Sunday, April 11, 2010

Two Good!

Sachin @ IPL 2010 - The Story So Far...

Tendulkar transcends the format | By Sambit Bal

To watch the master in Chennai was to be reminded of how he unites India, and also of how his batting has remained pure, even in Twenty20

The moment the ball soared into the night sky in Chennai from Sachin Tendulkar's bat, nearly 40,000 people, most of them screaming, rose to their feet. The match had swung dramatically Chennai's way after dehydration had forced Tendulkar off the field. Till then, he had been majestic and had kept Mumbai in control but, from 66 for 1 in the ninth over, Mumbai had sunk to 89 for 7 in the 15th. Tendulkar was forced to drag himself back.

Mumbai now needed nearly three runs off every ball to win but for the Chennai fans, as long as Tendulkar remained, there remained the possibility of the win being snatched away.

It wasn't so simple. If that moment when the ball left Tendulkar's bat could have been frozen, a peculiar conflict might have been detected. The Chennai fan would have wanted the ball to land safely in the palms of the long-on fielder; the Indian fan would willed it to travel further.

In the event, Murali Vijay, Chennai's new poster boy, took the catch safely, and the crowd celebrated. Having spent the whole evening among them it was easy for me to sense they would have celebrated even if the ball had landed beyond the rope. In a perfect world, of course, Tendulkar would have taken the game to the last over and Chennai would have won by one run.

The crowd continued clapping as Tendulkar made his way back. It was hard to tell at what point cheering for his wicket merged with simply cheering for him. A man stood up with a poster that reflected the mood. It read: "XI Super Kings v one Superhuman."

They may not demonstrate their devotion as vociferously - or as quietly, as Virender Sehwag found out after scoring his half-century at Eden Gardens - as the Kolkata fans, but franchise loyalty has been strong in Chennai from the very first year of the IPL. Perhaps I chose the wrong match to experience it first-hand: Tendulkar loyalty is a huge counter-balance.

A few months ago Tendulkar antagonised regional chauvinists in Maharashtra by proclaiming that Mumbai belonged to all Indians. To watch him play Chennai in the IPL was to feel the true import of that statement: Tendulkar, Mumbai's proudest possession, belongs to all Indians. MS Dhoni got a big ovation to the crease, a spontaneous cheer broke out when Mike Hussey's image was flashed on the giant screen, and Doug Bollinger found his name chanted when his turn came to bowl. But inevitably Tendulkar received the loudest cheer. They cheered him when he strolled out before the toss, they cheered even louder when he was being interviewed on the square, they cheered when he stopped a ball, and they cheered his boundaries with nearly the same enthusiasm as they did those by their own.

And what boundaries those were. There has been zest in Tendulkar's batting in all forms of the game over the last 12 months, and the best thing about his batting in Twenty20 is that it does not lack purity. It has been pointed out how the two leading run-scorers in this year's IPL are orthodox players but Jacques Kallis has often had to go outside his zone - lofts over extra cover, swipes and heaves towards the leg side - whereas Tendulkar has batted almost serenely: the upper cut, the paddled sweep, the lofted drive against the spinners, are all part of his regular fare.

His first five fours against Chennai came off five different strokes. Sudeep Tyagi was driven through the covers off the back foot and pulled behind square, R Ashwin was cut to point, Bollinger was whipped to midwicket from off stump, and Ashwin again was lofted over mid-on. You can tell great players from the way they move into their strokes: Brian Lara, Tendulkar's great rival, was all flow and beautiful arcs; Tendulkar is about precision and balance, and not a muscle out of place.

It is a grossly unfair comparison, but what a contrast it was to watch Saurabh Tiwary, who has been one of the successes for the Mumbai Indians this season, bat with Tendulkar. Tiwari threw all of himself - shoulder, body, feet - into his strokes, often sending the ball in unintended directions. He can sometimes be savage, but he is unlikely to ever provide aesthetic pleasure. Twenty20 is a restricting form, but it takes only one stroke or one ball for great players to distinguish themselves.

