last 3-4 seasons Lara has performed much better than Sachin has (and equally importantly, avoided injuries better), but even he hasn’t consistently been among the top 3 batsmen in the world during this period. And yet the media continues to sustain this grand, 10-year-old fantasy of “Tendulkar vs Lara” and fans continue to fall for it. (I can’t help wondering what youngsters aged 12-13 or less must make of this hype, since they wouldn’t have seen either of these greats back when they were indisputably the best batsmen around.)
From a selfish point of view, as a Tendulkar loyalist, I wouldn’t at all mind seeing him removed from the team. Apart from sparing him further humiliation, it would (at least temporarily, till a new icon is found, built up and torn to pieces) end this malicious voyeurism we see every time a hero fails. It would also force our indolent, feeble-brained sports-page editors and reporters to find new clichés for their match reports (instead of the sneering “once again, the world’s best batsman failed when his team needed him the most”) and to look for new photo options for the front page when India next suffers a humiliating and unexpected loss. And rest assured, the humiliating losses will continue, even after this “non-performing, overrated, national disappointment” has been ejected from the team: for if 75 years of Indian cricket history has taught us anything, it’s that this country, for whatever deep-rooted reason, is never going to produce a team of consistent world beaters like the Australians, or the West Indians of the 1970s and 1980s, or even the South Africans. Maybe there’s something to the idea that the national character just isn’t suited to a high level of sporting achievement.
(Did I say “world beaters”? Sorry! This is a sport that only 8 or 9 countries play with any measure of seriousness – and moderate success in it somehow becomes a salve for all our frustrations and personal disappointments. Maybe we’re just a nation of masochists.)
A couple of previous Sachin-related posts here and here.