Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In times of Tendulkar: Top 20 at 20 - Gaurav Kalra | Cricketnext.com

CNN-IBN Sports Editor Gaurav Kalra takes a close look at 20 years of Tendulkar.

For my generation (the one that has traversed teenage to early 30s!),Sachin Tendulkar has been a constant indulgence. When he arrived a Prime Minister had forced us consider our caste. Mobile phones were still part of sci-fi flicks. An unspectacular life in government service was what we were taught to aspire for. News was still not a 24-hour circus.

Amitabh Bachchan was frittering away a body of awe-inspiring work with a series of monstrosities. A lap-top was a grainy adult film the video shop shop owner quietly slipped into your palm as adolosence demanded its price.

So much has changed, yet there is one constant. The indulgence that assures you to this day that it doesn't need to be forsaken. Sachin Tendulkar. Memories are vivid. And we remain fulfilled, yet unsatiated. To indulge myself a bit more, I decided to pick one Tendulkar moment from each year that he has been an Indian cricketer. Much like choosing just one piece of chocolate from a scrumptuous box, this is a hard task. But indulgence demands its price! So here we go with my top 20 Tendulkar moments; One from each year:


The Test matches from Pakistan weren't broadcast live so we only read tales of a fearless debut. When he brushed away a blow to the nose from a beastly Waqar Younis bouncer to bat on. The moment that remains etched in memory is from an exhibition one-day game. Abdul Qadir, that magical leg-spinner, dancing in to the boy. And being clouted for six after six. Tendulkar's captain, no mean hitter of the cricket ball himself, is watching flabbergasted from the non-striker's end. A stunned crowd is silent. I can't recall the result of the game. But in the space of a few balls, the first sign of Tendulkar's genius was apparent.


At Manchester, England have set India an unachievable 408 in the final innings. At 127 for 5 with Sidhu, Shastri, Manjrekar, Vengsarkar and Azhar dismissed the result stinks of inevitability. Tendulkar has just turned 18 and so finally has a driving licence! But on this day he doesn't just drive! He cuts, pulls, glides and confounds his team to the safety of an unexpected draw. It is his first Test century. We are learning to rely on Tendulkar.


A quiet year. India play only two test matches and a smattering of one-day cricket. Tendulkar achieves little in those. But as the year is ending a tour to Australia begins. India are thrashed first at Brisbane by 10 wickets and then at Melbourne by 8 wickets. In the second innings at the MCG, Tendulkar makes 40. The second highest individual score for India in the innings. It is in his dismissal that clues to a growing reputation are visible. Allan Border, Australia's usually stoic captain, holds on to a skyer and leads a wild celebration. Hmmm, Australia were winning anyway, and comfortably at that. So why this? Is the teenager already the most prized wicket in the Indian line-up?


The seminal hundred at Perth against an Aussie attack hurling more than just five and a half ounces of leather at him was for many the making of Tendulkar. My abiding memory from this year though is from a miserable day in Wellington during the World cup. India are being thrashed by West Indies. Tendulkar makes just 4 and gets carted for 20 in 3 unimpressive overs. But as Phil Simmons launches one into orbit off Prabhakar, and it swerves and hisses in the cold Wellington air, somehow one felt assured that Sachin was under it. He catches it, hits his head on the turf and is forced to walk off the field. In nearly every game we start to learn, there is a Sachin Tendulkar moment.


Hero cup Semi-Final vs South Africa. 6 are needed to end India's tournament in the final over. In front of a packed Eden Gardens, with the cacophony only Calcutta can achieve. Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Manoj Prabhakar; all have overs left. Skipper Azhar takes an incredible punt. Calls Tendulkar on to bowl his only over of the game. The 21 year old calmly steps up and concedes just 3. India win. Any lingering doubts about who India's turn to man in a crisis is are laid to rest.


Navjot Sidhu wakes up with a stiff neck in Auckland. India search for a replacement opener. "Let me do it", Tendulkar is reported to have urged Azhar. Chasing just 143, Tendulkar sets the ground ablaze. 82 are made in 49 balls. 15 fours and 2 sixes. India win in the 24th over. The first step has been taken towards a one-day career that will scale peaks generations will be in awe of. Sachin Tendulkar remains India's opener in one-day cricket to this day, 15 years later.