Tendulkar couldn't carry Mumbai over the finish line that day. But while he shone, not only did he transcend the limitations of the format, but also the partisanship. While it lasted, it was a happy reminder of the things we adore about cricket.


Tendulkar's golden captaincy run By Harsha Bhogle

At the IPL, Sachin Tendulkar continues his purple patch, this time not just as batsman but as captain. He must enjoy this because while his inbox is forever full of accolades about his batting, the captaincy folder has not always been overflowing. But in the first half of the IPL, his leadership has been a breath of fresh air.

n the first game he backed his youngsters, Saurabh Tiwary, Ambati Rayudu and R Sathish, and played only three overseas players. In every game thereafter he has given these young players the confidence they need by sending them out at crucial moments. Tiwary, for example, has retained his No. 4 slot ahead of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, Rayudu gets to bat at No. 5, and even Sathish, just returning from the ICL, has a clearly defined role: if he gets 15 or 20 in quick time at the end, and does little else, his captain seems quite happy with him.

Bravo and Pollard occasionally get the No. 3 slot to allow themselves to rediscover form, but I think the best move of all has been to put Ryan McLaren in the side and, in doing so, freeing Lasith Malinga to play the role Tendulkar likes him to: bowl after the new ball and at the death. It helps that McLaren can bat, and indeed the Mumbai Indians now have three allrounders in crucial areas and a floater in Sathish. McLaren doesn't mind bowling up front and that allows Malinga to bowl no more than one over early on, leaving his captain with enough options at the end.

Tendulkar's challenge, though, will be to keep his team hungry game after game. Sometimes a winning streak can pose a leadership challenge; players can become complacent, start believing they merely need to turn up. Already against the King's Xl Punjab they looked ready for the picking and only just scraped through against the weakest side (who are a story in themselves). Hopefully that was a wake-up call for Tendulkar, and if it was, much good will come out of it.

Leading Run Getter as on 11th April 2010

Sachin Tendulkar shored up Mumbai Indians yet again with his fifth half-century of the IPL which all but guaranteed Mumbai a place in the semi-final and took him to the top of the run-charts in the tournament. He has also hit the most fours in IPL 2010.

Sachin Tendulkar had gained the Orange Cap in the IPL for the first ever time when he went past Jacques Kallis’ 310 runs in the tournament so far. Tendulkar got to 311 runs when he had reached an individual score of 11 off the bowling of Shalabh Srivastava in the fourth over of the innings. Earlier, Jacques Kallis held the Orange Cap with 310 runs. Kallis has been dismissed only twice in the tournament so far.

(The Orange Cap is given to the cricketer who scores the most number of runs in the tournament at the end of it.)

The Worst Sachin Arguments | By Manu Joseph

Remembering the most foolish things ever said about Tendulkar.

The male analysis of Sachin Tendulkar is a two-decade long confession of Indian men. When they speak of him, usually through pilfered opinions, they reveal fragments of their own fears and private grouses. So when a guy says that Rahul Dravid is a more useful Test player than Sachin, he means to say, ‘I am an ordinary person and I want the ordinary (the efficient) to triumph over the flamboyant, I want hard work to be accorded the same respect as unattainable genius, otherwise what is the whole point of my existence.’ When he says Laxman is more beautiful to watch than Sachin, he is saying, ‘I want you to believe that I am classy, an opera among rock concerts.’ And when he says that Ganguly was a better one-day opener than Sachin, he is saying, ‘I am a Bengali.’

As Tendulkar now absurdly escalates his game in what should have been his commentary years, as he stands alone as the rightful owner of One-Day’s most prized batting record, as all his old rivals have fallen whispering in their final moments that this man is the best of their times or even the best ever, it is easy to forget the many moronic things that were said about him. There is a huge quantity of third-rate literature, now deservedly serving as cones for peanuts, that once berated him in the masquerade of cricket analysis. Views that were, and still are, reproduced as the opinions of millions. Till recently, the most stupid Indian arguments were usually about Sachin. How many times have you heard someone say, ‘he does not win matches’. Increasingly, people who do not have mental problems are abandoning this line of thought, even refusing to admit that they ever held such an opinion. But not very long ago, it was a popular view.

