Well, I don’t know what you are talking about. Cricket is still my religion, and Sachin is still my God.
India managed to get kicked out of the Cricket World Cup following its worst performance in a World Cup ever. Is that going to put a full stop to the fanaticism we have been nurturing in this country for so long? Is this where the future historians will put their fingers to point out where the decline of Indian Cricket frenzy started?
If my limited interaction with the younger generation is anything to go by, the answer is NO. We might have come a long way in our effort to americanize India which currently holds the fascination of the youth-in-making, but Cricket still is a big part of their lives.
(Though I should mention that my blood boils whenever one of these kids tries to compare Dhoni (yes, imagine that. not even Sehwag!) with Sachin or Chris Gayle with Lara. Or Brett Lee with Glenn McGrath.)
There isn’t much to be told about the bad performance of India. The reasons are glaringly obvious. Am I disappointed? No. The whole farce has rendered me completely indifferent to the performance of the Indian Cricket Team, something I didn’t imagine would happen within this lifetime.
In fact, I didn’t watch the India-Sri Lanka match except for a total of five overs from here and there. I knew from the beginning that India was going to lose (because I felt that Sachin wasn’t going to bat well), and I simply didn’t want to go through the slow torture of watching India lose. Not that I could leave the TV-room though. I fell asleep there on a table in a corner, and left only when Ri(twi)k woke me up because there was no other place left for him (the whole room was packed).
Anyway, in our pre-World Cup analysis, my only verdict was that India stands a chance only if Sachin plays well. I did think it likely that he would perform another of his World Cup whirlwind acts, but what with his long and frequent injuries and absence from the international scene in recent times, I was prepared for disappointment.
(Those who argue that he should be dropped from the team would do well to remember his performance in the Challenger Trophy (my first match from the inside of a stadium). He almost made me depressed by making the senior bowlers look like players picked up from the local colleges.)
India ever having a strong team in a World Cup is a complete myth elaborately fabricated by the Indian Team management and the media. It has always been one man against all odds, one man who is synonymous with India’s performance in the World Cups.
We had a completely rotten team in 1996 which barely held itself together when Sachin took it to the semifinals and there it fell apart when Sachin got out after his splendid half century. 1999 was a sadder story. Sachin was absent only in one match in the group matches to attend his father’s funeral, and India unimaginably lost it to a Zimbabwe (of all teams!) and completely screwed up its chances subsequently. One might try to point out the performance of Sourav and Dravid, but I would like to point out that they never performed where it mattered.
Then there was 2003. I would like to know about a single important match where India won without Sachin contributing in a major way (in other words, without Sachin being declared the Man of the Match). True, Dravid and Yuvraj held in the match against Pakistan, but that was only after Sachin reduced the match almost to the point of triviality. One might think that Nehra’s performance against England meant something, but it was always clear that it was Sachin who could win the match. The semifinal was a trivial match anyway, and there too we had a glimpse of his brilliance, where he displayed that he was the only batsman in both the teams (India and New Zealand) who could bat with any amount of certainty and confidence in that pitch.
The final was a bad memory. The much acclaimed (mainly by the Indian Captain Sourav) pace squad of India came apart before the blunt attack of Australia. Before Sachin could ever start to try and win the match, our bowlers had lost it. And there are those who would use that match to claim that he doesn’t perform well in important matches. The sheer nerve of it!
The important aspect of the team in 2003 was that for the first time Sachin had a team to back him up. That’s the best I can say about that team (woe betide him who recites Sourav’s century against Namibia).
But it isn’t the figures and numbers that make up the legend.
It might have been otherwise in my childhood, but after I grew up, I have watched cricket always for Sachin. There is a charm in him which is like the first love of life, like the first kiss, evoking uncertainty, insecurity and passion all at the same time. No matter how well Sachin plays, he always looks vulnerable, likely to get out on every other delivery. This pumps in the adrenalin, and the wait in that split second when he connects with the ball, before I know that he has safely dispatched the ball past the boundary, when he looks oh so vulnerable, it almost chokes my heart. And he does all this in his distinctive style of which “graceful” is frankly an understatement. It is the stuff beauty is made of.
(Completely opposite to Sachin Tendulkar is the Pakistan Captain Inzamam-ul-Haq. I can’t tolerate to watch him bat. No matter what his form is, he never seems likely to get out. Combine with that his rugged and elaborately mundane style of batting, and you can begin to understand why it is difficult for an Indian Cricket fan to watch him bat.)
This World Cup was a final reminder of the fact that the Sachin I have written this post about is not coming back. This team stinks, and there is no way Sachin’ll be expected to bat like he did. His responsibilities as a senior player will choke him one day, if they haven’t done that already, and extinguish that something in him which the critics called “talent”, which we call “divine.”
But then, in his last comeback after injury, didn’t he reduce the Pakistani bowling power house to dust and debris after that imbecile of a wicket keeper dared to suggest that his gentlemanly behaviour (something he is famous for, something that the Pakistani team knows nothing about) was prompted by his fear of Pakistani fast bowlers?!
As long as there is life, there is hope. And then there is Sachin.