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Tendulkar : The best of them all - Sunil Gavaskar Column
Jan 01, 0001

Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Sachin Tendulkar are the three sportsmen in the world who stride their sport like a colossus having sent many a record tumbling and reset many benchmarks in their respective fields. They have dominated the sporting world and continue to be the cynosure of all followers’ eyes whenever they play and wherever they go. They have had challengers to their throne and there are some truly outstanding players in sport today, many of whom have taken up to sport, thanks to the inspirational deeds of these players. Roger Federer recently went past Pete Sampras’ record of winning the most majors in tennis and Sachin Tendulkar virtually owns all batting records in the game apart from the highest individual innings in Test and one-day cricket and Tiger Woods is just 4 wins away from joining Jack Nicklaus as the winner of most majors in golf.

Last week Woods came within inches of winning his 15th major. He was leading on the three days of the tournament and when Tiger goes leading into the last day he wins. At least he did till last week. He had a most horrendous round by his standards and that allowed a less known Korean Ye Yang to take the championship and deprive Tiger of his 15th major. So badly did Tiger play on the last day and so exasperated was he with his own golf that he ended up using the 'f' word and shocked not just those following him on the golf course but all those TV viewers who were avidly waiting for him to win his first major of the year. Tiger had missed most of last year with a knee injury that was thought at one stage to be serious enough to keep him out of the game for a long time. Some of his contemporaries may have nursed hopes that it would be permanent damage but that was not to be. He worked hard and came back and was thus desperate to make up for lost time. He went out of the British Open tamely and so in the last major of the year he was understandably keen to win so that he would not have a majorless year. He has been winning other tournaments so it is not as if he is playing badly and God knows the way he played on the first three days of the US PGA and opened up a lead for himself at the top of the leaderboard, it looked as if the trophy was signed, sealed and delivered to him since, with his past record, he had gone on to win when he went leading the table on the final day. It was almost like Tendulkar getting out in the 90s which is very rare indeed.

Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened where he simply lost the plot and though he ended runner-up that is not what he was aiming for. Great players are not happy with just performing, they want to end up winning. So the frustrations of that day’s play boiled over and the 'f' word appeared at the 17th hole where he had a chance to put pressure on Yang. However those who have been following the majors this year will have noticed that whenever Tiger has hit a bad shot he may not have used an expletive but he has chucked his club away or tossed it over his head in anger and frustration.

Roger Federer who is also uber cool when he is playing and even more with his looks was pictured smashing his racquet in an ATP tournament earlier in the year. He had cried after losing narrowly to Nadal in the Australian open and after that he was being beaten by players who would have never dreamt of taking a set off him even one year back. Federer was also looking to win the French Open and another major to go past Pete Sampras and suddenly he was losing to some unknown players. Thus the pressure started to build up and when he could not cope with it, the racquet got smashed. Of course now with the elusive French open in his bag and also the most majors in the tennis world as well as fatherhood he will be back to being the supercool guy the world of tennis loves.

That brings us to Sachin Tendulkar. Like Tiger Woods and Roger Federer he has set standards that are hard to match. Like Woods and Federer are expected to win every tournament they play in, the little champion is expected to score a century and more in every innings that he bats. The difference is in the numbers of those expectations. While both Woods and Federer have millions of fans all over the world, it in no way compares with the millions in India alone who worship the ground Tendulkar walks on and believe that their man can do no wrong. Unlike Woods and Federer whose houses and cars are safe even if they lose in the first round that is not the case for Indian cricketers who have found homes and properties destroyed by an angry crowd after they have not performed upto expectations.

It is under these pressures of expectations that Indian cricketers have to play and Sachin Tendulkar has more of these pressures than anyone else. Yet tell me if, in all these years of playing for India, there has been even one instance of Tendulkar losing his cool and swearing or behaving in a manner that has further aggravated the situation. There may have been the odd grimace when he has got a bad decision but nothing beyond that. His demeanour on the field and off it has been impeccable and exemplary and this despite the expectations of many more followers than those who follow Woods and Federer. It is not easy and I speak from some experience. That’s why in this era of Woods, Federer and Tendulkar, the little champion is the best of them all.

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