Also, his centuries, apparently, did not result in Indian victories. Considering that he did not waste balls when he was in the middle, could it be that there were other reasons for our defeat apart from his centuries? Also, it is alleged, he never lasted till the end. As if it was his wish to go have a shower before the match ended. Could it be that the mathematical probability of an opener lasting till the end is very small?

In the past two decades, several batsmen have been regarded as Tendulkar’s equals. In columns, essays and drunken conversations, some batsmen were even considered better than him if the game were split into narrow genres. At some point or the other players like Inzamam, Ponting, Lara, Bevan, Sehwag, the brothers Mark and Steve (Waugh) have been placed by his side to see if his light dimmed. Sachin is like the digit in a stopwatch that remains unchanged even as the numbers in the units place go through a furious shuffle. But in the end, the contenders have diminished or vanished. Except Lara, who is the only batsman whose right it is to deny Tendulkar the honour of being considered the greatest of his time (though Lara himself has no doubts in this matter).

There were periods in Lara’s astonishing career when Indian men gleefully pointed at him and said, ‘this guy is better than Sachin’. The glee is the whole story. Many men, for different reasons, nurse a hatred for Sachin. It could be the complicated nature of male love, which has a bit of malice in it. Or it could be that Sachin reminds some men of their own worthlessness. Or it could be that people with low self-esteem, of whom there are many, rate everything that belongs to them, like Tendulkar, as inferior to what is foreign.

It is not surprising that the way Indian men talk about Sachin is exactly the way Caribbean men discuss Lara. “Lara has done nothing for us, nothing,” a man from Trinidad told me about three years ago. “Great batsman but a selfish fellow.” Haven’t we heard that many times in India—about Tendulkar? The same gloomy force that makes Indian men rate Lara higher, inspires Caribbean men to rate Tendulkar higher than Lara. A few years ago, when cricket fans in Guyana were asked to decide who was better, 85 per cent voted for Tendulkar. As we can see, the male analysis of Tendulkar and Lara says little about the batsmen but a lot about men in general.

After Fiat gifted him a Ferrari and he applied for a duty waiver of Rs 1.6 crore on it, there was a huge uproar. That was the first time he was slammed in the media. ‘How can he be so greedy’ was the cry of Indian men, all of whom spend a lot of effort evading taxes themselves. Rs 1.6 crore is a considerable sum even for Tendulkar. What was so morally bereft in trying to save that money? Are we morally compromised when we try to save a few thousand every year in tax exemption?

But the worst argument against Tendulkar will always be the myth that he was a bad captain. The truth is: his presence in the dressing room is such that as long as he plays he will be the only captain, whether he is called that or not. All men who tried to defeat his presence hurt themselves. Ganguly was a tortured soul. When he arrived at an airport or at a press conference, if there was Tendulkar, Ganguly was never granted the dignity of being captain. It was Tendulkar people wanted to see, hear. Dhoni’s great fortune is that his mind is clear, he knows his place—Captain and No. 2.

Tendulkar is a victim of not just mediocre analysis but also meaningless compliments. He is often described through a sentence that appears to be a unique Indian expression. No other nation is as fond of this line: ‘What strikes you about him is his humility’. It is a compliment usually given to a celebrity with good manners, who has made a journalist feel comfortable, who has offered him a glass of water to drink. How many times have we seen Tendulkar being described as humble, and readily accepted that view. But, are we confusing his endearing decency for humility? And his self-centered caution that ensures he does not always speak his mind, are we misinterpreting that disappointing aspect of his personality for humility? He might be humble, as somehow required by all his devotees, but my point is we don’t know.

Then there is the other annoying epithet—Little Master. You think he likes being called Little?

Beyond the Boundary | By Sandipan Deb, Boria Majumdar

It’s time to stop comparing Sachin with other cricketers. He’s among the greatest sportsmen of all time. Cricket is just the game he plays.

