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Sachin descends from Olympus

Prem Panicker | January 03, 2004 09:49 IST

WHEN the peasant Gordius was chosen king of Phrygia, he dedicated his wagon to Jupiter and fastened the yoke to a beam with a rope of barn knotted so ingeniously that no one could untie it.

A young Alexander finally arrived in Phrygia; he was shown the knot and told that whoever untied it would rule over all the East.

'Well, then,' said the putative conqueror, 'it is thus I perform the task.' Saying that, he took out his sword and slashed through the knot, cutting it in half.

There is an Alexander -- okay, a wannabe Alexander -- in most of us. We can slay dragons if we absolutely had to; we can appreciate the need for – and if pushed to it, even pull off -- one ultimate act of courage; we can will ourselves to deliver the one huge blow that lays the dragon low.

What we cannot do quite as well is swat flies; we are temperamentally unsuited to deal with the monotonous, boring, repetitive challenges that confront us every day.

Filmmakers understand this. That is why most films climax in a spectacular shootout, in which the beleaguered hero whips out an AK-47 and mows down his tormentors.

So very simple. So very satisfying. And so very unlikely.

Most problems in life cannot be solved by slashing at them with a sword, or ripping them to shreds with a stream of bullets.

They need, rather, to be teased apart, strand by strand, tendril by tendril; the process often involves broken nails and blood -- but there really is no other way.

TENDULKAR went to back to school, this New Year, to learn that lesson; he had to learn it the very hard way.

It was in October of 2002 that he scored his 31st century, against the West Indies at the Eden Gardens. Since then, he has gone 14 months, seven Tests, 13 innings without a century to his name -- the longest lean spell he has had in his career.

In that time, he has managed just 253 runs; the period saw his average dip a whole three points, from 58.46 to 55.43.

When he returned from Australia after the 1999-2000 tour -- with scores of 61, 0, 116, 52, 45 and 4 to his name -- he was a bitter man; he reckoned he had been robbed. He told his close friends, then, that he felt the Australians had set out to do him; that he only needed to put his pad -- and on one famous occasion, shoulder -- to ball to be given out.

Judging by word out of Australia, when something of the kind happened to him in the first Test of the current series, he thought uh oh, here we go again.

A faulty LBW decision is a small enough thing; Tendulkar has had many such in his own career. Yet the one in Brisbane proved the proverbial straw that shattered his confidence and made him a nervous wreck at the crease.

He saw his mates -- first Ganguly, then Dravid, then Laxman, then Sehwag -- bat against the Aussies as if they were having a casual net; yet he could not regain his confidence.

For a man very aware of personal achievement, it must have been galling to go into the final Test of the current series without a significant score to his name. Sydney was his one chance to set the record straight; the manner of his doing it has been fascinating.

For a strokeplayer, it must have been tempting to cut through the Gordian Knot, to slay his mental demons with a clean swing of the bat; to use his storied strokeplay to slam his way out of the rut.

Instead, he has chosen to lay aside the sword, to pick painstakingly at the knot binding him, to try and unravel it, thread by thread, tendril by tendril.

To swat flies.

He has been out there for 286 minutes now; in that time, he has suffered the indignity of being outscored by VVS Laxman (at the time of writing this, Tendulkar is 137 off 286 deliveries, striking at a pedestrian 47.9; his partner Laxman is 130 off 210, striking at a majestic 61.9).

He has stood at the other end, watching Laxman strike the ball with a fluency he must have envied; yet when on strike, he has cut out his favorite strokes -- the vicious short arm pulls and hooks, the on the up drives through cover to the ball outside off, the swatted cuts over the slips and point -- and concentrated on just being there.

Thanks to that, he has at times looked ordinary; most notably in the hour before stumps on day one, when he ducked, dodged and, on occasion, put his body on the line to bowling he in better times would have dispatched with disdain.

It has been painful to watch -- and 'painful' is not an adjective you would have applied, before this day, to any Tendulkar innings of substance.

It has also been fascinating. Incredibly so.

Indian epics are full of stories of gods who came down to earth; immortals who had to surrender their invincibility and to experience the pain, the sorrow and the struggle that is the lot of the mortals.

It is those stories you think of today, as you watch a batting god experience cricketing mortality and fight against its constricting constraints.

The result, thus far, has been probably the least pretty of Tendulkar's 32 centuries; it is, arguably, the most significant of them all.

Postscript: I am told that there is such a thing as citizen's arrest. Apparently if you as a private individual see a crime in the process of being committed, and there is no law enforcement personnel nearby, you can arrest the perpetrator and hand him over to the law.

I wonder if such a concept is part of the ICC's rule book? If yes, I wish to impose a citizen's fine -- on Steve Waugh, who kept me up till 3.50 am New York time last evening because he couldn't get through his team's allotted 90 overs in time.

There's something out of whack about this picture. A couple of Tests ago, the ICC match referee was jumping on Saurav Ganguly like a ton of bricks, because the Indians had taken 20 minutes longer than allotted to complete their overs.

Same series, another day, and a team goes 44 minutes overtime, with nary a murmur. What's with the dog that did not bark in the night?

Also see:

- Very Very Special indeed
- The making of Sehwag
- Ramesh dismissed in Sydney
- Chopra's contribution

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