March 30, 2006

Boos' who of Indian cricket will do well to learn from the Hayden riposte

By H Natarajan

Sachin Tendulkar is an apolitical person, but he sure must be empathizing with Sonia Gandhi. The Congress chief took the wind out of her opponent’s sails by quitting as Member of Parliament over the “office of profit” controversy. While others in the same boat clung to their seats for dear life, Ms Gandhi acted like an exemplary captain. But it was a ‘lose-lose’ situation. Had she not resigned, she would have been slammed as avaricious for power at all costs, and when she did what others would not, it was a “political stunt”!

Tendulkar’s predicament is similar to that of Mrs Gandhi. When he was struggling with fitness and form, they were baying for his blood, and when he opted out of the one-day series against England, he was accused of faking an injury to avoid the humiliation of getting dropped!

The two recent happenings in India reminded me of the fable involving an old man, his young son and a donkey. When the young boy was riding on the donkey, with the old man walking behind, the boy was criticized by onlookers for not showing reverence to an old father. The boy then chose to walk and asked the old man to ride on the donkey. Now the father was targeted for not showing consideration to a young boy. The confused father and his son finally carried the donkey. Now people accused them of being foolish when the donkey was meant for riding. The moral of the story: some people will criticize, no matter what. It’s the easiest thing to do.

This is why a lot of players do not to read what’s written about them in the newspapers. This why they mute the audio while watching cricket on TV during matches. Even if the commentary is by former team-mates, they feel it’s best to ignore rather than hear something unpalatable and mess up their equanimity. One such player is Tendulkar himself.

One can choose not to read the written word or mute the television audio, but how does one silence the booing of the brainless louts in the stands who masquerade as cricket lovers? The nation stood shamed when it booed someone who brought so much glory to our country, so much joy to our lives and who has stood as a paragon of role-model right through his flawless career. Is this how we treat our national treasure? If booing goes against the spirit of sports, then booing an icon like Tendulkar is nothing short of sacrilege.

Tendulkar’s back has taken the enormous weight of a billion Indian expectations, his shoulder has carried the country for 16 long years, and the elbow that creaks now, is from the wear and tear of bludgeoning the Akrams, McGraths, Warnes, Muralis and others. It would be foolish to write his cricketing epitaph; Tendulkar is no fool to hang around if he thinks his body is beyond repair for top class cricket. There is far too much pride in him to fritter away the immortality that he has earned over 16 years. No, Tendulkar is not a flawed genius like Mike Tyson.

Matthew Hayden would have been history had he not been picked for the final Ashes Test in September last year. His selection came in the face of fierce opposition. Hayden has since scored six hundreds, besides scores of 77, 87*, 90 and 94 – all, incredibly, in just last 10 Tests. Where are those people who thought it was time to put Hayden among the pensioners?

Tendulkar will not allow himself to be kicked out by the selectors. Obviously, he believes he still has in him to deliver, evidence of which was seen in Pakistan and at Mumbai. What is happening is only a crisis of confidence, something that can happen to anybody in any sphere of life. An alarmingly increasing number of people think otherwise. The maestro does not require a greater motivation than proving them wrong.

Of course, his intrinsic humility will prevent him from doing an Azharuddin when he finally does get that big score. Remember the time Azhar refused to acknowledge the crowds after scoring a hundred? It was payback time for him after heckled by them for a while. But Tendulkar, one can bet, will not resort to such methods. He knows there are still a large number of fans who have kept faith in him. It will be unfair to these fans if he has to treat all fans in general in a cavalier manner.

By all means one has to be objective about Tendulkar’s form, but there is absolutely no need to be vicious and caustic. Coach Greg Chappell would surely have spoken to Tendulkar, citing his own horrors. It was in the 1981-82 season that Chappell’s career touched a new low, when a 10 Test innings stretch yielded scores of 22, 0, 0, 6, 12, 0, 61, 7, 32 and 24 – a total of 164 runs at an average of 16. Few will remember that preceding the nightmarish sequence was a double hundred and he ended the lean trot with a score of 176. He went on to hammer four more Test hundreds, including 182 in his farewell innings in the 1983-84 season. Greats have their own way of shutting up critics and one must be careful before passing loose judgments.

Tendulkar’s run of scores - 16, 23 19, 14, 23, 26, 16, 28*, 4, 1, and 34 – is undoubtedly worrisome, but there is no need to be an alarmist. Tendulkar’s averages of 55.39 and 44.21 in Tests and ODIs respectively still look pretty. Nearly 500 international appearances, close to quarter of a lakh international runs, 74 international hundreds, 189 catches and almost 179 international wickets….gratitude and graciousness is the only we can say thank you to such a magnificent player - a jewel in India’s sporting crown. Let us not let him down when he needs our support most.

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