The poor performance of the Indian cricket team in England and Australia has made zeroes of heroes overnight.
Sachin Tendulkar, once considered India’s answer to Don Bradman and a worthy claimant for the Bharat Ratna, is being relegated to pariah status. Before the Australia tour, the media was planning blowout coverage of his 100th ton.
Now that he hasn’t made that ton, they want to fling him out of the team unceremoniously. Nobody’s worried about that landmark anymore. People are now asking why isn’t he retiring? Why is he being left in the team when Sehwag has been shown the door? On Wednesday, all TV channels, including Arnab Goswami of the Spanish Inquisition, were asking the same questions.
If success has many fathers, failure needs at least one mother — the mother of all scapegoats. Sachin is a handy one. Of course, one won’t do. The anger of public opinion needs more sacrificial goats.
So we can blame the selectors for being fickle minded, we can blame cronyism in the BCCI and the team for our losses, and we can also blame too much cricket or too little cricket or the fast pitch (or lack of fast pitches in India) for everything that has gone wrong.
What this proves is that we are all keen to fix the blame, not the problem. We are also unwilling to acknowledge a serious flaw in the Indian character — a willingness to celebrate success too soon, a willingness to settle for mediocrity when excellence should be the goal.
Thus, we are over the moon merely because our hockey team qualified to enter the Olympics. Hello? Is this what the world’s best team upto the 1960s should be thrilled about today, when Australia makes mincemeat of us each time we clash in some tournament?
And in the search for new cricket heroes, now that the older ones have fallen by the wayside, we have suddenly elevated a Virat Kohli as vice-captain of the Indian team — on the basis of one good tour, and one stand-out One-Day innings. Virat may have the gumption and the bravado to show the finger to his opponents and even the public, but he is still an untested quantity in terms of sustained excellence.
This is not to say Kohli should not be vice-captain, or that he may not become a great vice-captain and be a good understudy to Dhoni in One-Dayers. But making him heir-apparent on the shifting foundations of public opinion says nothing about the validity of our strategy. Assuming we have a strategy that goes beyond making money from the game.
What is the Kohli elevation all about?
Is it about grooming a new, young team for the future? Is it about punishing Sehwag for daring to differ with Dhoni, or is it about rewarding someone who did well on one tour?
Or is it just a whimsical decision where the selectors can be seen as responding to public distress over the recent losses of the Indian team Down Under?
Or is it that Indian cricket’s money machine cannot survive the lack of heroes. Since the old ones are fading, it’s time to elect new ones — never mind the fact that their long-term performance may still be suspect?
It is in this context that we need to look at our dishonourable approach to Sachin Tendulkar — who, doubtless, has not impressed in the current tour.
The problem with being a Sachin Tendulkar in India is simple: in an ocean of mediocrity, he is an island of excellence. In the Indian cricket pantheon, we can only put Gavaskar and Kapil Dev in his category of greatness, but even in this group he stands as first among equals.
In the global arena, Sachin may or may not be comparable to the great Don – that kind of comparison is idiotic anyway, for Bradman played in a different era – and he may not be as murderous on bowling attacks as a Brian Lara or a Viv Richards, but he is clearly among the best in the world. Even today, when his powers of magic with the bat are past their peak.
When you stand head-and-shoulders above even the best in India and the world, you are then in the category of God to the cricketing constituency.
Unfortunately, in the real world, even God cannot answer all prayers all the time. The disappointment with gods is always more severe than disappointment with mere mortals.
Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, who were only recently being extolled as Mr Dependables, are in the doghouse of public opinion. But nobody’s asking about them anymore. They were not gods.
MS Dhoni, once toasted as Captain Cool, is now toast, now that his luck has run out. His captaining abilities are now looking suspect. But he seems to have been forgiven in the light of a couple of match-winning knocks in the early stages of the current Tri-series, where we are praying for a Sri Lanka defeat to make it to the finals.
But Sachin Tendulkar? How can God fail us?
What we think about God tells more about us than God. So, asking stupid questions about the greatness of Sachin tells more about us than him.
Sachin may or may not be the greatest, but we as a people are certainly not the greatest. India did not deserve a Sachin.