Few have captured Tendulkar’s place in India’s argumentative tradition as well as Rahul Bhattacharya in his piece titled ‘Man-child superstar’. He writes:
A Tendulkar innings is never over when it is over. It is simply a basis for negotiation. He might be behind headphones or helmet, but outside people are talking, shouting, fighting, conceding, bargaining, waiting. He is a national habit.
I was reminded of this when I read Mukul Kesavan’s piece on Tendulkar recently. Do read the piece before proceeding further.
Let me also state this upfront: It was an interesting article. Most journalist and writers who cover cricket haven’t stated many of these points upfront. It helps to have an independent voice like Mukul’s.
The piece, like most pieces involving Tendulkar, provoked strong opinions. A lot of this opinion was lost in the whirlwind of comments, blog posts and tweets. When you have 452 comments on Cricinfo and 310 comments on Yahoo, it becomes tough to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I disagreed with a few points in the piece. My good friend (who will remain unnamed for professional reasons) disagreed with me. Here I offer both perspectives.
Let me also state that I am not saying these are air-tight arguments. But I think it’s important to put these thoughts out in the open. Mukul’s article was thought provoking. I hope the counter and the counter to the counter extend the debate. As always, you are free to extend the discussion even further with your comments.
1) I find it amazing how people nit-pick when it comes to SRT’s apparent slow-scoring that affects the team. First, nobody ever cares to see how long he took from 40 to 50 or 70 to 80. They will always zero in on his strike-rate from 90 to 100.
Next – nobody has ever done any kind of analysis of any other batsman’s strike-rate from 90 to 100. It’s always Sachin.
Also, there is no doubt Sachin slowed down as he reached his hundred in Mirpur but MK makes it sound as if that was the main reason we lost that match. Our bowling line-up could not defend 289. They bowled full-toss after full-toss in the end. Pakistan defended 262 in the previous match and they defended 236 in the final.
Also, Tendulkar’s was the only hundred against Bangladesh in the whole tournament (so I can’t agree with people who say the hundred came against a ‘lowly Bangladesh’)
2) Tendulkar said ‘I feel those who say you should retire at the top are selfish’. He was not saying he was on the ‘top’ of his career. He was referring to the people who make the statements.
Also, Tendulkar said ‘When I feel I am not in a frame of mind to contribute to the nation, that’s when I should retire …’. MK avoids this quote. He does not concede that Tendulkar probably feels he has more to contribute to the side – like he did in the Pakistan match with a quick fifty that helped Kohli and Rohit go for the win. Instead he picks out averages and proves to us that SRT is indeed not at the top of his game.
3) Lastly I think one must judge a man based on his work on the field. However he markets himself off it, it is the selectors job to decide whether he is good enough to play in the team or not. If the paid selectors feel he is not contributing, it’s their job to drop him.
Instead MK ignores the selection committee completely and tells us that Tendulkar’s grand PR machine is trying to cover up his faults. Sure, that’s the PR machine’s job. But who is going to question Srikkanth and Co. about when they plan to do their job?
My friend’s response (via email)
You make very valid points. I’ll try to look at them – not trying to refute them (in the Punjab, the old saying goes that when Madrassis with weighty names like Vaidyanathan, Jagannathan, Balasubramaniam, Gopalakrishnan, Kodandaramaiah etc talk, one must only nod energetically).
1) You’re right – no one has analysed if other batsmen slow down when approaching their 100s. But if this taint has stuck to SRT, I think there’s reason, and anecdotal evidence. I don’t recall any other top stroke-player slowing down like SRT – not Jayasuriya, Anwar, Ponting, Sehwag, Watson, Sangakkara. This has been a peeve for me, despite my near hero-worship of SRT, for long – I remember discussing this with a friend in 1999. But yes, no comparative analysis exists.
Yes, India lost to Bangladesh due to a below-par score and inadequate bowling. But hasn’t bowling been our failing over the last few years? Along with fielding? Our bats have budgeted for that – our bats know they’ve got to bat out of their skins EACH time because the bowling is crap. The team knows this. Dhoni said as much many times during the WC – which India won with no bowling.
Pakistan bowling is much better than India’s, and also crazy – they can defend 150 and concede 350.
Bangladesh is lowly, in my view. A 138-ball 100 vs them on a subcontinental track is impressive only if you take the age of the batsman into account.
2) I don’t know to what question SRT answered: ‘I feel those who say you should retire at the top are selfish.’ I’d love to know that. But, in the context of questions over his retirement, and his often irritated responses, I think it’s natural to ASSUME he was referring to himself.
Again, I don’t know what the question was.
(The totally reliable Nagraj Gollapudi wrote ‘He said it would be “selfish” to make an exit when he was “on top” of his game.’
“I feel those who say you should retire at the top are selfish,” he said, “because when you are at the top, you should serve the country instead of retiring.”
BTW, I’m not a big fan of this “serving the country” business. I’m not sure if a sportsperson is serving his country in any way/ The context, clearly, was his own retirement. See this)
Yes, SRT clearly can contribute immensely. His two innings in Aus Tests show that clearly. But clearly, as he confessed, he was horribly bogged down by this MahaShattak bogey – did that screw up his and India’s two most important tours over the last 12 months? I suspect yes. And should he pick and choose tours to play? I think not, which brings us to …
3) Srikkanth and the other jokers. Do they have the balls to drop him? No. And what’s their job? Their job is to save their asses and continue to make work-free millions every year. Perhaps MK also believes this and knows the spineless selectors won’t drop him, or ask him to not pick games to play … it’s up to SRT.
And I’m not sure if SRT being turned into a marketing whore is a comment against the man per se. I think MK is more upset with the marketeers who’ve turned our greatest talent into a marketing tool … and have turned what may have been a good occasion to celebrate a landmark (whether you’re a MahaShattak believer or not) into a purely commercial exercise.