What Sachin Tendulkar means to me…

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Sachin

So it has happened eventually. Sachin Tendulkar has announced that he will no longer play international cricket after the 2nd game against the West Indies, which will also be his 200th test match. A lot has been written since the announcement was made with articles ranging from favorite moments of his career to what he means to the game of cricket. There have also been folks saying that he left his retirement a little too late and that he might have diminished his legacy to the game in the process. Opinions of course, are always many,

I’ve been doing some thinking on my end for a while now, trying to figure out what Sachin has meant to me over the years he has played cricket. I consider myself an absolute fanatic for cricket, a glutton for the test version, and a fierce supporter of the Indian cricket team. I have the capacity of blocking out all criticism even in the worst of times and look forward to watching the team play again, and again and again. And above all, I want to see Sachin play, That is probably something i can do for hours, whether its re-runs or a live game. Consider this a disclaimer.

As a kid, I was a bigger fan of playing cricket than of watching it. My father, from who i have inherited almost all of my cricket sense had these favorite cricketers, who obviously also became my favorites. I had not seen them play much, but because i was told that they were great, i went with that. Then one fine day, i saw a 16 year old kid playing an exhibition match against Pakistan tonking the great Abdul Qadir for consecutive sixes over his head, allegedly at some provocation from the spinner. Exhibition match it might have been, but that was the beginning of my obsession with Sachin Tendulkar.

No longer did i need any cricketing hero thrust upon me based on an opinion. I now had a hero of my own, and that relationship established on that very day, still lasts. There have been many great cricketers who have represented India since then, but my obsession with Sachin has been a constant factor. Last few days have given me the opportunity to reflect on why he has been such an inspiration for me, for people of my generation and probably for a few others who may never acknowledge it.

Back in the 90s, when winning was more of a bonus for the Indian team and under performance the norm, Sachin Tendulkar stood out like a rock. Not only did i look forward to watching him bat, somewhere deep down i knew that he was the only one who could get the job done.  Most of those times, i found myself praying that he takes us home, fingers crossed or palms folded, sometimes even sneaking a little prayer in the prayer room. Well, those were the days.

10 odd years down, things changed with my life. There was college, and then a job and many more jobs. I started to understand life a little more than when i was a kid. There was economics, politics, infrastructure and so much more to get involved with. Everything seemed to have an impact on me, and on people around me.  There were too many things to bog me down, too many distractions, too much negativity and too many opinions about how to get everything right. The sense of focus i had when i started, seemed to get mixed up in just trying to soak in all these opinions which led to confusion, and at times frustration too. I found it easy to blame others, and give up on a lot of things that held value for me before i started caring about someone else’s opinion on it.

All this while i found it hard to understand how Sachin Tendulkar continued to perform at the highest level so consistently almost every time he took the field. What was it that motivated him to come time and again to the field with the will to score more and more runs. How was he able to handle all the criticism, sometimes extreme, from his fans, team mates, commentators or for that matter anyone who had never held a bat, and still have the mindset to come back to the field and score a hundred. He had the expectations of a billion people to deal with and the same billion had a hard time dealing with his failures, but he still continued to do what he set out to. I, on the other hand was finding it hard to deal with criticism from my boss, sometimes even a peer and was spending a lot of energy fighting with irrelevant things that blanked out the goals i was striving for.

So what does Sachin Tendulkar really mean to me? To me, Sachin is a template for life. He is an example of someone who made a determination long back that he wants to bat and score runs, and never ever stopped trying to achieve that. He failed, fell down, got injured, picked himself back again and went about making his determination come good. Like i mentioned before, there was a time when he was the only one who looked capable and motivated enough to pursue victories for India. Everyone else was hoping to do well, or accepting the fact that the team is not good enough to win. But Sachin was making it happen. Almost alone. I would imagine a lot of us giving up or accepting mediocrity as a way of life in such circumstances, but he did not. He wanted to win…he wanted to do well and he did it, even if no one else in the team bothered.

Above everything else that he has achieved, the fact that he battled adversity, ranging from average team mates to folks who were actually trying to lose, to sharp criticism from his fans or the media, and never ever complained ‘why’ he was in the middle of it all, stands out as a quality worth having. We face almost similar situations in our life everyday. The path we choose when such a situation arises defines who we will be in the future. Sachin defined his destiny by rising up to such challenges and winning over them. We have a lot to learn from him, the humble, quiet champion of the game who has given us some of the most memorable cricketing moments in the past 20 years.

Once more this november, i’ll look forward to the adrenaline rush i always have in my stomach when Sachin comes out to bat. Once more i’ll pray for his success. One last time. Brace yourself folks.

Thank you Sachin. Thank you very much.

The Lords of the Kings…

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The champions of the world

There are times when a few of my ‘not so cricket crazy’ friends ask – “How can a sport be so important to a country that it stops people from going to work and almost brings the entire nation to a halt”. I usually respond with a smile, frankly because i have no clue to the answer myself. Since i was a young boy, probably 6 years old, i have had this crazy obsession with the game, which has not faltered a bit, in spite of the trials and tribulations that Indian cricket has been through.

