Column: The Sachin test

Written by Mini Kapoor | Updated: Nov 18 2013, 10:52am hrs
Confess. Admit that the past month spent appraising Sachin should have left us bashful, if not outright embarrassed. A month spent dealing in superlatives, bordering on hyperbole, with even the government chipping in with a Bharat Ratna, should be guaranteed to bring on a fit of reckoning on the day after his farewell Test, right No OK, forget us. If we made a sport of compressing into a few weeks a lifetimes worth of adulation for Sachinand not that we held back on Sachin worship in any way since the day he debuted in our cricketing consciousnessspare a thought for him. Surely, when he padded up to await his turn to take guard for the very last time, he wanted some sense of proportion to properly take stock of a quarter century dominated by the game But no, if Sachin wanted just a bit of calm, he was not going to have it. If he wanted a few moments of peace, to inhale one last time the ordinary echo of an average day in his extraordinary career, he had come to the wrong party, so what if it was in his honour.

But then, perhaps he, a man who left adolescence and came this far in his 41st year carrying the unrelenting burden of our ever more exacting expectations, didnt have any such demands of his own. In fact, maybe this was really just another day out in the park for him. Once again, one last time, the world around him was what it wasbaying for runs, for a performance, for victoryand he would rise to the occasion as he always had, by being Sachin.

I think capturing the essence of what it is that Sachin Tendulkar gave usby way of giving to cricketis the one thing about his career that well have to work out on our own. His greatest shots, those straight drives for instance that stopped time as the ball left his bat on its trajectory past the bowler and off to the fence, they were plain for the eye to behold and acclaim. The standout batting, the big innings in a time when India had neither the supporting talent nor the vision to be purposeful that made his contribution more than a consolation prize, well, we figured that outeven as we berated him for not being up to the task often enough to do it on his own, our Sachin against their XI. His work ethic that took him out of what could have been, and occasionally appeared to be, for his critics, a chase for records and milestones never ceased to shine through with the commitment he brought to his fielding and bowling. And I challenge you to find footage of Sachin looking distracted on the field, everit cant be said of teammates younger and older, and each with a career of considerably shorter span, but find me a shot of Sachin being less than joyful at a breakthrough, or less than anxious in its hunt.

The reason we are not embarrassed at our outpourings of gratitude is that we know there is something more Sachin left the game with, and picking our way through the obvious, over-the-top praise will reveal what it is. One day we will get there.

In the meantime, consider the long arc of his career. At 16, he came to a team of superstarsMohammad Azharuddin, Kapil Dev, Kris Srikkanth, Sanjay Manjrekar, Kiran More. And that winter in Pakistan, he debuted against the bowling attack of Imran Khan, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, with Abdul Qadirs spin coming as respite from pace! Hed scrape through with a bloody nose then, but years later in Multan in 2004, a declaration by his stand-in captain when he was batting at 194 (and remember, he was coming off a 241 not out at Sydney in his previous Test) would surprise even him into suppressing his usual reserve and grabbing the mike to ask, why the hurry

He welcomed South Africa back to international cricket in 1991, and he saw his spent India team stagger from the fallout of the Hansie Cronje match-fixing revelations in 2000. He played in a time before Australian domination replaced West Indian in the mid-1990s, and he took three wickets in a Test at Kolkata in 2001 (to the mammoth innings of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid) that reminded the baggy greens that some frontiers were not easily conquered.

Dravid would later say, in a homage, that Sachin made it acceptable for cricketers to be given a chance early, but Dravid and Ganguly, in the mid-1990s, were just the first generation of juniors he would welcome into the Indian team. Dravid and Ganguly have graduated to commentary, and this month, to the Dhonis, Pujaras, Kohlis, Gambhirs, and earlier Zaheers and Harbhajans, was added young Mohammed Shami to be part of a team that had Sachins presence to place them on an arc of continuity. Without Sachin, it is not just the team that has been stranded in the present, but cricket too, us too.

This is why we can be uninhibited about the clichs we have been showering like confettiit makes sense to weigh them, to maybe thereafter discard some in a necessary sifting process, because at this point in time, to articulate a measure of Sachin is to come to grips with what the game is today, and what it is ceasing to be. His perfections and his flaws may be his alone, but his career is the backdrop against which it is possible to wrestle with the mildly counterfeit quality of Indian cricket today, its conflicts of interests, its commentators no longer free to air their views, its tour schedules that leverage the teams saleability, a game that presumes to be worth celebrating just because it celebrates itself.

Sachin helped us keep faith with cricket through enough crises in the pasthis departure from the field leaves all of crickets vulnerabilities suddenly yet more visible. To profile Sachin today is to, in a curious dynamic, begin to see cricket afresh.

The author is a contributing editor for The Indian Express