So, finally, we have it. The most important announcement the nation has been waiting for — far more critical than Na-Modi or Ra-Baba announcing their intentions to stand as prime ministerial candidates — is upon us.
The red smoke has been released from the cathedral of Sachin Tendulkar’s mind. All the quarrelling cardinals inside have finally settled upon a retirement date. I, for one, couldn’t be more glad. I feel overwhelming relief that the pain will finally, actually, end.
Let me try and explain. Imagine the following: imagine that Indian classical music — instead of developing organically within its own traditions — had now taken a route where electric instruments were standard, where voice-changing synthesisers, electronic sampling and random, computer-generated improvisations, digital alaps and taans, were the order of the day.
Some of it might sound quite brilliant, sure, but imagine that Amir Khan or Bhimsen Joshi were still performing, but surrounded and accompanied by all this. I don’t know about you, but I would want the maestro to retire; I would want the “new Classical” to have its own place and I would happily keep going back to listening to the old recordings of either khayal genius.
People will immediately punch shots through the huge gaps in that analogy. It’s undeniable that batsmen like Tendulkar, Jayasuriya, Inzamam, Klusener, Kallis and Afridi contributed to the mainstreaming of T20: “If he can do this in an ODI, let’s see what he can do in 20 overs.”
It’s undeniable that ST has been as much of a marketing phenomenon as a cricketing one; his performances and popularity created all sorts of previously unseen scoring shots for the ad guys, and it’s no surprise that now a whole mini-series seems to have been created to give him a send-off.
It’s also undeniable that in the ODI World Cup we finally won (oh, feels like decades ago) and on a few other recent occasions, Tendu the team man synched perfectly with much younger players to bring us Indians great joy.
Nevertheless, it’s impossible to get away from the feeling that you’re watching some strange admixture bubble and boil. Especially after the departure of Dravid and Laxman, it’s almost as if Tendulkar and Dhoni and Co have been playing in different, parallel teams, teams with the same aim of winning, sure, but like two very different YouTube links running simultaneously.
Or like seeing one of those movie sequences where everything is in black and white except for a single red flower or yellow cup in the middle of the frame, except in this case it’s Tendulkar who stands out in glorious black and white while everything else is in lurid, neon colours.
Watching Tendulkar play, your mind immediately goes back to the old great teams we produced, the ones to which he was central; watching the younger India players you find yourself wondering just how these kids would fare without their Daddy.
Also, while Tendulkar and his team-mates may not have felt this at all, it feels like too much energy has been deployed towards the great man’s elongated exit path. When will he score big again? When will he get his hundredth hundred; will he ever get it? Will he ever again dominate a leading bowler in a formidable side, an Anderson, a Swann, a Steyn?
Sure, as I wrote at the beginning of the year, many of us have a fantasy shopping list: the missing hundred at Lord’s, revenge for the 4-0 whitewash in England, a series win in Australia, no matter how weak their team, and so on.
But, now that Sachin has announced an exit date, all that falls away without too much trouble. The huge mountain of achievement, the great battles lost, the ones almost won and the ones won emphatically are what dominate the soon-to-be-completed picture.
What also remains is the other question. Is there life after death? Is cricket possible after Sachin? Will it be possible for the many people like me who, of late, have only watched India play in the hope of seeing ST do something great again (like watching an old Ustad whose voice is going), to continue watching a game from which all other tastes seem to have been extruded?
Or will it be, that once this last trace of past greatness is gone, life and the game will renew itself with new combinations and excitements? Is it that we need to have Sachin sitting with his feet up in the posh viewers’ stands, or in the commentary-box, for a Pujara, Sharma or Kohli to forge a gripping new story?
Personally, I’m going to make sure I watch each ball that Tendulkar now plays in Test matches. I’m going to hope that the West Indians give us a hell of a fight. I’m going to hope that this includes them making life hot for the old Uncle-ji, but I’m also going to hope that Uncle-ji will triumph over a team worth triumphing over.
But in case this doesn’t happen, in case ST goes like Bradman, with a duck in his last innings, I’ll still be happy I watched the final playing moments of the greatest sportsman I’ve supported.