The numbers, the numbers. Ninety-three international centuries, 47 in Tests and 46 in ODIs. And after last Wednesday, when he scored the first double century ever in a one-day international, the debate about who’s the greatest of all time was silently put to rest. Ricky Ponting, the closest contender, has 25 centuries less, and it sounds almost like a misdemeanour to even mention him here. Sir Donald Bradman had an average of 99.94 in Test cricket. Sachin Tendulkar will have at least 100 international centuries. No one had magined in his or her wildest dreams that it could be done. This is, to put it bluntly, inhuman.

Thirty-one thousand international runs, 21 years of brutal pressure from a nation of a billion plus, which looks at cricket as catharsis and is also the cruelest and most unforgiving audience in the world. How could he have done it, how could he maintain his focus, how could he still be going out there on the field wanting to do something more, when every world record lies at his feet, pieces of broken china? Yet, he keeps on at it, and if we did not know so well that he is possessed of supernatural resolve, we would have thought he was helpless, possessed by some supernatural power that had a broader, centuries-spanning gameplan in mind: a mirror to humanity that’s also a lesson.

What is to Mr Tendulkar’s discredit is that he makes cricket look simple, giving ordinary mortals an impression that even they can do it. You will be an idiot to believe that. But then, he can’t help it, can he?

Just consider the physicality of it all. The man has played over 1,265 days of international cricket, a staggering statistic. Try to imagine the punishment his body has gone through. He has survived extreme pain and damage, and always come back. There have been rough periods when he was out of form, and the talk at The Last Chance Saloon was that he had forgotten what was most exhilarating about his batting—his sheer violence, his domination of the bowling attack—but he knew better, and we have been shamed. There was a period of two years when he became a boring batsman, taking no risks, just knowing that if he stayed long enough at the crease, he would get the big scores. And he did. And only he could do it. Test your will power: you forgo your natural instincts like last night’s clothes and play ugly knocks, but you make sure you remain unvanquished.

And then at an age when most cricketers retire, you come back like you are 18, with as much joy for the game as when you held your bat for the first time when you were three, long curly hair, grinning at the camera, your stance technically perfect.

What drives him? Still? Yes, he perhaps knows little else in life but cricket, but there must be some incomplete dreams that propel the genius, forcing him to push himself that much harder on the eve of his 37th birthday. Yes, even Sachin Tendulkar can have incomplete dreams.

Here’s an attempt at deconstructing Sachin’s wish list. Three things stand out that he would still want to do. Not for himself, not for the record books (they are fodder for paper shredders already), but for his team, and, if one ventures to use these words, for his country, for his people. We will never know his mind—no one has ever known it in 21 years other than the delight he shows when a wicket of the opposing side falls, and that beautiful smile has remained utterly unchanged all these years (1989, can you imagine? George Bush Sr was President of the United States, India’s economic reforms had not started, there was no cable TV, no one would know about cellphones for another seven years, Shah Rukh Khan was working in TV serials, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni was seven years old! India has had six Prime Ministers since Sachin debuted for his country).

The first and perhaps foremost is the 2011 World Cup. Sachin has scored almost 2,000 runs in World Cups, and also brought India perilously close to winning the silverware in 2003 (he was Man of the Tournament with an aggregate score of 673, the highest ever in a World Cup—go to YouTube and watch him hooking Shoaib Akhtar). Bring it down to basics. This man is a patriot, and his ideology is his sport. He wants to touch and caress the World Cup at the refurbished Wankhede in front of his home crowd. And he knows he deserves it. The tricolour is always visible on his helmet, his gloves are specially designed with the colours of the Indian flag, and he has a flag pinned to his cricket coffin. Finally, when you hear him utter those words—“My name is Sachin Tendulkar and I play for India”— well, that’s it. Yes, Sachin will retire one day, though it seems unbelievable, and as much as him, we won’t know what to do about the missing No 10 jersey and his gladiatorial eyes. It’ll be a loss we will have to deal with (he can’t help), but right now, it is our duty as Indians—or as plain cricket lovers, or people interested in learning something from the lives of extraordinary human beings—to just enjoy his game, each innings he plays, each catch he takes. And if you believe in these things, summon the dark spirits: we want the 2011 World Cup.

