I know this is slightly off the charts in terms of relevance, but this feeling of revulsion seems to come to me once every couple of years when Sachin Tendulkar decides that he needs to do something different to ensure that the fortunes change India. And lo, people start talking about how he has lost it completely, not noticing that something's changed positively. And this feeling is back again. Since I am sick of typing up the same thing, I just decided to repost this on the blog.
(Originally written on March 12, 2002)
During the last few years, I have not missed reading an article about cricket in magazines that have nothing to do with sport. I have all the issues (with covers related to cricket) of a particular news magazine that was on the forefront of the match fixing allegations, a couple of years ago. Basically I find it interesting to read these articles because these magazines do not have anything to do with cricket and so one can get some stuff from other angles. But most of the time I have found that such articles have a common thread. A partisan attitude is evident (barring some good pieces). But it is a truth universally acknowledged that a public in possession of a bad cricket team must be in want of a scapegoat (with due apologies to Jane Austen). However it is still surprising that they have chosen the best in the team for this purpose. And if you notice all these pieces of criticism have come, not from cricketers (or former cricketers), but from people who’s connection to cricket is not evident, at least to the casual reader.
So I have tried to put across a coherent reply to one of the common points raised by such articles… “Is Sachin, an all time great?” A general feeling around the media and some sections of the Indian public, is that Tendulkar, for the greater part of his career, has failed to deliver for his team when they need him the most. And a number of instances have been quoted where we were near and yet so far. These views go as far as indicating that the tag ‘chokers’ that the Indian team has earned in the last few years is because of one man alone. At least that’s what I could surmise…
The one major fact that these people have always overlooked is that there have been many a knock where he has done his bit (rather, almost the whole thing) and India has failed to win because the other ten failed to do their job. I am not a stud with statistics, but what better example to come up than the Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1998-99. This match is quoted by one and all as a prime example to illustrate the ‘fact’ that Sachin is not what he seems to be. In that particular match, Sachin was fighting severe back spasms and was the 7th batsman to get out for a score of 136. This, after the last recognized batsman Nayan Mongia had got out (just about 5 overs previously) with a shot that was deemed irresponsible by one and all. With just one batsman to follow and back spasms racking him, he just had to hit out and go for the finish rather than taking a single and exposing the other batsman to Akram & Co. He got out after hitting Saqlain for 10 runs of the first 3 balls. Even though only 17 runs were required ("only" is not the word to use when Saqlain and Akram are bowling, but nevertheless) India lost all 3 wickets in scoring only 6 runs in the process. Tendulkar was going for the victory and had scored most of the 37 runs in just 5 overs after Mongia's dismissal till he got out. And of the rest of the 10 members of the team only Dravid (10) and Mongia (52) got to double figures. What happened to the other 8 ?? Ganguly got a bad decision (bad is a word that does not convey the enormity of that umpiring slight) , but then.... Tendulkar's innings (even though the finishing was not there) was invaluable when u see the scorecard. We would just not be discussing this match if it were not for the scores of the other batsmen in the team. In fact, Akram recently said in a TV program that the Chennai test was one of the best Test matches he had ever played.
And surprisingly some (including this article by C.Rammanohar Reddy) have compared him with Andy Flower at his best. This reveals another basic flaw. While, on the outset, it is probably fair to dismiss the Zimbabweans as a one-batsman team, the team is full of dangerous floaters (as Douglas Marillier and Travis Friend have amply demonstrated last week!) all of whom are capable of 30's and 40s in any given day. And they do get these runs regularly. So the "exceptional average" of 84.5 % (which he had a couple of months ago) would lose some sheen if you look at the scores of the other batsman. I am sure you would find the above-mentioned 30s and 40s supporting the hundreds made by Flower to the maximum. So it’s unfair to use statistics as a tool to evaluate Tendulkar. Sidhu might be partly right with his "Statistics are like miniskirts, they reveal more than what they hide" statement. But sometimes the hidden stuff makes compulsive reading and convinces us that the open stuff is all hogwash. And maybe the question that has been posed is answered by the usual view that these people put across. "Given his prowess, Sachin does not seem to be able to set up a victory as often as he should". Where are the other batsmen to sometimes finish what he started? Please….. Cricket is just not a one-man game. If you don’t have another batsman to take guard opposite you, then you cannot even bat. This is not street cricket where sometimes all the players get to bat. I hope every Indian fan realizes this and does not get into any conclusion of this kind. Sachin is just the major piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is the Indian team. Only when all the pieces fall into place, will India win.
Accountability is another factor that the Indian public and more importantly, the team and the selector need to understand. They should understand that “no member is bigger than the team” and that includes Tendulkar too. I think he has realized that. His decision to relinquish the captaincy stems from the realization that he cannot cope up with the kind of hassles that a captain has to face and then perform of the field too. But again this has been held against him too. So what more are we going to hold him responsible for? The Babri masjid issue?
So let's not blame Tendulkar for not making “match-winning” scores. The difference between winning and losing lies in playing as a team and not as a collection of individuals. And if someone says that Tendulkar is responsible for not the team not winning, even though he has had good stints at the crease, then he cannot be more wrong. If one batsman's score alone would win a match, I am sure India would be the only unbeaten team around, cause from his first Test to the latest, he has done his bit and would continue to do so until he feels he cannot. Then he will gracefully get off the bandwagon and let India rue the day they doubted Sachin's