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By Suresh Menon
If you are lucky enough to have followed the career of Sachin Tendulkar, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, he stays with you. For Sachin is a moveable feast. Those of us who have followed him professionally will be grateful that he played in our lifetime. The late Peter Roebuck once said that whenever he felt low he only had to remind himself how privileged he was to be writing on the game when Tendulkar was playing it.
When the physicist Stephen Hawking was writing A Brief History of Time, his publishers told him that every equation he included in the book would halve the sales. In Tendulkar’s case, it is the reverse. Every well-known statistic, if not repeated, might make the reader uncomfortable. Yet, figures were only a small measure of the man; not irrelevant, of course, but of greater significance was the psychological effect of his batsmanship on the opposition.
Bowlers soon got used to seeing their best deliveries speed to the fence thanks to the mixture of science and art he brought to his batting. Sachin, the textbook batsman, showcased the range of orthodoxy while bringing an element of mischief to his innovations.
He was fiercely competitive – even off the cricket field. We once played a hectic game of table tennis while on tour (Sri Lanka, I think) and his refusal to give up in what was a friendly knockabout with a journalist was intriguing. I can’t remember who won, but I can recall the tension!
We had our disagreements, of course. A few years ago, I suggested that he should retire from one-day cricket to preserve himself for the longer game. “In 1946,” I wrote, “Don Bradman was 38 and in bad health. Fibrositis and gastric troubles plagued him. The English cricket team was in Australia (and) he had an offer of £10,000 to quit the game and write on the series. ‘If I played, the risk of failure was very great and the possible adverse effects on my business had to be considered. The financial reward for not playing was tempting,’ wrote Bradman.
“Nearly six decades later, the man Bradman saw as his successor, Sachin Tendulkar, is in a similar situation. An injured toe is beyond repair; his strained back continues to cause worry. And now the tennis elbow. No sane doctor will give him a clean chit. Tendulkar will have to choose. But in his case, the greater temptation is to play on rather than quit.”
The national magazine where this appeared gave the evocative but misleading title, ‘Endulkar’, and his fans erupted.
“Every morning when I wake up, I don't feel the same," Tendulkar had confessed. And quite the remarkable thing about this remarkable man was that he played on for almost another decade. The suppression of pain alone would make him special. That, and his obsession with batting that never once sagged. How did he motivate himself?
Yet however willing the spirit, the flesh has its limitations. In recent years, he had become a one-man corporate, supporting a cottage industry of marketing men, cricketing men, advertisers, journalists, hangers-on and television men whose families depended on him for their livelihood. It had begun to dim the halo over his head. And even now, it is unclear whether he jumped or he was pushed. I know that many players he respected had spoken to him, telling him he had nothing left to prove, that he sat on a peak all by himself. His heart must have told him, said Rahul Dravid, with whom he played 146 Tests.
I last spent a day with him in Mumbai some three or four years ago. We spoke of the match-fixing days of 1999-2000; he was forthright, but in the end requested that I not write about it.
We played a parlour game. I would name a venue, date and opposition – and he would immediately respond with his individual score, the match result and how he was dismissed. He never got a single detail wrong.
He signed a photograph for me with a personal message – and one for my son too, whom he had met as a little boy. It is one of only three photographs on the wall before the table in my study. There is one of the artist Matisse working on a sculpture propped up on his bed in his last days. The other is signed by Don Bradman. I have found that combination of sporting greatness and artistic passion appropriate. The qualities came together in Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.