By Madhu Kshirsagarphoto-2

24 Dec 2012

“The stream will cease to flow; the wind will cease to blow; the clouds will cease to fleet; the heart will cease to beat; for all things must die; death waits at the door.” Tennyson was probably talking about great careers coming to an end, as all good things have to.  But I am sure he would have said it differently if he had followed the career of the cricketing phenomenon called “Tendulkar”.  He would probably would have added, “let me wait for a while and make myself sure; for here is a man who can rekindle the glory of yore”, or something to that effect.  Every knowledgeable cricket fan wanted him to continue, defy age and recapture his glory days. But alas, the time has come.

463 matches, 23 yrs, 18426 runs, 49 one-day centuries, 96 one-day half centuries, at a strike rate of 86.23, 62 Man of the Match Awards! To put this in contemporary perspective – Ponting has 32 Man of the Match Awards and Kallis has 32 also.

The greatest one-day player ever! Many favourite memories of Sachin’s exploits in one-day cricket flash past in my mind – he almost always rose to big occasions – his exploits in all World Cup matches over 20 years are gems to be cherished.

Sachin Tendulkar has announced his retirement from one-day cricket.  For all the cricket followers, especially Indians this is indeed sad. One-day cricket will not feel the same again without the familiar walk to the middle by this small but colossal figure.  Generations of Indians will feel the emptiness, the void.  Some had unfairly started questioning his presence in the team. But in my opinion his retirement from one-day cricket has been of impeccable timing. If he had scored tons of runs in the current English series as most of the Indians were hoping – albeit against hope – his detractors would have been forced to shut up.  But all things have to come to an end and father time catches up with everyone – he does not differentiate or show partiality towards geniuses.

There is really no argument – Sachin is the best batsman of his generation and arguably best ever. Some other great batsmen over the last 30 odd years, such as Lara could come a distant second in Test cricket or a Viv Richards in one-day cricket. But Sachin is a complete package – in both forms of the game – the most complete batsman of all.

No great cricketer in my knowledge has ever retired at his peak.  Cricketers have only quit when they ran out of form towards the age of 40 or their bodies just didn’t cope. Name one batsman in the last 30 years who gave away cricket when he was scoring oodles of runs!  All great players have an unshakeable self belief that they can battle through the lean patch towards the end of the career. But alas they find that it is not that easy! And only then they come to terms with hanging up their boots – never before!

Even Ricky Ponting who retired very recently had been reduced to a scratchy batsman who averaged in his 20s for the last couple of years until be polished off some runs in a home series against India’s innocuous and friendly bowling attack.

Seriously there is no one batsman in the history of the game who has achieved so much and with such grace and aura. He stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Lara was inconsistent in Tests and was never a force in one-day cricket. Ponting was always suspect against genuine high quality bowling, whether spin or pace. Sachin has excelled against all kinds of bowling, in all parts of the world and in all conditions. A journey through his 100 international centuries – and 152 half-centuries – shows how he had mastered every bowling attack in the world.  And yet Tendulkar’s numbers and records are only half the story – the other half is how he gets his runs and his demeanour on and off the field – which sets him apart from every one of his contemporaries.   There is really nothing left in cricket for Sachin to prove or achieve!

People expect him to score every time he walks to the middle, and one cannot blame Sachin for failing to meet this unrealistic feat.  This does not reflect in any way on the greatness of Tendulkar but merely reflects the folly and naivety of people at large.  People are the ones who enshrined him as an immortal and have come to expect the most unreasonable exploits from him.  Yet all along he has been the only mortal, level headed and humble human being you can expect to meet in this crazy, egotistic warped world of ours.

It is probably our own limitations, and our own inability to achieve greatness that has made us to crave and seek improbable glory, and look up to someone else for this.  We made him invincible because it suited our own psyche to introduce invincibility into him, and beat the everyday reality in our own lives with some kind of superhuman – and believe me Tendulkar has often delivered on that expectation.  But Tendulkar himself has all along been the most stoic and the most balanced person that one can imagine.

The Tendulkar phenomenon is very hard to explain and yet is very easy to feel.  A generation of Indians have grown up with this feeling.  For all the street cricketers, those playing in the local grounds, the rich, the poor, the young and the old alike have come to revel in his glory.  He started playing cricket at the highest level at the tender age of 16.  From there it has been a fairy tale of glory.  100 international centuries!  Even if he does not add to it, he has dominated the world cricketing scene like no other before, and has already left an indelible mark on international cricket in general.