India only play three forgettable Tests that year against New Zealand at home. One-Day cricket is the new money spinner and Sachin starts to make that stage his own. In Sharjah comes another full throttle assault. Chasing just a shade over 200, Tendulkar lets the emerging Sri Lankan outfit that would be crowned World Campions in a year have a taste of his new found love for brutalising the new ball. 112 in 107 balls, the world is starting to fear the ferocity of Tendulkar.


On his second tour to England, Tendulkar arrives as the world's most followed batsman. And it is in the final Test of the series that sees the emergence of his great batting contemporaries, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid that Sachin plays his signature knock. 177 in the first innings, batting for 6 hours to help India post a massive 521. And 74 in the second in a mediocre team score of 211. The Test match is drawn, the series is lost, but Tendulkar is now a reliable bank of runs. We realise that in every series he sets goals for himself, and inevitably achieves them as only geniuses can.


Its his first coming as captain. And the man he deposed in the job is his partner as a session of Test cricket unfolds in Cape Town that staggers to this day. South Africa have made 529. India are on a timid on 58 for 5. When Tendulkar in the company of Azhar suddenly counter-attacks. Centuries flow from their blades at the speed of light. The home team wins in the end, yet remain bedazzled by what had unfolded. When asked later what the plan was, Tendulkar innocently replied, "We were concentrating on the singles!"


Desert Storm. It is the week he turns 26 in. Captaincy has returned to Azhar. In the space of a couple of days, Tendulkar plays the most compelling one-day innings in living memory in Sharjah. First, he makes 143 to carry India into the final. And then in the summit clash, as India chase down 273, Tendulkar hammers 134 in 131 balls. 12 fours and 3 sixes. This was the signature moment that underlined his dominance of the world's most dominant team. Now there is Tendulkar...and then there are the rest in the hierarchy of batsmen around the world.


India's world cup campaign is woefully off-track in England. But Tendulkar is shattered by a greater and irrepairable loss. His father passes away in Mumbai. Tendulkar flies home. And then, finds the courage to leave a grieving mother and family behind to take a long flight back to England. Tendulkar joins his team at Bristol and walks into bat with against Kenya. A hundred was ordained by the gods. Moist eyed, we applaud as a Sachin we can't comfort, looks heavenwards for a heart-wrenching private moment with the man he still calls his role model. Ramesh Tendulkar would have been proud. We were just grateful that in this lifetime, there was Tendulkar.


Sachin is captain again. But as the ghost of match-fixing threatens lurks menacingly, India face a well oiled South African attack on a spicy pitch at Mumbai. In the first innings, Tendulkar makes a divine 97 out of India's 225 against Donald, Pollock, Klusener and Kallis. The ungrateful in the stands shamefully boo him as India ultimately lose. And would lose the series. But there remains little doubt that captain or not, Tendulkar won't be matched when battles against rampaging fast bowlers are thrust upon us. Even when all was lost, there was Tendulkar.


Its the first Test of a series against South Africa in Bloemfontein. Expectedly, India are quickly tottering on 68 for 4. Tendulkar is joined by a man who by his own admission only began playing the game after watching the master on television. His name is Virender Sehwag and he is on debut. In a delicious fairytale, both men reel off attractive hundreds and add 220. Tendulkar, we already knew was an inspiration to many. Just how deeply ingrained he was in the bloodstream of emerging India's young cricketers was now clear as day.


Tendulkar arrives in England for his third test series. He has never been part of a team that has won a Test match in the country of the game's origin. At Headingley, that opportunity arises. India play 5 bowlers. And bat first in helpful bowling conditions at Headlingley. Dravid makes 148. Ganguly makes 128. Tendulkar, a small matter of 193. India have 628 on the board. Kumble takes 7 wickets. India win by an innings. Tendulkar is no longer a lone ranger. He relishes sharing centre-stage with cricketers of unmistakable pedigree. In the company of great men, the sparkle of Tendulkar is enhanced further.


