Sourav Ganguly, Sunil Gavaskar, Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Martin Crowe, Kapil Dev, Steve Waugh, Nasser Hussain, Vinod Kambli, Harbhajan Singh, Ian Botham, Imran Khan -- there are some people who live life on the edge. You are never quite sure which way they will fall or how to categorize them but for some reason you talk about them. They polarise opinion. They give rise to debate. You can either love them or hate them – but doing both is not possible.
But Tendulkar never quite fit that category. He was untouchable in that sense. He was universally loved. However, now, that seems to be changing. His retirement wasn’t greeted by sorrow – instead, the world... no, only India, seemed strangely glad. It might be his bad run of form but even then it seems rather harsh.
The sight of Tendulkar batting in the middle brought a nation together and almost everyone realised how great a privilege it was. His mannerisms have been etched into our mind so much that most us can at least try and mimic him. Even Rahul Dravid gives it a go at times.
But now we choose to forget all of that. We choose to instead focus on his failings as a batsman; on his retirement; on his selfishness; on his age; on his legacy; on his brand value. The cynics will tell you he plays for money... for his sponsors.
We wonder... did he time in right? Why is he still hanging around? Hasn’t he already run his race? Even his ODI retirement was greeted by: Oh! It means that he will continue to play Tests.
Even during the match-fixing scandal not a finger was raised in the direction Sachin. He was beyond that. He could not be turned by fame or fortune. He was cricket’s child wonder and the sport meant more to him than anything else. But now his wisdom, his desire and his motives are questioned -- rather unabashedly.
And that must hurt. It’s surprising how in the space of a year, Tendulkar has gone from much-loved legend to a player who is being looked down on by India at large. Surely, that could not have sat well with a player who almost subconsciously sought out the right way to do things. He avoided controversy, focussed on the game and the game alone.
When he first started playing ODIs – as the Indian Express pointed out -- the ODI record holders of that era were Alan Border (Most matches: 192), Vivian Richards (Most runs: 6,442), Desmond Haynes (Most hundreds: 16). Between 1989 to 2012, the record books saw 192 grow to 463, 6,442 to 18,426 and 16 to 49.
Tendulkar’s impact is undeniable. Ganguly, in a column, said that even 70 per cent of Sachin’s ability will be hard to find. So is the criticism directed towards the master batsman a result of a people thinking that they know better?
India just hasn’t become a social media hub. It’s become a socially critical hub. We criticise because we can and sometimes, only because everyone else is doing it as well. In our hearts, we still love Tendulkar but perhaps all the criticism gets to us just as it gets to him.
Tendulkar is one of cricket’s immortals but surely some part of him will be wondering at what cost? Has the India that we once knew changed? Has the India that Tendulkar once knew changed?
We liked Tendulkar because somehow – despite his greatness, he seemed normal. For just a moment, imagine being in his shoes – imagine having the world at your feet; imagine being rich and powerful; imagine having people hang on to your every word; imagine the cheers as you walk into the ground. Imagine all of that and multiply it – because for Tendulkar, it was all around 10 times more than any normal cricketer. And through all of this, he remained sane… and we loved him for that.
He will still be around for Test matches and according to sources; he will make himself available for the Test series against Australia before announcing his retirement from Tests. But before he goes, there is one final battle – for the public’s affection -- that he will want to win again.
And perhaps the only way to do that is to find his old self again. Break the chains, play the shots and go out in a blaze of glory. For Sachin, nothing else will do. For the critics, too, nothing else will do.
But should he play for them or for himself? Or should he just play the game as he wants to? Either which way, when it comes to Tendulkar, we are never satisfied.