We Indians, myself included, have a tendency to get extremely excited whenever he breaks yet another record. So the euphoria that surrounds Sachin Tendulkar just reached a new crescendo on the 24th of February, when he reached the almost mythical landmark of 200 runs in an ODI innings at Gwalior against the South Africans. And yet, records are just a small part of what Sachin Tendulkar means to me and perhaps some of us Indians.
It will not be an effort to establish his greatness or his “greatest-ness” for they are activities of a futile nature in my opinion which do no one any good. What I am about to write here is extremely personal. But, I also believe that my feelings are shared with countless other Indians who have been following cricket in general and Sachin in particular for the last two decades or so. I hope that what this post perhaps lacks in structure is compensated for by my emotions. They are as genuine as they come from me.
My earliest memory of Sachin is listening on the radio along with my grandfather of him hitting Abdul Qadir for 3 or 4 sixes in an over. Sachin was a childhood prodigy and stories of his record breaking exploits had spread far and wide. But he could not have made his debut under more trying circumstances against Imran, Wasim and Waqar in Pakistan. The term ‘Baptism by fire’ cannot have a more apt usage than this. Somewhere during the tour, as a 5 year old kid I learnt that Sachin had been hit on the nose by one of these evil bowlers (Waqar). But the slightly older kid – Sachin had not given up, rather he had wiped the blood of his nose and said to his partner (Sidhu) – Main Khelega. I am of the firm opinion that this story has inspired me and millions of other kids of my generation. Getting hit while batting (even if it was from a tennis ball) and continuing on the crease went on the become a symbol of courage and pride for me and my friends. And if our mothers ever tried to come in between, we would never let them do so, after all, our hero Sachin had not retired hurt.
Sachin was the one of the role models for all of us growing up in the 90s. He was the man that all of us wanted to become. In a sense, our generation has been lucky to have cricketers like Kumble, Dravid and Sachin for us to hero worship – individuals whom our parents were only glad to allow us to idolize. For Sachin along with some of his peers has been a symbol of hard work, dignity and courage – the values which all Indian parents would want to inculcate in their children.
Sachin’s earlier years in the 90’s coincided with what can only be called as a tough period for the Indian team. Often it would be Sachin playing a lone hand trying to save the game for India or fighting an uphill battle in a seemingly lost cause. And it is here that in a team of mere mortals who lost more often than won, Sachin would still give the Indian public a cause to smile. We may have lost a match but then a 50 or a 100 from Sachin would be the only saving grace, the silver lining in the dark clouds surrounding Indian cricket. Yes, we also had Azza in batting, Srinath and Kumble coming up in the bowling department, but we were a far cry from becoming the world beaters we are today. The point I am making is that we often found that while our team as a collective unit did not give us much to cheer; we had a world beater amongst us who was world-class, who was going to be an all-time great. And so we became obsessed as much, and in some cases even more, with his success and his records, than of the Indian team. Perhaps this was a legacy of the Gavaskar - Kapil Dev era, I am not sure, but for us, it is clearly for Sachin that we went on to become the cricket crazy generation we are today.
When India won the Hero Cup in 1993 – the most unforgettable image of that tournament was Sachin bowling the last over against the South Africans at Eden Gardens, winning us a match from an improbable situation. And as a kid you got two things in mind – #1 Sachin can do just about anything and #2 - I want to be the hero and so I want to bowl the last over of every match. It is a moment which to me signifies many things – a case of a person taking personal responsibility of a situation in a moment of crisis; it is a case of a young man keeping his cool under incredible pressure and expectation; it is of a person who trusts his skill and ingenuity to outsmart the opposition.
There is something about Sachin that I have personally felt and observed with many other friends as well. And that is a deep and personal connect. It is a sense of shared ownership of his achievements. Sachin is a representation of oneself on the field of cricket. When Sachin plays, we feel that we are a part of the action. His successes feel like your own and perhaps more importantly his failures feel even more your own. (To give a personal example – I used to remember each and every Test dismissal of Sachin’s till 2002 after which perhaps it became all a bit too much to carry in my head). No moment has been more devastating for me in cricket than the moment when Sachin got out in THAT test match against Pakistan in Chennai, leaving us desperately close but short of the target. But perhaps nothing has brought me closer to the man that that. We have both lived through the pain of those moments, so now that the good moments come, we can enjoy with that much more pleasure. The 1999 Chennai defeat vs Pakistan overturned in the 2008 Chennai victory vs England. The disappointment of the magnificent yet incomplete 175 against Australia at Hyderabad, wiped off by the 200 vs South Africa at Gwalior. And these are just two examples of how Sachin has set the record straight run by run, giving us occasions to celebrate – sometimes with joy and sometimes with vengeance – over and over again.
We Indians love stories. And Sachin’s story is the kind of story that all of us love the most. A regular boy, perfectly eligible to be fashionably called ‘the guy next door’, humble and down to earth, who goes on to conquer the world with sheer determination and hard work, making the most of his God given abilities. Is this not the story line that all of us want to have for our own lives?
Sachin has provided us with a sense of national identity like no one else. And that remains at the core of his appeal. Since Sachin’s debut, more than 70 players have represented India in test cricket and more than 100 have gone on to play for the country in ODIs. Many of them have gone onto have massive fan followings throughout the country. And yet somewhere down the line, Ganguly is more popular in Kolkata than Delhi. Kumble’s appeal is perhaps more in Karnataka than MP. Dhoni, for all of his achievements, is still not a universally respected figure. Sreesanth rocks, but mostly in Kerala. All of us have that special corner in our hearts for the player that we call “our very own”. Loving someone who comes from our own state is very natural as it is an expression of our regional identity. And yet, we make an exception for Sachin. For Sachin is our favourite player regardless of whether our hometown is Chennai or Cuttack, Patna or Patiala. He has transcended regionalism like no one else. And unlike anyone else, from cricketers to film stars to politicians, his support is not limited to pockets of fanaticism but is based on the individual love of a billion citizens and the collective reverence of a nation. Sachin unlike anyone else and like the great city from which he hails – Mumbai – truly belongs to all of India.
There is so much to say about Sachin, but I will consider this as a limited over exercise and leave the rest for another day. This can never be a complete post for Sachin's innings is a long way from being over now. It is perhaps just stumps at the end of a hard day and a good time to reflect. I will sign of by saying only this:
Sachin Tendulkar has been an integral part of millions of Indian families for the last 21 years. On the days he plays – he becomes the head of the family.