At Centurion, India are playing Pakistan in a World Cup league game. It is the first face-off between the rivals in nearly 3 years. Pakistan have made 273 batting first. And to defend it have an attack that answers to the names Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar. Sachin makes 98 in 75 balls. India win. Enough said.


The new year brings a wave of doubt. India have punched above their weight in Australia. The series is level 1-1. But Tendulkar's blade has fallen silent. Are his powers waning? Is their a chink in the armour? Sachin steps out to bat at Sydney with India at 128 for 2. When the innings is declared, India are 705 for 7. Tendulkar is unbeaten on 241. He has batted for over 10 hours. And willed his mind to not hit a single cover drive, the shot that has consumed him more than once in the series. Greatness, we learn is not simply in the ability to execute talent. It lies in the capacity to eschew and forbid. Phew, what more can Tendulkar do?


Breaking records was Tendulkar's destiny. And we cheered every statistical milestone that came his way. But at the Kotla one arrived that formalised his coronation as the emperor of Indian batsmanship. Century number 35 in Tests took him past the man he idolised. Sunil Gavaskar. And the original little master was delighted. He had predicted when he hid behind a tree to watch a 14 year old Tendulkar bat, that all records known to man would one day rest with him. There is joy we learn, in being knocked off a pedestal.


A quiet year as injuries start to take their toll on Tendulkar. But in Pakistan, Tendulkar began the one-day series with a classic. An even 100 was made in Peshawar as India's next generation of batting superstars began to take over the onus of winning matches. Yuvraj and Dhoni made neat contributions to take India past 300. India was to lose the game but it was apparent that in Tendulkar's shadow, a new and brave India, inspired by his feats, was looking the world in the eye.


A dismal world cup campaign had the doubters sharpening their knives. India set foot in England for Tendulkar's fourth series in the country with a nation consumed by cynicism. Sachin hadn't been part of a team that had ever won a Test series outside Asia (he had missed the win in the West Indies in 2006 with injury). Tendulkar wanted to experience the joy of a moment such as that. And did. Top scoring with 91 in India's first innings at Nottingham. A 7-wicket win gave India the series lead which was preserved with a draw at the Oval. As the champagne flowed when Dravid lifted the series trophy, Tendulkar's joyous face brought cheer across the land.


Going past Brian Lara's mark for the most Test runs was a monumental feat, but the Tendulkar memory that stands out from this year is the run chase in Chennai against England. Some pundits believed Tendulkar's career was blotted by his inability to guide a final innings chase in a crunch Test. Less than a month after his city was attacked, Tendulkar made an unbeaten 100 as India chased down 387 on a final day. A moment that made your hair stand at an end. He dedicated the effort to the heroes of Mumbai. In an hour of great personal triumph, Tendulkar knew just what millions across India wanted to hear from their reigning deity.


As the month when his 20th year in international cricket started Tendulkar sent a reminder that the fire within continues to illuminate. Australia had been Tendulkar's most preferred foes. And in Hyderabad he played an innings of rare pomp, one that would have made the Nawabs proud. 175 were made, his 45th One-Day hundred and a knock that carried him past 17,000 runs in the format. Yet it wasn't enough. Defeat is a nasty by-product when sport turns cruel. Chasing 350, Tendulkar virtually shepherded the run-chase on his own bat. As the body tired after an intense day at the office, the mind perhaps urged a stroke of adventure. It wasn't to be. For a brief moment the prospect of a first ever double hundred in One-Day cricket seemed all too real. But neither that, nor the sweet taste of victory was meant to be Sachin's on this day. Even to the chosen ones sometimes we learnt, sometimes the bitter taste of defeat overshadows the fragarance of mesmeric talent.


Since the Tendulkar indulgence can be intoxicating, allow me to add two imaginary scenarios for the next two years. In 2010, Tendulkar leads the Mumbai Indians to the IPL title! Scores a brilliant 80 in the final, holds up the trophy, and lets the world know that he wasn't such a bad captain afterall!

And in 2011, Tendulkar scores a century in the final of the World Cup at his home ground at Wankhede stadium. India win the title and Dhoni invites Sachin to walk up with him on stage to hold the trophy aloft. At the Olympics of goodbyes, if this one comes to pass, there will be no contest for the gold medal!

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