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Exclusive: Sachin Tendulkar: A hundred reasons to smile

Last updated on: December 28, 2012 22:44 IST

Exclusive: Tendulkar, A hundred reasons to smile

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Mike Selvey

The attention Sachin Tendulkar receives goes beyond mere adulation and enters the world of veneration.

Is any deity ever worshipped more, asks Mike Selvey, former English Test cricketer, now the cricket correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, in his column for the Wisden India Almanack 2013 first edition to be released on Sunday.

Exclusive to Rediff.com

Very few, perhaps in the history of sport, can truly understand what it is like to be Sachin Tendulkar, to regard as normal that which the mortals of this world see only as an abnormal existence that demands he is all but incarcerated within his own country, on a kind of house arrest so that it is only in the dead of night, when the streets clear, that he can take his sports cars for a spin. The attention he receives goes beyond mere adulation and enters the world of veneration. Is any deity ever worshipped more?

EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM WISDEN INDIA (www.wisdenindia.com) and BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING, RELEASING ON 30TH DECEMBER 2012!

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Image: Sachin Tendulkar makes his way through the crowds
Photographs: Tom Shaw/Getty Images

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Every dismissal is accompanied by despair

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And with the microscopic attention comes the expectation. From the moment he began his international career as a curly haired youth of prodigious reputation and achievement, he has carried the hopes of a billion people on his shoulders each time he has pottered, invariably blinking, to the stage he has dominated for two decades. It followed him to England last summer when each entrance was accompanied by a standing ovation and each exit similarly marked.

Every dismissal is accompanied by despair (and, in the huge stadia of India, a deafening silence), each entrance by hope renewed. In the film Clockwise, the English comedian John Cleese distinguishes between the two emotions: "I can take the despair," he says of his situation, "it is the hope I can't stand."

For followers of Tendulkar, rather than the man himself, it is hard to know which is the greater encumbrance: The despair of a failure or the hope of another hundred.

EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM WISDEN INDIA (www.wisdenindia.com) and BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING, RELEASING ON 30TH DECEMBER 2012!

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Image: Sachin Tendulkar walks back to the pavilion at Lord's
Photographs: Stu Forster/Getty Images

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Was not a half century of Test match hundreds not sufficient?

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Then, on 10 March 2011, in Nagpur, following India's World Cup match against South Africa, everything intensified.

For that day Tendulkar made 111, the 99th time that he had reached three figures for his country, and suddenly came the clamour for him to reach a landmark. Now there were many, this correspondent included, who saw this as a contrivance, a concocted effort to further the adulation of one who needed none further.

Adding together Test match centuries and those scored in limited overs cricket was, it was reasoned, to mix apples with pears and come up with a fruit bowl.

Was not a half century of Test match hundreds, and, yet to come but in all probability, the same in limited overs not sufficient in their own right to mark him as one standing with other gods on the Olympian summit of cricket achievement?

EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM WISDEN INDIA (www.wisdenindia.com) and BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING, RELEASING ON 30TH DECEMBER 2012!

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Image: Sachin Tendulkar acknowledges the appreciation after his century against South Africa in the 2011 World Cup in Nagpur
Photographs: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

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His achievements embody the unattainable aspirations of a nation

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But then we outsiders do not, cannot, fully understand quite what Tendulkar means to the people of India. His achievements embody the unattainable aspirations of a nation. Through him it is they themselves who live the dream. And so whatever level he reaches, there will always be one more beyond.

It takes a remarkable fellow to be philosophical and sanguine about this. And yet with each innings, and each failure to reach three figures, the intensity began to build up in the game even of one so mentally strong.

EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM WISDEN INDIA (www.wisdenindia.com) and BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING, RELEASING ON 30TH DECEMBER 2012!

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Image: Sachin Tendulkar bats in the nets
Photographs: Hamish Blair/Getty Images
Tags: India

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The more he batted, and the more he failed to cross the threshold

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There is an interesting comparison to be drawn between this milestone (or was it millstone?) and that of those few who have scored one hundred first-class centuries. What it shows is that luck, circumstance, form, fortune and state of mind can dictate how readily the transition is made from 99 centuries to 100.

Geoffrey Boycott, for instance, did it in his very next innings, and in the highest profile manner imaginable for an Englishman, in his 100th Test, against Australia, on his home ground. Graeme Hick even managed his 99th and 100th in the same match. So fraught did the great Walter Hammond get, on the other hand, that he went 23 fruitless innings before, at a loss, he went out, threw the bat with abandon and made 116.

Yet none of these achievements remotely carried the hope heaped on Tendulkar. The more he batted, and the more he failed to cross the threshold, the more the questions were asked and the more self-doubt must inevitably have crept in, even with him. There were flirtations: 94 on his home ground in Mumbai and what almost seemed preordained cut off by the sharpest of slip catches; 91 at the Oval last year, brought down by an lbw decision.

EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM WISDEN INDIA (www.wisdenindia.com) and BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING, RELEASING ON 30TH DECEMBER 2012!

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Image: Sachin Tendulkar during the Sydney Test against Australia, January 6, 2012
Photographs: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

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The air of invulnerability was no longer there

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It was during the tour of England, valedictory for him, that the weight may have borne down heaviest. It dominated the agenda even as India as a team struggled to make headway.

Tendulkar himself found it difficult. As batsmen age, they lose the instinctiveness, impetuosity, and verve of their youth, when everything is an adventure, and settle into a pragmatism forged in the heat of experience. At times it must be wearying.

Tendulkar looked vulnerable early on in an innings, as bowlers sought his outside edge or his pads, his movements no longer twinkling and just a fraction more ponderous now. He still played sublimely at times: the back foot punch through the covers; the flick through midwicket with nothing more than a turn of the wrist; the straight drive that was little more than a defensive stroke played with chronometric timing.

But the air of invulnerability was no longer there. Respect for him never wavered but his aura had slipped.

EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM WISDEN INDIA (www.wisdenindia.com) and BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING, RELEASING ON 30TH DECEMBER 2012!

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Image: Sachin Tendulkar avoids a bouncer
Photographs: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Tags: England , India

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Sometimes even the gods manifest themselves as mortal for a while

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He left England without a century and it was not until an ODI against Bangladesh in Dhaka, one year and four days since his Nagpur hundred, that, grateful and relieved, he was able to trot through for the leg side single that with it brought release.

The last leg of a remarkable journey had taken him through 21 fruitless Test match innings and a dozen in ODIs before this last one. Never, in his entire cricket life, had he gone as long without a hundred. Sometimes even the gods manifest themselves as mortal for a while. Hammond, he might like to know, went on to make a further 67 hundreds.

It was during the tour of England, valedictory for him, that the weight may have borne down heaviest. It dominated the agenda even as India as a team struggled to make headway.

Tendulkar himself found it difficult. As batsmen age, they lose the instinctiveness, impetuosity, and verve of their youth, when everything is an adventure, and settle into a pragmatism forged in the heat of experience. At times it must be wearying.

Tendulkar looked vulnerable early on in an innings, as bowlers sought his outside edge or his pads, his movements no longer twinkling and just a fraction more ponderous now. He still played sublimely at times: The back foot punch through the covers; the flick through midwicket with nothing more than a turn of the wrist; the straight drive that was little more than a defensive stroke played with chronometric timing.

But the air of invulnerability was no longer there. Respect for him never wavered, but his aura had slipped.

EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM WISDEN INDIA (www.wisdenindia.com) and BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING, RELEASING ON 30TH DECEMBER 2012!


Image: Sachin Tendulkar waves to fans
Photographs: Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

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