A spurious achievement from an authentic hero. A fabricated excuse to first excoriate and then celebrate an exceptional man. Impatient cries of frustration seamlessly blending to tear-stained tributes.
Calls for his retirement merging into fervent pleas for him to receive the Bharat Ratna. Television channels screaming at him now screaming for him. Just another chapter in the story of a man called Sachin Tendulkar.
That is why the dominant emotion felt by most when Sachin got to that magic number yesterday was not joy but relief. What does it say about us when a milestone however constructed, evokes in us so much anger and cynicism and such little pleasure?
This was not always so; there was a time when Sachin made statistics beautiful. Where the numbers were merely a manifestation of our need to see tangible and verifiable proof that the genius we saw perform magic in front of us was in fact a bonafide great.
The boy genius did not disappoint us; no early burn-out, no death by tattoo, no seduction by fame or fortune, no great technical weakness that found him out, nothing but sustained brilliance over 23 years. One by one, milestones tumbled and we took pride in these certificates of superhero-dom, knowing that our real joy lay elsewhere.
When Sachin came out to bat, the world became a conspiracy of goodness. He seemed to know what our special anxieties were, what we feared and what we fantasised about, and he set out to give the dreams we did not dare to articulate to ourselves, as we watched him tame feared attacks and play out of a copybook that did not quite seem to be one any human being had previously laid eyes upon.
For the Indian fans, Sachin made cricket a religious experience and he was our child-God, slaying monsters and fulfilling dreams. Watching Sachin was an experience in purity, for in the early days, we were pure in our desire to just watch him play.
Then we got greedy. Having anointed him God, we now wanted him to do exactly what we wanted. Prayers became demands and worship became conditional. The game also changed as commerce and television converted cricket into a spectacle for the viewer, who demanded his money’s worth.
Now Sachin was an asset that had to deliver and one that we evaluated on a match-by-match basis – was he scoring enough centuries, was he scoring them fast enough and doing so in that special Sachin way we valued so much, was he leading the team to victory every single time, regardless of format, venue and kind of bowling attack.
When Sachin did well, we became more fulsome in our praise and when he failed, we started showing our disappointment with increasing venom. We imputed motives and discovered weaknesses. Every time another player did well, we were less interested in praising him and more in railing against our flawed God. In their success somehow lay some mysterious key to Sachin’s failure.
Through the course of the last few years, Sachin has become a site of manufactured expectations, a storehouse where we stockpile a nameless unexpressed rage. Even his 100th century has been a milestone we have imposed on him. Every game India has played since March 2011 has been consumed in reverse, from Sachin’s hundred downwards. We have put him before the game and then accused him of doing the same. It is interesting that what is allegedly a personal milestone has been effectively nationalised, and Sachin’s disappointment at not getting it so far has become wholly irrelevant; it is our anger and disappointment that is paramount.
Now that the hundredth hundred has come, the intemperate plaudits will follow. But these are hollow words from a hollow time. Sachin has not become great because of the 100th run he scored during the course of one afternoon in Bangladesh and certainly not because of the fact that the sum of the number of centuries he has scored in two very different formats of the game somehow adds up to three digits. We don’t need new words to describe his greatness, what we need are memories we already have. We all know what makes Sachin special, we all have felt this unreal connection we have with him, and we have all experienced the sense of awe and wonder when we see him play that we feel so rarely otherwise in our real lives.
Through this all, Sachin Tendulkar continues to pick up the bat as he tries in vain to quell the appetite that will neither sicken nor die. Through his different phases as a cricketer, through his less than successful tenure as captain, through India’s hours of glory and dog days, through his changes of bats, hairstyles and sponsors, Sachin has essentially wanted to do one and only one thing- to go out and keep batting.
He will not retire because he has scored his hundredth century, he has scored his hundredth century so that he does not have to retire. Not when there is still one more innings to play, one more run to get, one more victory to earn, and maybe, one more century to score.
The article Written By Santosh Desai.. from TImes of India