Five World Cups. So 2011 will be most likely his last. Though some like Sehwag continue to believe that he has it in him to last out till 2015, it does seem a tad optimistic, even taking into account genius like Sachin’s. And it could happen. India has a team with remarkable batting and bowling depth and, come on, shouldn’t they put in that bit of undefined extra for Sachin? The date is 29 March 2011.

Let us push the fantasy a bit more. Sachin is on 93. There’s considerable cricket to be played over the next 365 days. It may well be that he gets his 100th hundred at the World Cup. A World Cup win to go with the 100th hundred—draw the pentagrams, summon those dark powers. Or, no. You don’t need to take the trouble. He can do it.

Soon after the World Cup, India will travel to England to play what will be one of the toughest Test series on foreign soil. The English under Andrew Strauss have already beaten the Australian team at home to regain the Ashes and have drawn an away series in South Africa. They are, mildly put, a real threat to reckon with at home. A top-rate fast bowling unit with a quality spinner in Graeme Swann, England surely look the part in front of the partisan Barmy Army. And it is here that Sachin will want to tick the second incomplete item on his wish list—a century at Lord’s, cricket’s Mecca.

When India last played at Lord’s in 2007, hundreds of MCC members had turned up to watch Sachin score a century. You could hear the murmur the moment you stepped out of the St John’s Wood tube station and over glasses of champagne at Coronation Gardens. Even at the cost of the English not winning the match, they wanted Sachin to get his name up on the Lord’s honours board. And when Monty Panesar trapped him leg before wicket, the entire Long Room went into a funereal silence. As a member recounted later, “When Sachin walked past us to disappear into the Indian dressing room, the entire Long Room stood up to applaud the man. The loss was ours. We could have given anything to see Sachin’s name on the honours board.” Not many would have hoped that they’d get another opportunity to see him fulfill his dream. And this time round, it’s a new Sachin, one who has rediscovered his art and his genius in the way only he can. The Long Room could well have just cause for another standing ovation.

Finally, India travels to Australia in December 2011, to conquer what we can now label, a la Steve Waugh, Indian cricket’s final frontier. For India to be acknowledged as the undisputed No 1 team in Test cricket. And it is in Australia, his happy hunting ground since 1992, that Sachin Tendulkar will want to achieve his final goal, one that narrowly eluded the Indian team in Sydney in 2004 in Steve Waugh’s retirement Test. Waugh held on, we drew the match, and cricket won. And the world knew why Waugh was one of the greatest.

It was in Australia in 1992 that Sachin showed the world that he was unlike anyone else, even though he was only 19: a hundred at Perth in 1992, still remembered as one of the best scored by a visitor at the Waca, the fastest track in the world. And it is in Australia that he has played some of his finest knocks ever. Even in 2008, after India were mauled at Melbourne in three and a half days, it was Sachin’s master-class at Sydney that set up what is now remembered as one of the best Test series ever. It’s not bloody without reason that he gets a standing ovation every time he steps out to bat on an Australian field, and no one shouts “Wanker” from Bay 13 at the MCG. No one dares. They know it’ll make matters worse. To be able to beat Australia in Australia will be the final feather in Bombay Fat’s cap, one that will vindicate Perth 1992, sweet sweet revenge. Sachin Tendulkar does not beat up people, he shows them their place.

It is time now to think beyond cricket. Sachin is bigger than five days of six hours on the field, lunch and tea, 50 overs in a match indistinguishable from any other. He is a sportsman, he is an athlete, and he needs to be spoken of in terms of men and women who have performed feats in sports believed to be impossible. There is no need anymore to compare him with other cricketers, even The Don. He has to be seen in the light of achievements thought to be not possible, and that has hardly to do with cricket. Michael Schumacher, Diego Maradona, Dhyan Chand, Martina Navratilova, Michael Jordan, Sergey Bubka, Gary Kasparov? Cricket is just the game Sachin plays.

But how can someone love it so much? Sachin Tendulkar won’t know the answer to that. And we will spend our lives baffled. How can he?