Unlike the Don, Tendulkar is not ‘hidden in the clouds’

Edited extract from the new non-fiction book ‘Greater than Bradman: celebrating Sachin, the greatest batsman in cricket history’.

This book is a salute to Sachin, the batsman. I have stayed clear of his achievements as a bowler, fielder and captain. What I have applied to my analysis is an insistence in getting beneath the surface. As a surgeon would, I have used a scalpel to lift the skin-flap. Instead of a simple magnifying glass I have used a microscope – with good reason.

Almost everyone refers to Sachin as ‘one of the greatest.’ A few writers place him behind Lara, Viv Richards and Bradman. The majority place him behind Bradman alone, even if at an appropriately respectful distance behind him.

SACH: Genius Unplugged, is a compilation of essays on Sachin. But in it, Ayaz Memon, who as the blurb suggests, has been ‘writing on the game for three decades’, rather magnanimously puts Sachin amongst the top ten batsmen in cricket history. Unlike others who wrestle with just two or three names, Memon wrestles with many. He wonders whether Sachin outshines Grace, Ranji, Trumper, Hobbs, Hammond, Hutton, the three Ws (Walcott, Weekes and Worrell), Kanhai, Gavaskar, Border, Miandad and Greg Chappell. Reassuringly, the majority do not share Memon’s helplessness – he is more the bewildering exception than the rule.

The majority of authoritative comments on Sachin refer to him as the ‘greatest batsman’ but place him one notch below Bradman (and no other batsman), albeit with a suffix, ‘since Bradman’ or ‘after Bradman’ or granting him a rank ‘lower only to that of Bradman’.[ , , , ]
Most commentators agree that, once you set Bradman aside, it is Sachin who is the greatest batsman – not just of his generation but of all generations in cricket history.

 Unlike the Don, Tendulkar is not ‘hidden in the clouds’

File photo of Sachin Tendulkar. Getty Images

Bradman is the final frontier. Not Ponting, not Kallis, not Lara, but Bradman.

Everyone lauds Sachin. In that same breath they insist that it is impractical to compare Bradman with batsmen of the modern era. That’s the point – Bradman’s continuing claim to the title automatically compares him with (and places him above) batsmen who excelled decades after he did. Comparison is embedded in the very definition of Bradman’s greatness. Some compare him with all batsmen and occasionally with all cricketers. Others go further...

Comments authoritatively refer to Bradman as the ‘greatest batsman’ but with incongruous prefixes and suffixes: ‘unquestionably’, ‘greatest cricketer ever’, ‘one of the finest sportsmen of all time’, ‘without any question’, ‘greatest ever’. Some refer to him as the most awesome phenomenon not just in cricket but across all ball games. That particular claim, if taken seriously, obviously overrules greats from baseball, snooker, volleyball, basketball, squash, golf, tennis, hockey, football, table tennis![ , ]

In 2006, TIME magazine commemorated 60 Years of Asian Heroes by publishing a list of greats. Sachin appeared alongside Bruce Lee and other Asians. But even in this ‘tribute’ piece, Sachin: the greatest living exponent of his craft, the author Simon Robinson is anxious to begin with the usual header-footer about Bradman: ‘Cricket’s greatest ever player...’

Geoff Armstrong in his Legends of Cricket: Profiles of the Game’s 25 Greatest is careful to ensure that Bradman leads the pack. The book explains the challenge of singling out one sportsman who towers above others, but settles into rhythm soon enough by agreeing that the majority of commentators vociferously endorsed the Australian as the ‘greatest batsman who ever lived’.

Almost all books on Bradman are unequivocal – no other batsman’s name, living or dead, can be taken in the same breath.

So there you have it. Everyone denouncing the notion of comparison, yet gratuitously comparing all the time – and how! ‘Unquestionably.... the greatest ever... the greatest of them all.’

This book is an attempt to clear the mist. It is not a biography of Sachin........or Bradman. It is an attempt to set the record straight. I have not dwelt on Sachin’s enviable contracts, his early life, his training, his family, his hobbies, his tax obligations or his apparent lack of statesmanship in matters beyond the field. I do not share the mania of his fans, eager to write out his name in their blood. I have not studied his rise to fame or his apparently unimpressive stint as captain.

