Left arm orthodox, bowling around the wicket, bowled at around 95K, the SG grips the Wankhede wicket just a shade more than it should, turns ever so slightly and takes out the off stump bail. A sardar who answers to the name of Monty gyrates and proceeds to attempt hi-five after hi-five and prances around with the joy of his Delhi counterpart who has discovered a new Yo Yo Honey Singh track. One man slumps his shoulders and walks off. A stadium predictably falls into silence, something that has happened many a time before, but there is something different about this scenario. There never was such a big gap between bat and ball, there never was the slumped shoulder and the head that once raised bat to the heavens in triumph never hung this low, almost as though in despair. There never used to be that utter dejection as God walked off the field. And most of all there never used to be snide whispers and the “he should have just quit a year ago” chorus was most definitely never written for this moment.
India is a nation of 1.2 billion fickle minded fanatics, the kind who would make Doubting Thomas seem like a paragon of fidelity. And the Indian cricket fan is perhaps on the wrong side of the average. And to a nation seemingly devoid of much joy on the cricket field at the moment, there isn’t a softer more convenient target to aim at. Sachin has been the cricketing equivalent of Caesar’s wife for as long as one can remember. But at the risk of putting a ‘tracer bullet’ out there- the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Seeing Sachin struggle for runs is almost like finding a picture of your dad from the 70s in a floral print shirt, wearing bell bottoms that would be illegal in this day and age and a moustache and sideburns that should be illegal at any point in human history. It is a bit like realising that Superman is really a shy neurotic reporter who cannot talk to women, that Batman is really a drunk playboy squandering away his millions, like the tooth fairy does not exist or that Calvin isn’t really Spaceman Spiff.
I grew up playing cricket in Bombay and to every young boy in that city, Shivaji Park is hallowed ground because God started his journey there. And I’ve been a part of the journey, from Karachi in 1989 all the way to the Wankhede yesterday. There have been fewer passionate worshippers of the Lord than I. In the Church of Sachin, while I may not be Peter, I qualify to be Matthew at least. I have been part of the brigade that switched off their TVs when the man got out, because the match was effectively over for us. I cried when Mark Waugh foxed him at the Wankhede and robbed him of a deserved century in 96, I couldn’t sit when his back gave way at the Chepauk that fateful day and I would have willingly castrated Shoaib Akhtar a week later for impeding that run at the Eden. I wanted to hug my dad the day he walloped Kenya in 99 and I involuntarily rose up on my toes when he played that uppercut at Jo’burg in 2003. And I sat mesmerised for hours when he played one side of the wicket for hours on end to get to a double hundred at Sydney. I have seen every Sachin innings worth seeing from Sydney in 92 onwards and even those that weren’t worth seeing like the one he played day before yesterday
In all honesty, I really thought the World Cup was the swansong and I mentally prepared myself. Waited to bid him farewell, but then he didn’t. Ideally he should have gone out on Virat’s shoulders, in a symbolic passing of the torch. And I still believe that would have been the fairy tale ending. The great Sir Don ended up with a 99.94 and there was a part of me that argued that his successor should end up with 99 international hundreds. But that did not happen. And that has led us to where we are today. To mangle a Christopher Nolan dialogue – You either retire a hero or play long enough to become the villain. And I understand and share the cricket fan’s anguish. More so because some of his teammates have not gotten the same luxury, because the belief that lingers is that Sachin is getting away with things that most cricketers would not and it is a belief that is perhaps not without some iota of truth.
In cinematic terms, this past year has been Sachin’s equivalent of Mrityudaata, Lal Badshaah and Ra.One, in musical terms it has been like a Led Zeppelin reunion without Bonzo Bonham. It has been painful to watch as a cricket fan and downright devastating to the Sachin worshiper. I must confess, the illicit thrill one gets from making fun of the high and mighty, is far too good to resist and we all give in to our base instincts from time to time. I probably more than most and those are definitely not my proudest moments. To quote a line that Manna Da once sang “Dete hain bhagwan ko dhokha, insaan ko kya chhodenge”. But the hard facts are these-Sachin isn’t the only one. Losing 8 test matches in a row cannot be one man’s fault. And while I am no good with numbers and will therefore leave you to look up the stats on your own, as that commonest of species, Cricket Fanaticus Indiana, there are still some arguments that I will make on purely passionate grounds.
If you can go watch tripe like Jab Tak Hain Jaan after Ra.One, if you could argue that paying 400 bucks for a Death Magnetic CD on sentimental grounds was a good investment, if you put yourself through rehashes of Star Trek and Star Wars and if you think KBC redeems sins like Ganga Jumuna Saraswati- cut the man some slack. As a fan who expects victory, question Sachin if you want to, but don’t single him out. Don’t go easy on the Dhonis and Fletchers of this world either. There are far too many things wrong with Indian cricket at the moment. Indian cricket is increasingly beginning to develop a severe 90s feel. Over dependence on one man cost us a lot of games then. Myopia focusing on one man and glossing over the real problems might just cost us a few more. The solution is to question the disease not a symptom.
And if you still have any doubts keep this in mind. The alternative is almost certainly Suresh Raina or worse Rohit Sharma or heaven forbid even Ravindra Jadeja. In a world like that, I’d still put my money on Sachin any day.
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