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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sachin Tendulkar - tribute to the player and the man

remember 1988 all too well. There was a lot of talk in Indian cricketing circles about this young Bombay boy, Sachin Tendulkar. In fact, for Bombay locals, the talk had begun much earlier as this little boy's exploits in school cricket were gaining more than the usual attention. It was not just the runs he seemed to be accumulating but the manner in which he was getting them that was the discussion subject for many a Bombay cricket aficionado.

India toured the West Indies in March 1989 - and there were many who felt Sachin should have been on that flight. The selectors probably thought he was too young to be blooded on such a demanding tour (he was not even 15 then). As it turned out, Marshall and Walsh walked all over India and India got thrashed.
Sachin had to wait till the winter tour of Pakistan. When he made his debut on the 15th of November 1989, all of 16 years something, the whole country waited in anticipation.

Much like that legend, the one and only Don, he did not exactly set the stage on fire in his debut game. But he stood up to the Pakistani pace battery of Akram, Younis and Imran and there were signs that this was the start of something very big and significant.

A week after his debut, in the next Test at Faisalabad, the young lad took everything that the Pakistani pacemen could throw at him - and scored a defiant 59.

He continued with useful scores in the series, ending with another half-century at Sialkot. The glimpses he showed were almost as if he was toying with us. As if to tease us and say that if we wanted something special, we would have to wait for it.

(As an aside, I have always felt that it is one of the biggest losses to Asian cricket that the political impasse of the 1990s deprived cricket-lovers of what would have been fascinating duels between Akram-Waqar and the little master.).

By the end of the decade, with no disrespect to stalwarts like Dilip Vengsarkar, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar had become the main attraction for Indian cricket. Everybody wanted to know how much Sachin had scored, everybody wanted to see him batting.

And he was just starting ! On his first tour to New Zealand, he missed a debut century by 12 agonising runs. Once again, the entire country was made to wait.

Not for long though. In the summer of 1990, while Gooch, Azhar and Kapil Dev stole the show in the series opener at Lord's, it was time for the little master finally to announce himself to the world at large.

In very difficult conditions, with India fighting to save the game, the little master showed tremendous skill, concentration and maturity to pull out a special 119 not out. That earned him the Man of the Match - the first of many - but most importantly saved the game for India.

To those whose favourite grudge against Sachin is that he has played for himself and not for the country, Manchester is just one example to prove them wrong.

India's next tour was to Australia. Sachin failed in the first few games but his class could never be kept suppressed for too long. He got a hundred at Sydney in the game that Ravi Shastri got a double but it was his hundred at Perth that had character and defiance stamped all over it. That India lost the game due to a second-innings collapse could take nothing away from this Sachin classic.

Onto South Africa. At Johannesburg, Sachin once again dazzled with a back-to-the-wall brilliant 111 out of a team total of 227 – the next best score was 25. The whole world was watching this young genius, now all of 18 !

The biggest grudge against Sachin in his early years was that he did not put a price on his wicket. He would often provide a cameo and return to the pavilion. No less a player than Sunil Gavaskar commented that later in his career, Sachin would look back and regret the price of some of his youthful exuberance.

England chose to visit India in the spring of 1993 – as if to partake in the building of a legend. At the Chepauk stadium in Chennai, Sachin flayed them to all parts of the ground. I happened to be in Chennai on that day and although I could not be at the ground, I remember the mood of the city and country at that time. Sachin had this amazing ability to make India feel good about itself when he went about his business.

I will not discuss every series where Sachin has entertained us. There are too many of them and it will seem very monotonous.

A few matches and series do come to mind.

The series against the visiting Australians in 1997-98. The way Sachin handled the bowling - and Shane Warne in particular. As it turned out, it was not just the runs he amassed but the manner he got them that earned him the respect of that all-conquering Australian side.

The century against Pakistan at Chennai in 1999. Where, struggling with a painful back injury, Sachin scored a masterly 136 to bring India within a whiff of victory.

The century against South Africa in 2001. The last Indian tour to South Africa had been a disaster for India. But in the series opener here at Bloemfontein, in a game where Sehwag made his debut (and how !), Sachin and Sehwag restored India from a difficult situation to a position of then-relative safety with an amazing display of authority and defiance. Although India lost that Test, I remember that innings from Sachin very fondly.

Final Test, Sydney, 2004. Sachin had been going through a lean patch and he needed some affirmation, for himself, that he could stay out there and play a long innings. What an innings he came up with ! He was very restrained, chose his deliveries carefully, forced the bowlers to bowl on the stumps and came up with a masterly unbeaten double hundred. In that innings, we were witness to character of a totally different level altogether !

All this and much much more. And I have not even talked about his ODI career.

He holds many records in that version of the game but – like with his Test career – they are too many to detail. Who can forget Sharjah 1998 or the last World Cup game against Pakistan ?

Again, I have not talked about Sachin the bowler. The only reason his bowling is not talked about is that it is completely dwarfed by his batting. But he has proven to be a very useful bowler, with an amazing variety of deliveries. Former Pakistani wicketkeeper, Moin Khan, will vouch for that.

Beyond all this is Sachin, the man. He has been in the limelight from the first day that he stepped on the international stage. He has been a star for fifteen years now. He carries his celebrity status gracefully and with utmost humility. To date, I cannot recall one arrogant comment from him. He is aware of his capability, his responsibilities and what he means to India.

As is to be expected, Sachin has had his share of critics. He has not been his usual blazing self in the last few years, leaving some to doubt whether he still has it in him. Another accusation, in some quarters, against him is that he cares for his personal ambitions more than for the team cause. An oft-quoted example is his post-match remark at Multan in early 2004 that he was disappointed that the declaration came at a time when he was just six short of his double hundred.

I find it difficult to find fault with Sachin on these. True, he has not been his former blazing self. So what ? He has matured as a player, he sees himself as the senior most player in the side who needs to play the part. Although he has had his fair share of failures in recent times, on average he continues to be prolific and the source of support for the Indian side.

Coming to accusations about his "selfishness", we need to understand that there is nothing wrong in wanting to do well for one's own self. It is but natural to do so. In that sense, for Sachin, the batsman, to feel disappointed at missing out on a double hundred is a most natural thing. The media and the fans blew it out of proportion and made it out to be a Dravid vendetta or a Sachin-Dravid spat. In my opinion, both these players have a huge amount of respect for each other and are above all this petty issues.

This reminds me of another match, many summers ago. It was the Bridgetown Test of 1997. India, chasing a paltry 120 to win, got shot out for 81. There was a report that, after the match, Sachin actually cried in the dressing room.

Whether this is true or not, I do not know but I am inclined to believe it. For I can believe that such is his passion for India and for the team. In my opinion, Sachin has always tried to give his best to the side – whether batting or bowling or fielding.

In recent times Sachin has had to go through a lot of pain due to injury and has had to miss several games. Such was the nature and recurrence of his injury, that his availability for every series began to be in doubt and there were questions about the sustainability of his career.

Today, as Sachin scales another milestone in the game, the record for the maximum number of Test hundreds, I salute the man. For the player he is. For the man he is. .

I cannot think of a more deserving candidate for this honour and wish him, and India, much more success in the years to come.

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