When i was young, my father used to tell me stories about the 1983 world cup – how the team qualified for the finals against all odds, and then how he turned off his radio set after India’s innings and then could not help himself and switched it on again and found India on the brink of a famous famous victory. The glint in his eyes and the expression on his face while narrating the story – priceless!!

Here is the thing with stories though, especially the unbelievable ones. If you have been a part of that story, and have witnessed it, you feel like telling it over and over again, and the spark in your voice never dies down. You want everyone to realize the importance of the moment when you witnessed a great thing happen, and you never get tired of it. On the contrary, if you were only 2 years old when the phenomenon happened, and have no memory of it, you would grow up looking for such a story around you and try to be a part of something that can be shared for generations to come.

My such moment has come…On April 2nd’2011, at around 11:00 pm in the evening, I was sitting with my hands folded and a prayer in my mind, in front of the television set, when the captain of the Indian Cricket team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni the magnificent, used the pretty version of the much hyped “helicopter” shot to dispatch Nuwan Kulasekara over the long on boundary for a six. A special six that was too, for it won India the Cricket World cup, a moment that entire country had been waiting for. I shouted, hugged my wife, danced, and almost cried with excitement. The story I was looking for was here, and no one could have taken that moment from me for I was there, I witnessed it, I saw my team win the cricket world cup. Unbelievable feeling.

The wait was well worth it. The scenes of jubilation, the tears of joy in the eyes of the players, the hugs, the shouts, the fist pumping, the cheers from the Mumbai crowd, the victory lap, the lifting of the trophy, the flowing champagne…aaah…indeed the wait was well worth it…

I’ll keep it short and not write about the various moments of the game, the ups and the downs and so forth, because they are already permanently etched in our minds for the rest of our lives, but there were a couple of moments from the after match celebrations that just blew me away:

1. When Sachin Tendulkar was asked about his 22 year long wait before he could actually lay his hands on the ultimate prize, he said “22 years haan…I dint give up, did I??” Awesome awesome…everyone can take a cue from the great book that Sachin Tendulkar is.

2. When Virat Kohli was asked about the gesture of carrying Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulder around the stadium he replied “He has carried the burden of Indian cricket on his shoulders for 21 years, the least we can do is carry him on our shoulders”. Take a bow Virat Kohli…you are awesome.

There are lords of the game and then there kings of the game…but I can proudly say that the Indian cricket team has proven themselves to be the “Lord of the Kings”. The ultimate prize is ours, the ultimate feeling is ours…thanks Team India…we are immensely proud of you.

And now as i go back to basking in the glory of the victory, something that i have not been able to get over yet, probably wont get over it anytime soon, i have only one thing to say  to the folks not yet around- “Be ready kids – daddy has a story to tell!!”

(Photo courtesy Cricinfo.com)

Its fingerlickin good!!

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It sure is…30 days into the cricket world cup, we will now witness the real deal. The quarter finals are decided and India will be playing the not so mighty Aussies on the 24th Of March…National holiday anyone? Be there, glued to your TV screens wherever in the world you are; as they say “more power” to the men in blue, and you will all be needed to channel your energies for the game.

All in all, the eight teams expected to be in the quarters are eventually there. Some like England, have peaked with the better teams and proven their worth, while others like WI have gone in with no so many credentials having only beaten teams ranked below them. The fact is that each game in the quarters, given that its a knock out, will be a very different ball game. The pressure will be different because the stakes are the highest now.

Ah…i still cant believe that India is playing Australia in the quarters. In the game against the WI, when the opposition was almost running away with the games, eyebrows were raised on whether India did not want to face Australia in the quarters and hence are not performing to their fullest. Painful, as it was to watch WI dominate the game for the first half of their innings, frankly speaking Indian bowling has been pretty much the same all throughout this world cup. The problem I guess is with the mindset that a team ranked below us will not be able to beat us under any circumstance, a fact that was proven wrong by Bangladesh in the last world cup. So instead of doubting our team and our players, we should enjoy the game as it stands.

Coming back to the game against WI, i was quite keen on seeing India match up with the Australians. Come on now…An opportunity to knock the Aussies out of the world cup at an early stage has not come that often, and that too under home conditions. Of course, whats added fuel to the fire has been the Australia vs Pakistan game. The Ricky Ponting caught behind must be the most embarrassing moment of his career. It would be almost foolish to assume that Mr. Ponting had the fancy thought that the Pakistan team wont go to the third umpire for the dismissal, and that probably speaks much of his current condition. In that one instant though, UDRS convinced me of its usefulness. It will probably still be debated much, and will still produce occasional controversies, but there is no doubt that it will discourage folks like Ponting from trying to improve their batting form at any cost.

If any of you folks watched the Aus-Pak game, you would have also have heard the Ian Chappell rant against Shahid Afridi’s celebratory posture and almost everything about the Pakistan team in general. Its not unusual to see Australians start to point fingers on totally non relevant things, when losing, but Chappell’s commentary was almost close to total nonsense. As far as i can remember the Australians have tried every trick in the “How to play dirty cricket” book to win games, and although several Pakistan players have contributed to maligning the reputation of their team, it seems funny to hear an Australian complain about postures on the field. Its called gamesmanship when an Aussie does it, “friendly banter” in the expert’s language, but when someone else does it to them, definitions change. Funny, but not surprising, coming from the Aussies.

The other great debate that has sprung up in the last couple of games has been ‘to walk or not’ if the umpire does not give you out, but you know you are. Sachin Tendulkar walked, when the umpire did not give him out, and numerous TV replays could not confirm if he had nicked the ball. On the contrary, Ricky Ponting did not, argued with the fielders, the opposition captain, and then had to leave the field because the TV replays clearly showed that he had nicked the ball. A lot of my friends and people i know have made this instance into a glorification parameter for Sachin. I disagree on this subject a bit. For starters, Sachin Tendulkar now needs no comparisons with any Ricky Ponting or anyone else to prove his credentials and greatness in the game. Lets leave it to the people who still dont agree with his greatness do the stupid talk and then just laugh at them. I guess that’ll be sufficient. Secondly, i believe what Sachin did, goes on to prove that you need to keep improving as a cricketer. He may have walked or not when there was no UDRS, but with the system in place all you are counting on is a blind person in the third umpires seat to not give you out. I guess thats what Ricky Ponting hoped for; unfortunately for him though, it was he who was made to look like a joker at the end of it.

The Australia-India game will be one hell of a cricket match, given the history of these teams, and the sweet relations they share with each other. I can only hope that India brings their A game on the game day. It will be sufficient; anything less than that wont do…Fingers crossed!!

20 Saal baad…[bhi]

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While everyone showers much deserved praise on Sachin, and while all the television channels go absolutely berserk showing his interviews and supplementing them with popular bollywood songs like “Baar baar haan(courtesy Lagaan)”, I thought I would write my own view point on the master- the man who seems to have a personal connection with every Indian whether he is on the field or off it, the man who has for the past 20 years re defined the art of batting, the man who has given a country much deprived of heroes someone to look up to, and the man who continues to shoulder the burden of more than a 100 million people and still does an awesome job at it. Sachin Tendulkar – You are a true genius.

I am writing this on the day when there are reports of some people being upset about Sachin calling himself an Indian first and then a Marathi. The reasons for creating an issue out of Sachin’s statement are best known to these people, but the fact that this news is being run on all the television news channels tells me that they were able to do what they wanted to. And of course, in terms of numbers, the moral brigade does so much better than Sachin will ever be able to…The number of buses burnt down by them would definitely be greater than Sachin’s one day runs, the count of public property vandalization might actually exceed his test runs, and obviously the number of Sachin’s tons are no where close to the number of laws these self proclaimed protectors have broken…so yeah, obviously they understand the marathi psyche much better than Sachin does…duh!!

Crap apart, my first memories of Sachin are those of him hitting Abdul Qadir for I don’t remember how many sixes, after Mr. Qadir allegedly said that this kid can’t do much against him (he was apparently hitting the bowler at the other end as well). Champion born? Thats what I thought with the very little cricket acumen I had then…but then I wasn’t wrong, was I?

Sachin has been entertaining the cricketing world since that day. I don’t think a blog post is enough to count the number of absolutely brilliant innings he has produced in this time. Whether its the innings when he opened for India in ODIs against New Zealand for the first time, or his brilliant test hundreds on his maiden Australia tour; whether its the awesomely cool last over that he bowled in the Hero cup semis when all was lost, to the ultra majestic desert storm double whammy in Sharjah, its been one heck of a ride.

Whats so special about him that makes the entire nation smile when he is on song and also makes them cry when he gets out? Why do we not feel the same kind of emotion for someone else in the team? The answer is the charisma of Sachin, his masterful batting along with his impeccable character, his almost untouchable pureness…years of batting, of facing criticism from the idiots (read “the so called television experts”) as well as some of his peers, of public scrutiny, and of the ups and downs in his own career haven’t been able to tarnish anything in him. He is still the same, the greatest sportsman of India and still as humble as he was when he started. But what defines Sachin more than any of this is the way time comes to a standstill when he goes out to bat, the way people fold their hands, close their eyes, and pray as hard as possible so that he scores yet another hundred. My personal best has been switching the TV off and going in an empty room praying with almost tears in my eyes that Sachin leads India to victory. This is what he does to India when he bats…that’s the magic of Sachin…at least for me…

There isn’t any doubt that it will not only be difficult but almost close to impossible to replace him when he decided to quit…but until he does so, can I just make a humble request to all the self proclaimed cricket experts on the zillion TV channels – Please shut the frick up and let us enjoy…let us enjoy the cricket of the man India is proud of.

Thank you Sachin for whatever you have done for cricket in India…take a bow.

Quick update: I cannot believe that NDTV is running a campaign called “Do you agree with Sachin’s sentiments”…Why do our news channels even bother publicizing such crappy news…un-fricken-believable.

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