Vasant Raiji, the reputed Indian cricket historian, was once asked to write a piece for a book on Sir Donald Bradman published in Australia. His opening lines were: “Indians worship a multitude of gods. In Sir Donald Bradman they have their God of cricket. God is perfect. In the eyes of the Indians, Bradman is the perfect batsman. God is unseen. Indians have not seen Bradman play. God’s ways are inscrutable. Indians cannot comprehend why, in spite of numerous pressing invitations, Bradman never came to India. Whatever happens is God’s will. So if Bradman avoided India, it was Bradman’s will. Disappointment, but no ill-feeling or rancour.”
The book was published way back in 1998, the very year Tendulkar visited the great Australian at his Adelaide home to wish him on his 90th birthday. Fifteen years hence, Indian cricket lovers have their own God. But it’s a title Tendulkar doesn’t like to be called by. And justifiably so! His probable reason is simple: No one can be God.
Tendulkar is human. Very, very human! The God connection only makes headline writers happy. Okay, editors as well.
Tendulkar’s 24-year international cricket career is flooded with examples of him being, feeling and experiencing the same pain as other cricketers. That he was able to conquer all his peaks despite the many injury hurdles he was confronted with is beyond human capability in some ways. Still, he is no God.
Tendulkar’s feats tell us that at some point of time, everything, or almost everything can be achieved by a human.
Didn’t he ask himself whether he belonged to Test cricket after his debut in Karachi 1989? How did he get over it? By seeking out senior pro Ravi Shastri and understanding that things will get better by slugging it out and respecting the bowlers more. He didn’t end up with a three-figure innings from the four-Test series, but he did enough to retain an important place in the playing XI.
On his next tour (to New Zealand), he missed becoming the youngest centurion by 12 runs. He scored a match-saving hundred in Manchester (1990), but what really convinced him that he can succeed against any attack, were his two Test hundreds on the 1991-92 tour of Australia.
Nothing came easy for Tendulkar. He made sacrifices and laboured on, but he didn’t want a Nobel prize. ‘How can all this be a hard grind when it’s something I enjoy doing’ was his attitude. He got blessed with incredible success, which is unbelievable in a sport where you fail more often than you succeed. But with it came the down moments. Not too many, but gigantic; not abnormal, but career-threatening.
When he was determined to play another match in the one-day series to help India qualify in Sri Lanka 1999 despite a severe back injury, one of the touring journalists asked him why does he want to take a chance, and he said, “I know my pain.” What Tendulkar was telling us that evening in Colombo was, “I can still play.”
Not everything was fairy tale-like and rosy for Tendulkar. He suffered anguish like everyone else. He literally lost sleep over not being able to hold his bat, let alone playing, and so used to sneak out armed with his car keys and drive alone on the streets of Mumbai to fight his biggest of battles. He also prayed most vehemently.
Like us, he made errors of judgment. Like expecting duty relief for his Ferrari car, like not going on the 2011 West Indies tour where he may have got his 100th international hundred instead of waiting agonisingly for the challenging England and Australia tours. At the Oval in 2011, he was dismissed nine runs short of his hundred by Tim Bresnan. Imagine how ridiculous India would have looked celebrating Tendulkar’s feat in the midst of a 4-0 whitewash.
Tendulkar wouldn’t have wanted it that way, just like getting his 100th century in a game, which India didn’t win even though it was only Bangladesh.
He deserves a successful farewell, but this game comes with no guarantees. He can just chill out over the next two Tests, but he won’t. And like England’s fast bowling great Fred Trueman did after becoming the first bowler to take 300 Test wickets in 1964, it won’t be wrong to excuse himself from the one-more-quote-please media frenzy, say goodbye to his teammates, walk into the shower at the Wankhede Stadium dressing room, latch the door, let the tears flow and say, ‘I’ve done it, despite everything.’
That’s only human, right
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor