All of us, those who follow cricket with more just than interest but passion would have indulged in building a best World XI team at some point in time. If the 1st unanimous name one would pencil in the Test team was Don Bradman, the 1st unanimous name one would pencil in for the ODI team was Sachin Tendulkar. While most in our generation would not have the privilege of watching the great Don play, we have 1st hand experience of watching Sachin play & now, for the rest of our lives, would have to draw on this experience given his retirement from the stage he made his own. A quick glance at numbers tells us why. Over 18,000 runs scored at an average nearing 45 at a strike rate over 85. Toss in 49 centuries, over 60 man of the match awards, 150 wickets & the mind boggles at the sheer enormity of the numbers. However, numbers alone do not do justice to Sachin
My earliest memory of cricket or Sachin (The two are entwined in my mind forever) was during the 1992 WC. It was a match with NZ. I was woken up by the excited murmurings of an uncle at home (this at around 4-5AM in the morning) to see a tiny batsman reach out & guide a full delivery to point. I don’t remember if the ball went for a boundary or not but I do remember the batsman & ended up slavishly follow him for the best part of my life. As cricket grew to occupy an important part of my life, especially with Indian wins, Sachin proved to be the driver of that. Given the pre-internet, pre-cable days at home, I ended up following Sachin through newspaper scorecards (even the limited information on the scorecards could tell immense stories for a highly imaginative 10 year old), highlights on DD (for India games) & cross cable connection (getting feed from someone else’s cable feed when their cable wire would cross your TV wire or as we called it “thiruttu” cable) (for overseas tours). It was through the grainy images of the thiruttu cable that I got to see Sachin’s audition for the opening slot. I would like to say that I caught that innings from ball 1. Sadly, I switched on the TV as I was getting ready to go to school & saw Sachin walking back towards the pavilion with the scorecard under him reading 82(49) which due to the graininess I read as 52(69). That sure was one way to downplay the greatest move for Indian ODI cricket. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, one small shuffle up the order for Sachin, a large shuffle up the cricketing order for India. One day cricket has never been the same for India since that fateful day & the rest is history.
Scour the net & there are tomes to be found on Sachin’s awesome knocks. Those twin centuries in Sharjah against the Aussies as well as the natural elements, the 98 against Pak in Centurion, the century against Zimbabwe in Benoni, the 1st ever double century against SA, the twin knocks in the finals agains the Aussies in the CB Series where he guided a chase in the 1st finals & set up a total in the 2nd finals, the savage mauling of Henry Olanga on the way to a sublime century, the 186 and the great 300 run partnership with Dravid versus NZ, the emotion filled century against Kenya after his dad had passed away. However what gets missed are some of his other knocks that may not have the weight in terms of runs but definitely have the weight in terms of the impact that it had on me. Each time Sachin gets out, it just feels like a massive disappointment, especially during the 90s when a Sachin dismissal was as good a sign as any to switch off the TV and get back to normal life. Some of these knocks that are special to me are truly gems as they magnified that feeling of disappointment when a truly special piece of magic is cut short in its prime.
There was a scintillating 40 odd scored at over run a ball against the rampaging might of Ambrose, Walsh & Bishop on a spiced up surface at Trinidad where Sachin the captain took responsibility for his decision to bat first before being sawn off by a rough decision
There was an outrageously aggressive statement of intent in the 35 odd against the Australians, specifically against McGrath in a match better remembered for Yuvraj’s 84 in Nairobi where Sachin decided to give McGrath some stick through bat & (the only time I remember) verbally as well. A frenetic innings where Sachin had made up his mind that McGrath was going for runs & smote him for 3 sixes, one a wild slog that went over third man
There was a brazen 41 off 26 balls versus Pakistan in Dhaka in the deciding finals of a tournament chasing 315. This was also the 1st tournament that Sachin was playing after his 1st disastrous attempt at captaincy. This is a match that made Hrishikesh Kanitkar’s reputation for all eternity , a match set up through an awesome parternship between Dada & Robin Singh but it was an innings that was positioned through Sachin’s initial assault on the Pakistani bowlers
Among the many (!) things I learnt at business school, I learnt something around the funda of risk vs reward i.e to gain a higher reward, high risks have to be taken. Sachin’s ODI career has definitely turned that theory on its head. His batting is a product of elimination of risks while maximizing scoring opportunities.At a point in time, I had described Sachin’s batting as being highly efficient. For a cricketer who started off as an aggressive I-have-more-than-2-shots-for-every-ball to a player who would judiciously wait before playing the least risky shot to get runs, Sachin redefined one day batting. Take for instance any Sachin century & compare it with any other, the same shots would repeat. The tuck past square leg, the flick to midwicket (with the strong bottom hand), the punch off the back foot splitting cover & point, the straight drive (the only shot where he would add a flourish) & then the lap shot during the consolidation phase. In fact, the lap/paddle shot was his way to keep the scoreboard ticking without wasting any balls. His batting also clearly stands out for the lack of flourish as though he determined that adding a flourish led to inefficiencies (except for the holding the pose on straight drives, a human touch if you will)
Being surrounded by folks who are passionate about cricket brings about heated discussions on almost any cricketing topic & one of the frequent ones often discussed is the fact that Sachin has not really seized a moment & led a fightback (nothing is as romantic as a fightback, isn’t it) ala Steve Waugh types & he scores his runs only when there is no pressure. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A quick look at the numbers (thanks Statsguru) dispels the notion. Sachin averages 42.33 batting 2nd overall & 55.45 batting 2nd in matches India won. In tournament finals (what could be more high-pressure than that), Sachin averages 54.44. Gargantuan numbers, no doubt. Given the position where Sachin batted, more often than not, a fightback would not be required as Sachin would have already taken care of the problem. Fightbacks by their very nature in cricketing terms would entail a team going for glory after the loss of early wickets & such. A Sachin innings would prevent a situation like that from even happening. Or as they say, Prevention is better than Cure. A Sachin special innings would release the pressure on the Indian batsmen, transfer it on the opposition & thus prevent a situation needing a fightback. Given that India won 33 of the 49 (67.4%) matches where Sachin scored a century, compared to the 234 of the 463 matches (50.5%) India won when Sachin played, India did have a better chance to win when Sachin scored a century
There is a whole generation who grew up watching Sachin play cricket. To this day, we do not know cricket without Sachin. While his appearances have been sporadic in one day cricket, it was still always there but reality has hit us with his retirement. That familiar tingle when Sachin walks in to open an innings, the crowds waiting for the magic to be turned on, the crotch grab at the start of each delivery, the tap-tap on the pitch, the gesticulations towards the sightscreen till its perfect, the chants of “Sachin Sachin” audible even over Ravi Shastri’s machine gun of a voice, the screech of the voice yelling Yes/No, the enthusiasm of a person who was born to play cricket & knowing nothing other than cricket, the enthusiasm of a 16 year old who dashes around the field, diving & chasing balls in the body of an almost 40 year old aging champion, these are things we would definitely miss in the coming days. Adios Sachin the champion
PS: May be he was hinted (or pushed) by the selectors or may be it was his call, what really sucks is the fact that he did not get a proper send off. May be it’s the way Indian cricket functions but we really do not get to give a proper farewell to our cricketers compared to the way a Steve Waugh or a Rick Ponting got. May be the BCCI feel (in all their infinite wisdom) that this would draw the team’s attention from the match onto the farewell but come on, there is nothing worse than a 8-0 drubbing followed by a loss at home. (Yes, I know Sachin has only retired from ODIs but may be this is something that has to be thought of.) (Yes, this is my crib for Laxman & Dravid not getting proper farewells at home & Yes, I am a biased towards them)