Few and far in between are men in a nation’s history, who change its course with the impact they have on the consciousness of its people, and who leave behind an unparalleled legacy. One such man is Sachin Tendulkar. Heroes rarely exist in real life, but here’s a man who came so close to being one in the true sense that most of his fans almost deify him as a god, and believe me, in a country of multiple faiths and multiple gods, where people take their religion quite seriously, that really is a big deal! Both adulation and criticism rarely got to this man, and all the overwhelming number of records that he not just broke, but completely obliterated leave you with so much to talk and yet all you can think of is his humility, courage, determination and patriotism. Volumes upon volumes have been written about his cricketing abilities, and the batting wizard that he is, so in that sense this post doesn't dwell upon those topics. What this post does explore instead is the legend of Sachin Tendulkar through the eyes of a true fan, which gives us a perspective into what he was doing to the heart and minds of a billion plus people, and which is really the essence of what he represented.
Few people I know, who have followed Sachin as closely as my dear friend Karan Rampal. He is also one of the more balanced and objective people I know, so an ideal person to interview on this topic. Sachin for him is the reason why he even started following cricket in the first place, and he’s a self-confessed true fan. Surprisingly, Karan’s earliest memory of Sachin isn't one of his dominating and aggressive batting, but actually one of his most amazing bowling spells ever. He’s reminded of the night of 24 November 1993, the semi-final of Hero Cup at the Eden Gardens, where India were playing South Africa, with Brian McMillan on strike and SA needing only 6 runs to win from the final over. That’s when the then captain Md. Azharuddin, to the entire nation’s perplexity, played an incredible gambit by turning to Sachin to bowl the last over. The rest is history, and India obviously won the match because of that dexterous over from Sachin, and eventually lifted the cup in the final, but that incident was just one of the many that displayed the determination and hunger Sachin had to always be in the thick of the battle. Then of course Karan can recount those innings in Sharjah against Pakistan which displayed Sachin's extraordinary might with the bat, by which time he was following his every match.
But his domination of bowling attacks the world over wasn't really why people swore by his name, Karan tells us there was a lot more to it. More than anything it was the consistency with which he performed for India, and the way he conducted himself both on and off the field with immaculate humility and politeness, being a true gentleman and a great ambassador for the sport. Besides, if there’s one single thing that binds India together, in spite of its awe-inspiring diversity, it most certainly is cricket. You can get an idea of how serious the Indians are about the game by the fact that even during the 90s, when in most towns and cities of India DoorDarshan (DD) was the only channel available, and even though DD wouldn't have the television rights for most tournaments, if there was a match India was playing, it had to be broadcasted on DD. And Sachin was at the pinnacle of the sport, giving hope to a billion Indians that one of their own can get out there and be the best in business. That hope, that silent promise, that inspiration meant the world to an eager yet shy, courageous yet sceptic India, only just opening up to the outside world. That’s why Sachin had that unique charm about him that transcended generations and made almost every Indian to turn on their TVs whenever he came out to bat, and to turn them off as soon as he got out (without even bothering about the outcome of the match), and in a sense uniting the incredible diversity of this country with a single thread, for so long. People just wanted him to go on and on without ever retiring, ‘cause somewhere deep inside their hearts they didn't want that inspired and excited child within them, which had followed Sachin through his entire career, to retire. There certainly was some wizardry to what he was doing with that piece of willow.
Over the years, Sachin captured the nation’s imagination in ways that few others had done before him, and in the eyes of his fans he became much more than titles like master-blaster, etc. and rose to a different level altogether where they started deifying him. Karan believes that it is justified to a great extent. One of the fundamental qualities in the idea of any god is to provide the followers with a source of faith, and Sachin performed at the highest level of professional cricket for so long and so consistently that it is only natural that his followers put that level of rock-solid trust in him. It most certainly is no mean feat to perform on a top-class level for 24 years in an era when so many matches are being played in a year (not like the old times when only a few tests and ODIs were played each year), and in that process shatter every batting record worthy of mention, and it’s something Karan believes which only Sachin himself could do. Moreover, the thing that made him ever so endearing and special to his fans is that he never considered himself above the game, respected the weight of the billion plus expectations, which he bore on his shoulders every time he came out to bat, and had unmatched love and dedication for the game. Maybe in those moments of intense hard work and determination, he did become much more than just a man, maybe even for some fleeting moments he did become a god.
But beneath that steely exterior, Sachin had his human side as well. Karan tells us that the problem with being Sachin Tendulkar is that once you start performing and achieving great things so consistently, your critics take that for granted, and only look for that Achilles’ heel. Like any other person, Sachin has had his fair share of criticism too. The only difference was that he handled it all with sheer grace and composure. Karan reminisces some of the many instances where Sachin dedicated himself completely to the team and hence the nation – like the time during the 1999 World Cup, when his father passed away and he took just a match off for the funeral and was back for the next to perform for his country. The kind of super-human strength of character that would have taken is incredible. Sachin himself understood his limitations and to what extent he could push them, and he always focused on being a good cricketer keeping the team’s interest always in mind.
ODIs featuring Sachin Tendulkar were a definitive force that shaped the Indian psyche all through the 90s and the better part of the first decade of the 2000s. Now that he’s taken retirement from the shorter format of the game, and in near future might retire from the tests as well, Karan feels every cricket fan regardless of their nationality would miss the legend on field. But he’s also excited about Sachin’s love for the game and believes that he won’t be able to stay away from the game for long, and that he will continue to contribute in some way or the other to cricket in general and society in particular.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar retired from all forms of cricket on 16 November 2013 after playing his 200th test match, returning to his home ground - the Wankhede, Mumbai. He consummated his career after playing in 664 international matches scoring a supermassive 34,357 runs, including an earth-shattering 100 centuries.
But beyond these colossal statistics, he's remembered much more fondly as a great Indian, and here's how he dedicated all his achievements in his retirement speech:
To honour Sachin's contributions to Indian cricket in particular and India in general, the Indian government conferred upon him the Bharat Ratna, the country's highest civilian award, and making him the first sportsperson to be bestowed with the honour.
Do share with us your thoughts on Sachin, and what impact has he had on your life.
© Jayant Rana, 2013