team in which each man did his bit, and often heroically so, it became difficult to align Sachin’s profile as a sum of his records with his place in a team rebranded as New India? The dilemma showed in Multan a couple of years later, when India, pressing for victory, declared their innings while Sachin was six runs short of a double century and his post-match comments about being surprised were misconstrued as a tantrum, not the legitimate query about team strategy they probably were.
As time went by, a pattern developed, especially as his older teammates started retiring. There would be Sachin, there would be the team, together yet apart. He was going to be around as long as he chose to be, an emissary from another era, before T20s fragmented into so many axes along which a cricketer’s place in the game could be ascertained. He was the ambassador of a more cohesive era in cricket. It showed earlier this year, when Australia visited. You had to be present in the stadium to gauge the texture of the standing ovation he got after a rather average innings — the applause was a thank-you message for a longer acquaintance with the man, the day’s scorecard was of no consequence for just that moment.
Even now, as he prepares for his last Test series, it is difficult to comprehend the long arc of his career. He started playing for his country in that time when one-days were still played in white clothes, in that time before liberalisation when colas had not even returned to India to pitch their endorsements on the celebrity of cricketers, before the T20 was even imagined. He must know that his dues to Indian cricket remain. His profile as a cricketer, and a great one at that, will remain ambiguous till he finally starts articulating where he stands on the various crises assailing the game today.
The writer is a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’