Monday, October 11, 2010

The burden of greatness

The entire country is currently going gaga over Sachin Tendulkar reaching the  milestone of 14,000 Test runs days after being awarded the ICC Cricketer of the Year Award at the ripe old age of 37. His form over the last 2 years has been nothing short of phenomenal and experts are bewildered by how even after two decades in the game can a man churn out runs from his bat with such enormity.

In a speech soon after he retired, Anil Kumble spoke about the difference between himself and Sachin Tendulkar. He said something along the following lines - Both Sachin and I made our debuts for India around the same time, 1989 and 1990 respectively. When Sachin appeared on the cricket scene, everyone know that an all time great was in the making. And when I started, everyone doubted my ability and thought I would not last long in international cricket. I have spent all my life proving people wrong, and Sachin has spent all his life proving people right.

The last line from Kumble reflects the burden on the man. Sahin Tendulkar has to prove to the world that he is truly the all time great that the world has expected him to be ever since his early days. In order to do that, he must reach heights that no other batsman has reached, or will reach in the future. I remember an interview which Sunil Gavaskar did with a young Sachin in the early 90's, where he said that Sachin MUST make 40 hundreds and score 15,000 runs in Test cricket before he retires. Sachin has long surpassed the 40 hundreds mark (48 and counting as of now), and is probably shooting for the 15,000 mark before he hangs up his boots. If he manages to reach the milestones of 50 hundreds and 15,000 runs in Test Cricket along with the 17,000+ runs and 46 hundreds (hopefully 50 by the time he stops) he has scored in ODIs, he would surely have set a mark that no other batsman will ever reach, much like Muralidharan's 800 Test wickets. With the T20 revolution sweeping the world, one can foresee the amount of Test and ODI cricket reduce in the future. This along with the fact that the batsmen of the future who will be brought up on the diet of T20 cricket, are less likely to have the technique and temperament to play long innings in Tests, will ensure that Tendulkar's records are never overtaken. Lara has the only 400 in Tests. Sachin knows that his 37 year old body will not allow him play an inning long enough to beat that mark (In the recent past, we have seen him cramp up whenever he plays a longish inning). But he has the 1st 200 in ODIs as an answer.

Back in 2007, many people thought that Tendulkar had played his last World Cup. There was no way he could last till the 2011 version. But as with all great men, the burden of greatness at times forces them to shoot for targets no one would try under normal circumstances. The ODI World Cup is one such target for Sachin. The greatest batsman in the modern generation does not want to retire without a world title under his belt. Hence, ever since 2007, Sachin's has played cricket with the single minded focus with being available for the 2011 World Cup. He knows that his body can no longer sustain the grind of non-stop cricket all round the year. Hence he takes calculated breaks from ODIs in order to let his body recoup. And his unbelievable run making streak over the last 2 years can also be attributed to the fact that he knows within that his cricketing days are nearing their end. Hence he wants to make the most of the final phase of his career, and go out on a high.

India's rise to the Number 1 position in Test rankings will also give Sachin great satisfaction. His aim would be to take India to the ODI World Cup title in 2011, after which he can retire with the satisfaction of taking his country to the top in both formats of the game. Bowing out of the game after a World Cup win will be the ultimate swan song for the legend. I have a firm belief that if India do go on to win the World Cup next year, Sachin will retire from all cricket right then. Even if India don't win, Sachin will definitely retire from ODIs. He may or may not play Test cricket for some more time.

In the recent past, there has been a trend for cricketers announcing their retirements beforehand and playing a farewell series in front of adoring fans. Saurav Ganguly, Shane Warne, Glenn McGarth, Steve Waugh have all done it. It would be fitting if Sahin too does the same. But I have a strong feeling that he would not. Any retirement announcement from him before a Test series will invariably result in a media and fan frenzy unseen in the history of the game. The outpouring of emotions from fans and the resultant media circus is bound to be so huge that it would undermine the team's focus from the cricket, and possibly Sachin's focus on his final few innings. And being the reserved person that he is, I am sure Sachin would not want that to happen. Hence, I am sure Sachin's retirement announcement will come as a bolt from the blue for his fans, after the conclusion of a series or tournament. I am also sure that he has decided the time when he would retire internally, but has kept it to himself or his close confidants, in order to avoid a media frenzy.

The millions of cricket fans of Sachin all over the world should cherish each inning that he plays these days, since these are the last few times they will ever get to see the great man bat.

Update (6th Jan 2011) -
When Tendulkar finished batting in the Cape Town Test against South Africa, he did something unusual while walking off the ground. He looked skywards. As all of his fans already know, Sachin follows the ritual of looking skywards and thanking the heavens after reaching major landmarks like 100s and 200s. But it was unusual to see him doing this when he is walking of the ground at the end of a Test match when his score was only 14 not out. This act was even picked up by the Cricinfo commentary.
The players shake hands with each other. Alviro has a chat with Tendulkar, who then has a look at the sun and walks away. 
Could this be an indication of something very significant? Could this indicate that Sachin has played his last test inning and intends to retire at the end of the World Cup of 2011? Here is the video of the event. Check 6.17.

No comments: