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Sachin Tendulkar


When excess outweighs success
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: March 30, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Sachin Tendulkar | cricket legend | SRT | Gujarat chief minister | Narendra Modi |

So, here we go again! Singing paeans to the one and only Sachin Tendulkar has been a national pastime long enough for the unconverted not to be unduly perturbed. After all, in a country starved of genuine heroes, he was a godsend during his days.

Even after newer stars have taken over, Tendulkar continues to be the fulcrum of the nation’s multi-million dollar cricket industry. Understandably, anthologies and other tribute-paying tomes are commonplace.

Therefore, critiquing a book that celebrates the talismanic batsman’s career is rather futile. Of course, there are many wonderful essays in this book but eventually, barring a few stray nuggets here and there, Sachin Tendulkar – The Man Cricket Loved Back does not reveal much we do not already know.

So, this reviewer would seek the reader’s indulgence and go beyond the book and try and understand the phenomenon that was Tendulkar and why this nation has to continue with this kind of hero worship.

First of all, you have to be an unquestioning Sachin fan to believe that there has been no sporting legend as big, if not bigger, than the man who, in his heydays, was called the master blaster. This book, on its cover itself, claims that he is “India’s biggest sporting legend”.

He is certainly the “biggest” in terms of the mass media coverage he received on account of his personal on-field achievements. He is also arguably the biggest “cricket legend” India has ever produced. But “India’s biggest sporting legend”? That is open to debate, and debate is something that the so-called “argumentative Indian” isn’t particularly fond of when it comes to SRT. 

It is a bit like the Narendra Modi books that have flooded the market in the run-up to General Elections 2014. A large majority of them are undisguised eulogies, telling us why and how the Gujarat chief minister will change the fortunes of this vast and variously hamstrung nation. That claim is in the realms of fiction and if you believe in it you will buy into the shrill spiel that these books are churning out.

Of course, Tendulkar is no longer a subject of conjecture. His life’s work as a cricketer is behind us and we have the advantage of hindsight in judging his enormous contribution to the game. To that extent, this book is hugely entertaining. You can zip through the essays with ease, but nobody is asking you to stop and think of an alternative way of looking at the man’s career.

The myth-creation that has attended Tendulkar’s entire career was generously sustained by the mountains of runs that he scored in different forms of the game.

In Ed Smith’s words, “When the final history of cricket is written – for our purposes here, let’s call it the age of Tendulkar – his period has been seen as one of deep change and constant uncertainty. Yet throughout Tendulkar has adapted and endured. He has found answers to every new question – his 49 ODI hundreds are arguably the more remarkable achievement than his 51 Test centuries. And yet he has also belonged to the great, timeless tradition of pure batsmanship. Modern and classical at the same time, Tendulkar has been a cricket for every stage.”

Statistics were central to the Tendulkar cult because the marketplace deals solely in numbers. So Brand Sachin fed into the demands of a changing nation, society and culture where everything needed to be quantified for mass consumption. Tendulkar consistently delivered huge numbers over two decades and a half – just what a nation of 1.3 billion people needed to keep its passion for cricket burning.

Cricket in India isn’t only about the joy of the game. In fact, it is more about nationalistic pride, an attribute that was fuelled and served by Tendulkar’s feats, and that gave the cricket board, broadcasters and advertisers sustained value for money.

Mike Marqusee puts it all in perspective: “The intensity of the Tendulkar cult in India is about much more than just cricket. Unwittingly and unwillingly, he has found himself at the epicenter of a rapidly evolving popular culture shaped by the intertwined growth of a consumerist middle class and an increasingly aggressive form of national identity.”

It is in this light that Tendulkar must be seen. He is somebody who has borne the burden well. If only he had managed to raise the engagement to a level where his outings could have been appreciated independent of the numbers, the joy for an old world cricket fan like this writer would have been infinitely greater.

Would Tendulkar have been any less had he not waited for his 200th Test and his 100th international hundred to announce his retirement? That is a question a book like this will never answer.

Author: Various
Edition: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-670-08748-8
Pages: 262
Price: Rs 599
Publisher: ESPNcricinfo/Penguin Viking

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017