Archive for January, 2012


My son and a few others think my comments against Sachin Tendulkar are ill-timed and smack of ignorance. Every time I say Sachin should now thinking of retiring, at least from Tests there is a storm of protest from home and from some of my students. He seems to have become the latest ‘holy cow’ and no one can speak a word against him. It’s like he should be allowed to play on undisturbed as long as he wants, even if the other ten are sacked and even if the team slips from one defeat to another! It’s almost as if cricket is not a team game but something invented for one man! I do wish our cricket fans would grow up.

Heck, I admire Tendulkar just as much as the next cricket fanatic and unlike a lot of youngsters who have only seen him play in the last decade or so, I’ve been following his game since he was 14, when he made his debut in school cricket and I avidly followed the natural progression of his game when he stood up to Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Abdul Qadir in his first series against Pakistan in 1989.

As I watched the cherubic faced kid taking guard my heart was in my mouth and my fingers were crossed. He had to succeed, I kept saying to myself, because, even then I believed, as a 16-year-old he was God’s gift to Indian cricket. Never has a player been born with such class, charisma, talent, at least not in my lifetime. Yes, there was Sunil Gavaskar, who I sometimes considered a notch above Tendulkar, if only for his phenomenal concentration. Maybe I am biased because Sunny Gavaskar’s exploits were a part of my life, as I grew up, and Sachin came along when I was already four years into my profession.

And, like every any other Indian, I too celebrated every time Sachin scored a century. That’s all I ever wanted him to do, because for me, that’s what he was best at. I watched him roll off ton after ton from his ‘Big Bertha’(Clive Lloyd had given his bat that name and people believed Sachin’s bat was as heavy, if not heavier than Lloyd’s).

In 1994, I got up at 4 am to watch him open the innings for the first time in a one-day match at Auckland, and play an innings what I and a million others, who were lucky enough to watch, believe was one of the finest one-day innings ever played. Tendulkar scored 82 off 49 balls with 15 fours and 2 sixes. Commentators said it was a chilly, blustery morning, with the wind swirling around and the ball swinging dangerously, but this kid played an innings that quite simply took everyone’s breath away.

Those who partnered him that day at Auckland – Jadeja, Kambli, Azharuddin and Manjrekar – were mere spectators as the fireworks from his bat sent a message to bowlers around the world. Here was a batsman, after Bradman, Sobers and Richards they had to fear and respect. I remember reading about some of the Australian players who were watching the match from home who said they had NEVER seen an innings like that played in a one-day match. It was acknowledgment from the best of one already a genius at 21.

I also remember his innings of 119* in England in 1990, a few years earlier as he took India to an honourable draw at Leeds. “Schoolboy defies England” screamed the British newspapers. It was pure magic, and the snooty British press that normally drips acid against anything that isn’t as English as them, waxed eloquent about the 17-year-old schoolboy. He was everybody’s darling.

I also watched him on television scoring back-to-back hundreds against Australia in Sharjah in 1998, that experts believed were two of the greatest one-day knocks played. There too a sandstorm threatened to blow the match away and the Australian bowlers were looking to do the same to the Indian batsmen – until they ran into Tendulkar. Suddenly the Aussies had lost their swagger. For India it was a do-or-die effort and a millions hearts must have stopped beating that day when Sachin took guard. He bludgeoned his way to 143 and 124 in successive matches and won the Cup for India. The Australians were left shell-shocked. They acknowledged that they had been beaten by a champion batsman and not by a team. And there were so many such innings like that, each a masterpiece in its own way, which only Tendulkar could play.

Cut to the present. I see him struggling to get his hundredth hundred, struggling against newcomers, struggling to make scores that he would have virtually made in his sleep. Those bowlers who would have been in awe of him, had they bowled against him a decade ago, were actually talking about getting him out now and quite openly saying they could.

So now when I say he should leave now, and I hear, “Why should he quit, when he’s scoring?” I want to tell these people that this is not the Tendulkar I want to remember. I don’t know what you think but watching the great man in the last year has, except for the occasional flourish, been a painful experience. I watch him struggling to get his feet moving or out of the way against bowlers who actually believe they can get him out. They seem to have figured out his weaknesses and are quick to exploit them. It’s ok to score double centuries at home on wickets which are made to order, but it’s another story on wickets abroad.

I want to remember Sachin as the greatest batsman alive. Sure, he can still get his 70s and 80s. If he can still do that it is proof of his greatness, that he is still a cut above the rest. But is that how we want to remember him? Just another batsman who is happy pulling his weight and adding to his tally of runs?

Maybe you do, but I don’t.

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I’ve just finished reading ‘JS and The Times of my life’ by journalist Jug Suraiya. Coming close on the heels of Vinod Mehta’s ‘Lucknow Boy’ I expected a lot of interesting stuff about how the world’s largest media group functions and a lot of other insider stories. There is but not that much. As he says, “Those who seek hiss-and-tell stories, scandals and secrets exposes, skeletons in closets, should look elsewhere.”

He also says, right in the beginning, that he isn’t too sure about dates and places. How can one write one’s memoirs which are basically footnotes through one’s life and career and be foggy about dates and places? He himself says he’s never managed anything in his life so he doesn’t know what to do when he becomes editor of the Sunday Times of India. Anyway, ToI has always prided itself on the fact that it could run without an editor, so Suraiya didn’t have too many worries!

Apart from that, his account of the way Junior Statesman was born, run and abruptly shut down is touching and steeped in nostalgia. JS was a part of the Wonder Years and when it suddenly went the way it did, it left a vacuum. There hasn’t been another magazine like that in India since. Suraiya’s experiences while dealing with the owners and editors he worked with is insightful.

However, the feeling I was left with after reading the book is that he is basically someone who’s forever looking for a free ride. From a cigarette holder to a Scotch bottle, to an all expenses paid trip to get an award which he knew wasn’t worth it, to a company car – anything is welcome as long as he isn’t paying for it. Journalistic ethics are not really a high priority. I know the popular belief about journalists is that they’ll go anywhere where there is free booze and food, but to speak about it like it’s a major achievement, doesn’t say much for the profession itself or for the editor of the largest selling newspaper in the country.

A lot of people might call that being refreshingly honest, but to wrangle a ticket for his wife as well wherever he goes and be at parties because where, hopefully, Scotch is served? And this, while working for an organisation that makes a lot of noise about employees not accepting gifts – not even a box of sweets from PR guys during festivals!

Suraiya is a wonderfully humane and witty writer and his columns too are fun to read, and I’m sure all those who know him rather than know of him, think of him as the life of the party. Since I don’t know him, I have only his memoirs to go by. As he asks in the opening chapter Statutory Warning, “Why should you bother to read this book? I haven’t the faintest idea.”

I am asking myself the same question.