Bradman as writer, administrator and statesman was far ahead of Sachin who has yet to establish himself beyond the field. Both dealt with personal loss, cricket politics and career-threatening health crises. Both faced pressure on and off the field, although it is easy to argue that Sachin faced it on a scale that cannot be imagined by any sportsman, let alone any cricketer. Others have documented these aspects more eloquently.

But this is not a hagiography either. Sachin is the greatest batsman; he does not also have to be St. Dominic Savio. Like the rest of us, he is entitled to his character flaws. I have no intention of defending his every move. Long may he make mistakes that remind him that he is not the god his crazed fans say he is.

My focus has been on the field, where both men staked and won their claim to greatness. I ask readers to see anew. To look at the same reality differently and through that, perhaps, discover a new reality. A closer look, almost always, reveals more.

But we also need to cast aside a certain blindness; one that is dismissive of the idea of comparison. Or we may peer through the lens all year and still see nothing.

Bradman’s prowess has been extolled in full measure in the written and spoken word. Therefore, when comparing the two gentlemen, this book does not offer ‘balance’ by acclaiming them in turn – that would be redundant, particularly in Bradman’s case; he has 80 years of adulation behind him.

Sachin too has been breathlessly glorified – with one solemn difference. All that has been said about him falls appallingly short of the tribute he deserves because he has repeatedly been ranked below Bradman. One would be hard pressed to find language about Sachin as intemperate as that used to describe Bradman. On the contrary, while the number of Sachin’s critics has quadrupled in the last ten years – give or take a few – their attacks have grown more venomous with each passing year. Bradman never witnessed such anger directed at his professional contributions or his personal choices – from any nation, let alone his own.

21st century cricket readers need a closer look at Bradman. They appear all too familiar with Sachin, having seen his every shot dissected a hundred times on TV. He has been discussed in blogs and on billboards, in sermons and in snatches of conversation. They have seen his ducks, his run-outs, his many, many failures – in hundreds of matches. Yes, they have heard the pundits but they have made their own assessments as well. After all, what’s to assess when you can see the man’s iris in ultra slow-motion?!

The challenge that Bradman faced is somewhat hidden in the clouds. Yes, they have read the books, watched the film clips and pored over the statistics. Yes, they are familiar with his feats, but they have never seen him – in action, on the field. Having retired over 63 years ago, he remains as inscrutable as a faded photograph. Yes, they have heard the experts but having not seen Bradman – in even a single match – they have not made their own assessments. Their conclusions are not entirely theirs. They often tamely endorse the judgement of ‘experts’. They rely on the gilt-edged accounts of the few who saw him in action; the haziness rendering him more sacred with every passing generation.

Unlike Bradman, Sachin has no veil that hides him from our eyes. Unlike Bradman, he is not ‘hidden in the clouds’. On the contrary, Sachin is part of our yesterdays, todays and tomorrows, whether we are historians, fans or budding batsmen. He is in many ways more ‘here and now’ than any other sportsman we know. Why, we can still hear the ‘thwack’ of his willow as he sends even dangerous deliveries to the ropes. We can still see the agony on his face as he edges one to the slips. No cricketer is as recognisable, no batsman as familiar.

We do not write or speak as easily about Donald, Garry, Sunil, Allan, Steve, Brian, Jacques, Ricky, Rahul or Virender as we do about Bradman, Sobers, Gavaskar, Border, Waugh, Lara, Kallis, Ponting, Dravid or Sehwag. Somehow we seem to write and speak as easily about ‘Sachin’ as we do about ‘Tendulkar’. This boy-man has become more intimate to us than all the others. He has endeared himself to our collective consciousness. Not through his stirring speeches or his insights on matters administrative, but through his game.

That is precisely why we need to see ‘beyond’ and ‘beneath’. Familiarity should not hide fact. More importantly, it should not invent fiction. At least it should try hard not to.

In applauding Sachin, I hope I am celebrating the same spirit of cricket that applauded Bradman for 80 years and W G Grace before him. Tomorrow, if someone takes Sachin’s place as the greatest, I hope another writer will commend him (her?) in the same spirit that applauds Sachin in this book.

Rudolph Lambert Fernandez is the author of a new non-fiction book ‘Greater than Bradman: celebrating Sachin, the greatest batsman in cricket history’. www.greaterthanbradman.com
Follow him on twitter @RudolphFernandz
Email: greaterthanbradman@gmail.com

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Updated Date: Apr 24, 2014 16:30:52 IST