Sunday, April 01, 2007

Obligatory ramble about Sachin

I promised myself I wouldn’t blog about Sachin Tendulkar again (especially after writing this long personal post last year), but wouldn’t you know it, I’m breaking that promise now. Here’s an expansion of some of the things I said in a comment on Amit’s blog.

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?”.

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.
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.

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.


  1. 24 hour news channels requires 24 hour news. so thats where all that endless crappy analysis comes into picture. we have stupid news channels asking wannabe celebs about india's prospects. when we were no where in the reckoning for the cup to begin with, we had HU HA INDIA. hence all the hype about sachin.

    the whole team is playing pretty patethically at the moment, so singling out sachin doesnt make much sense. however, it probably makes sense for him to push off, unless he pulls up his socks. whatever his decision, a player like him deserves slightly more respect than becoming a pawn in the evil game plan of media houses and corporates.

  2. Hey!!I play lot of cricket and i can call myself a pretty decent analyst of the game..Sachin is a gr8 player there is no doubt abt it...What is he playing 4 still...Hasn't he proved himself to the world time and again that he is the best batsman in the world as far as one day is concerned. But lets not carried away coz cricket is a team game and even when sachin was at his peak (1998-2001) how many one day series did india win abroad. Sachin is still good than most of the guys in our team but then he has to realize that just making 50's and 100's isn't doing any good unless the team is winning..Give the guy a break..let him retire from one days and concentrate on tests coz that is real Cricket and as far as i am concerned he is definately not the best batsman as far as test matches are concerned and i am still clinging to the hope that he will prove me wrong one day!!!!And let me reiterate TEST MATCH is real cricket...

  3. Good post. I wrote a post about why Tendulkar should not be made captain, a few days after the WC exit. In the comments of that post, the debate veered towards whether he should be in the team at all.

    Point is, for those that want him out, they should be able to name a creditable and talented replacement. Most of the names that have been coming up to date revolve around the likes of Kaif and Raina.

    Don't get me wrong, these two players have potential, that they need help in realising. However, that help should not come at the expense of SRT.

    For all his dips in form and change of mindsets, I would still bank on him playing consistently better over the next few years than any new cricketer coming into the side.

    Here's to hoping common sense prevails and SRT can remain injury-free and play like we all know he can over the next few years.

    The kids will just have to wait for now.

  4. It's just a mindblowingly exciting time, and we should sit back and enjoy the ride. It's not everyday that Indian cricket hits such a low. Everyone being criticised. Loads of bull being said and written about everyone. Woooo! Can't get much better than this, can it? It's positively orgasmic!

  5. BMR: oh yes! Writing about Sachin: definitely better than sex. And you'd get a much better sense of how exciting things really are if you were in India just now...

  6. Lovely post Jai. Frankly, I'm really really fed up by all these comments and articles on Sachin Tendulkar these days. Each day, each hour some one or the other tries to pull him down for reasons utterly insane!

    Why doesn't Sachin end this? Indian people and board are obsessed with ODIs. So Sachin should retire from that format so that media and the so called experts have no masala to write about.

    And what is left there for Sachin to achieve in ODIs? Surely he won't be playing in the next WC? So whats the point in continuing in the meaningless number of ODI?

    On the other hand,he has plenty to achieve in the tests. So why not concentrate on those?

  7. Chandan: thanks. I've been told by a couple of people who claim to have "inside information" that SRT has a lot of sponsors' obligations/contracts to fulfil and as a result it might become imperative for him to play in the 2011 world cup, even if he were to take a break from ODIs in between. Could be something to this, especially since the 2011 WC will be taking place on the subcontinent (remember the combination of politics and general sentimentality that led to Miandad returning to play the 1996 WC?).

    If this is true it would be unfortunate of course, and it wouldn't reflect too well on Sachin - but it would also be a function of the nature of the sport in India, and the way the celebrity culture works here.

  8. What do i say except that i too share so much of that irrational feeling about Sachin and well he left memories which by this nonsense are simply being demeaned by allthis nonsense to an extent that i do wish he retires and puts an end to it.
    Thanks for all those links ...quite nostalgic it was of such wonderful times

  9. Why Tendulkar should excuse himself from Indian cricket- ODIs and Test

    ODIs first

    One of the most intriguing things about SRT is runs scored when India is chasing....his ovrall average is 43 vs 43 (first vs second)....but his average in last 30 matches is 70 vs 22.......Can Tendulkar play under pressure? (RDs is 41 vs 38)

    In the last 30 matches SRT has 7 greater than 50 scores in the first innings (total 15 innings)......he has only 2 greater than 50 innings in the second innings (14 innings)....

    Test Matches

    His performance in test matches has been even more incredible....

    In the last 10 matches..his average is 26, less than half of his career average

    In the last 20 matches..his average is 42 which includes a 248 against BD...exclude that and his average drops to 33......

    Our man has had a very long rope :-)......

    Considering the massive media campaign in SRT's favor (read TOI) as well as many loyalists out to protect him the old guard will continue in the team.

    There are scenarios that SRT needs to consider before he takes a decision to continue with the team, at least in the short term

    a. A failure in BD will certainly end his career in the most humiliating way. Does he want to risk this?

    b. A success in BD will mean nothing

    c. A success in BD and a failure in England will mean a disaster for SRT

    There is only posisble scenario of success for SRT- Success in both BD and England. This will shut the mouths of people like me.
    The probability of this of course is just 1/4 (considering the scenarios and past performance)

    The safest thing would be to drop out and get his confidence together and then vie to come back to the team. In the meanwhile MK and SR can get more opportunities.

    Another interesting fact is that in the last 50 matches played by both MK and SRT, MK has won more matches for India than SRT......

    My grouse against SRT is not just because of the world cup nor is it just because of the data. (Including avgs of less than 20 and 10 against SAF and Aust).These were what I call the final nails in the coffin. I felt this for the first time after seeing this match............

    "Between Ganguly's dismissal and tea, India eked out a pitiful 31 in 19.4 overs, four of the runs coming in leg byes. And as is often the case, the run drought played right into South African hands, with three wickets falling in the process. Harris bowled 22 overs on the trot, exhibiting great control and composure, but neither Dravid nor Tendulkar went down the pitch or did anything else to upset his length and make him think twice.

    These are not ordinary batsmen. They are two of Indian cricket's batting trinity - the other, Sunil Gavaskar, watched in bemusement from the commentary box - and men with a proud record of excellence in every cricket-playing country in the world. To see them flounder against a debutant was surreal, and you shuddered to think what kind of message it sent to the batsmen waiting their turn in the dressing room. "

  10. its time u realise as a person that u are not as 'Tendlya' fanatic as many people in this world are. You cant dispassionately shovel off the greatest batsman in the world as a stalwart who has lost his lustre.
    As a person, for me and sevral others cricket started with tendlya and it will continuelater with sadness that Tndlya wont be around for infinity. He is similar to Maradona. Even if gets into trouble like th football great he would still be the person who gave us Sharjah innings, The Chennai Test with a bruised back, sydney test and be the person who scored 4 consecutive boundaries off Abdul Qadir. Wait for a while and you will realise that he still has magic to create. Same way as Maradona scored his 'fallig leaf' goal in the last match for Boca Juniors.

  11. Salil: my heart bleeds for you. Seriously. Just btw, the sentence "for me cricket started with tendlya and it will continue later with sadness that Tendlya wont be around for infinity" applies to me just as well. (Go through the post I linked to at the beginning.) But my reverence for him isn't dependent on the notion that he "still has magic to create".