“Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one, as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” So said Albert Einstein of Mahatma Gandhi.
So profound was the Mahatma’s influence that he became a one-man movement, the rallying force behind India’s quest for Independence, a movement that was based on non-violence and non-cooperation, a movement more effective and more productive than had it revolved around an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Sachin Tendulkar, obviously, is no Mahatma Gandhi, but Einstein’s pronouncement could so easily apply to the little big man of Indian, indeed world, cricket, even if an entirely different context. Only, that generations to come can believe that such a one as this in flesh and blood walked upon this earth because his deeds have been recorded for posterity.
As Tendulkar skips past the 30s and slips into the 40s, it is well worth remembering that he has straddled several generations, outlived a host of players, some of them true giants of the game, and while he may not be the same force today that he was even a couple of years back, he is still the benchmark for batsmanship, the yardstick against which cricketing greatness is measured.
The Sachin Tendulkar Story is an endearing tale of a driven individual who burst forth as a wide-eyed, somewhat naive teenager in 1989, quickly established himself as the lynchpin of the Indian batting line-up, and has continued to occupy that position even to this date, never mind if recent returns haven’t been commensurate with the high standards he has set for so long now. It’s endearing because while on the face of it, it would appear to be a success story all the way, that has been far from the case. It’s endearing also because through that remarkable journey of numerous highs and the occasional lows, Tendulkar the human being has remained untouched by fame, money and adulation, riding on his middle-class upbringing and a solid family support system to steer clear of the pitfalls that lie strewn liberally in the path of the rich and the famous.
That’s why, even as he joins the 40-plus club, Tendulkar remains the boy next door. He still relishes the cut and thrust of a cricket match, be it a high-stakes Test against Australia or a low-profile semifinal of the Ranji Trophy against Services, embellished primarily, if not entirely, by his own electric presence. After 23-and-a-half years of international cricket, he is still the first off the team bus even for an optional training session, treating a practice stint not as drudgery but as another avenue, another opportunity to extend a learning curve that, to him, can never ever come to an end.
What is it that has made Tendulkar tick all these years? What is it that continues to make him tick even today, when increasingly, the very same who held him in awe and reverence when he was at his peak – and that was for a frightfully long period of time – are now questioning his presence on a cricket field? What is it that drives him to put body and limb, not to mention reputation, on the line day after day at an age when all his contemporaries have bid the game goodbye and put their feet up?
There is no long-winded, Freud-fuelled explanation. The answer, much like the man himself, is very simple. Tendulkar is still as much, if not more, in love with the game he has dominated like few before him as he was at the start of his career three decades back. The passage of time and the ravages of injury might have reduced his efficacy, they have done very little to diminish his enthusiasm for and awe of the game of bat and ball.
One of my earliest experiences of the sharpness of the Tendulkar brain was in 1992, a fair few months after the World Cup where India began their winning streak in the competition against Pakistan. A few of us journalists were assembled at the Gymkhana ground in Secunderabad in those days of very little security, and Tendulkar was happy to share his thoughts with us – “I was the man of the match against Pakistan”, he told us with such fierce pride – when, suddenly out of nowhere came a loaded, potentially explosive question involving Pakistan cricket and Pakistani cricketers.
For a while, a very brief while, a shadow crossed his face. Then, with a maturity belying his 19 years on the planet, Tendulkar told the interrogator – for such was the import and tone of his words – politely but firmly, “And I don’t think you should be asking questions because I am sure you are not a reporter.” Which, of course, the questioner wasn’t.
That incident left a deep impression on me. I don’t know why, but whenever I think of Tendulkar and our interactions, the first thing I recall is this incident. We have had a fair few good conversations since, but my mind keeps going back to that evening at the Gymkhana for some strange reason. Perhaps because I hadn’t expected him to be so tactful and intelligent and mature beyond his years? Perhaps because I sensed that even at that early stage in his career, Tendulkar had sussed up that he was already under scrutiny and therefore had to conduct himself in a befitting manner? Perhaps because throughout that evening, he was courteous and polished and genuinely nice, behaving not like the superstar he had already become but the role model he was in the process of becoming? Honestly, I don’t know.
Tendulkar’s place in Club 40 was always a matter of time but then again, most things Tendulkar have been only a matter of time. It was always when rather than whether he would smash every record in the book. Some came quickly, others tested his resolve less than they did the patience of a nation. As he turns 40 today with the sands of cricketing time inexorably ebbing, it is now just a matter of time too, one would assume, before he calls it a day. Between now and whenever that is, prudence demands that one enjoys the ride, because generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one, as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth. Notwithstanding the massive videographic evidence posterity can fall back on.