People have come to regard Tendulkar as a talisman for success, glory and reward.  Indian minds are so deeply etched with the Tendulkar phenomenon that they see their own reflection in him.  A failure in an innings from him is a failure for themselves personally and a failure for the nation.  His aura has lifted an entire nation and has instilled the resolve and the inspiration in every Indian heart to challenge the ordinary and meet the extraordinary head on.  Many ordinary Indians fell in love with cricket because of Tendulkar. They will today be sad, but I am sure will understand that this man has done more to provide them with entertainment and hope through his 23 years of tribulations, achievements and glory.

He is not just a hero; he is much more than that.  Most Indians have lived their own lives through his life.  They have been crestfallen when he failed and have been ecstatic when he succeeded.

And now, when nearing the end of his career some in the media pushing their own barrows, and a small minority of misguided new cricket fans have unfairly mocked and derided him.  How heart breaking is that!  How cruel! No one person is greater than the game itself.  But there are always exceptions, especially Tendulkar who has lifted the game of cricket to greater heights, and deserves special consideration and more leeway to fight his way back.

He has left one-day cricket but let him choose when he wants to say goodbye to Test cricket too and walk away into the sunset.  Believe me sunsets will not be the same again!

Sachin as a phenomenon transcends sports and embraces the good in all walks of our lives.  Enjoy this phenomenon because there will not be another one of its kind.


Indian cricket team hits nadir

By Madhu Kshirsagarphoto-2

24 December 2012

After the initial euphoria of winning the first Test at Ahmedabad, India was completely outplayed in the next 3 Tests by England and the series ended 2-1 in favour of England.  Currently Indian cricket is at its nadir and the only silver lining is the fact that there is no other way but up.  They have been so outplayed in Tests over the last 18 months that their defeat at home at the hands of a good English side seems in hindsight only inevitable.  But for the Indian cricket fan the performance of the Indian team is frustratingly inadequate and reeks of indifference from their spoilt top cricketers.

The main reason for India’s dismal performance was the inability of the current Indian spinners to bowl well consistently over a long period of time. Welcome to Test cricket! This is not a Twenty-20 circus or even a one-dayer – this is Test cricket and the main requirement for this type of cricket is consistent effort at a high level over all of 5 days.  Our current day cricketers are falling alarmingly short on playing the longer version of the game.

Twenty-20 has a role on the cricketing landscape without a doubt.  But when the whole cricketing apparatus becomes slave to this form of the game, then it adversely impacts on the long version of the game.  Young cricketers of today from India are more interested in bashing a few sixes into the stands, or give away the least number of runs in 4 overs – and think that they are great cricketers.  The lure of quick money and quick fame goes to their collective heads.

India is the only country currently where Twenty-20 is played for sickeningly high stakes. This has clearly adversely affected the quality of young cricketers being churned out by the system. This rot has to be stemmed and pronto. If Indian cricket officials do not take corrective action to somehow curtail the impact of Twenty-20 then they might as well give away playing Test cricket.  Test cricket fans will not tolerate this complete indifference and lack of application from young cricketers for too long.

That English spinners were able to bowl much better than the Indian pretenders is by far too hard to swallow for the Indian cricket fans.  On top of that Indian batsmen showed complete lack of application or the grit and skill that is required to play long innings.  So it was a failure in all quarters of the team – a great team effort indeed!

On the other hand English batsmen showed great skill in playing for long periods of time with superior patience and application.  The pitches seemed to suit Monty Panesar’s fastish spin and he probed away with a lot of precision. And Graeme Swann is a fantastic spinner under any circumstance and Anderson was magnificent under trying conditions for fast bowling. Cook led the way in batting and is fast becoming one of England’s great batsmen. Pietersen lived up to his promise and Trott and Bell also proved their worth.

There was no redeeming feature for India.  I am not sure whether Ashwin is a Test quality bowler. He has been ineffective over the last many series and bowls with complete lack of imagination, although he seems to have a bagful of tricks.  Spin bowling is all about setting up a batsman and that requires imaginative planning and high class execution – and I am sure current Indian spinners are not capable of this. Ohja needs a second chance and maybe Chawla needs to be nurtured. But really the spin cupboard is bare of quality spinners.

And its best we don’t speak about the quality of the Indian pacemen. India has never had a fearsome fast bowling unit. Some medium pacers have done well under some circumstances over the years after Kapil.  But India probably has the most innocuous and toothless fast bowling attack and oppositions plunder them for plenty. This is the main reason why India does not win a lot of Test matches.

Also the team is led by a skipper who does not understand Test cricket. His do-nothing strategy at times is just too much to take. He might seem to be a cool captain in one-dayers and T-20s when there is frenzied activity, but his coolness in Test cricket is frustratingly paralytic and shows complete lack of imagination.

Well, like I said we can only expect India to go up as they have gone as far down as possible – or have they?