There is always a huge sense of loss and pathos when an icon walks into the sunset. Sachin Tendulkar’s exit from the game he lorded over for more than two decades was one such moment for the millions. The man himself has penned a detailed account of the journey from the moment he arrived in international cricket as also several others.
It is up to Soumya Bhattacharya here to analyse how this little, great man, who symbolised contemporary India’s story of growth, hope and change impacted the willow game. In a brilliant essay, Bhattacharya describes Tendulkar’s exit with a sense of history and perspective that is engaging.
The Tendulkar-legacy is too precious to be frittered away, and it is good news that a few of the young guns, led by the astounding Virat Kohli, are promising to deliver. However, in terms of sheer class and potential, it is only the Indian ‘test’ skipper who measures up to the demands that the exacting game makes on its purveyors. Kohli has the attitude, the flair and just the right amount of aggro to dominate the game, much as Tendulkar used to during his supremely divine early years. But if Sachin remained largely unaffected by all the glare and publicity that enveloped him, Kohli has to prove that he too is solidly professional and humble in adequate amounts to make the kind of lasting impact which the peerless Sachin had. The beauty of Sachin lay in the manner in which he, in spite of his patently middle class origins, came to grips with fame and fortune. Dhoni and Kohli are only reaping the benefits of what the distinguished quartet who served the Indian game in the golden era bequeathed.
The socio-economic background of most among those who can be categorised as stars reflects the changing class base of Indian cricket. Dhoni’s stupendous rags-to-riches saga has been commented upon at length, and Bhattacharya adds to the existing level of understanding in style. In terms of the transition that he represents, there can be few examples of the kind MSD represents. His cricketing attributes are almost as distinguished as his coming to terms with the material world, and he has unfurled a brand that will remain etched forever.
The same is most likely to be true of Kohli, who in an astoundingly short span, has transcended many a scale to now emerge as among the top three batsmen in the game in whatever format it is played in these days. He is likely to fulfil Martin Crowe’s prophesy that he is the chosen one after Tendulkar to determine the eventual shape of Indian cricket. Fine as his cricketing attributes are, one can only hope that Kohli also draws a cogent lesson from the Sachin saga vis-a-vis temperament and attitude and becomes as unflappable attitude-wise as the master blaster so uniquely was. As Crowe says, “ he (Virat) exudes the intensity of Rahul, the audacity of Virender, and the extraordinary range of Sachin. That doesn’t make him better, simply sui generis, his own unique kind… Kohli’s audacity is shameless,” writes Crowe as he extolled Kohli’s shot selection and style. On his day, he can carve out anyone, just as the great master immediately preceding him and other legends used to on a fairly regular basis.
However, after having had a peek at the marvellous Kohli, one does realise that his is a story, which is as yet too dramatic and effective to be scaled by any his contemporaries in the Indian team. As a matter of fact, to call several of the others (apart from Kohli who is to the manner born) ‘stars’ seems somewhat of a misnomer; Cheteshwar Pujara, who promised so much as a potential achiever in the Dravid mould, has had a rather forgettable time in recent months; Ajinkya Rahane is steady and compact and promises to be exceedingly useful, but what about the others? Indeed, men such as Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay, have so far been too inconsistent to compare with their skipper in the longer format of the game. Indian bowling is frankly too unimpressive to make India into the cricketing numero uno team which MSD and his men did for howsoever a short time.
Where then is the hope for the new stars? The Indian Premier League with all its vulgar trappings is spoiling the new set much faster than those who lived the golden era and prior to that. One hopes very much that the upcoming World Cup sees the Indian team in their elements, but that may smack of patriotism and affinity getting the better of cool headed analysis. Much as we are tickled by the at times remarkable élan and aplomb of the new ‘stars’, there is litlittle that can be said about the consistency in their career graph except for pointing out the anomalies therein. The great achievement of the post Gavaskar and Kapil Dev golden greats was their ability to transcend the barriers, which a rather denuded and barren domestic calendar left a player in. They were genuinely good and great precisely for that quality. Unfortunately, speaking for the present lot, only the captains courageous (the fading superstar MSD and the glittering one, Virat) have that true ability to transcend the kind of hurdles that competitive cricket at the highest level throws at you.
Bhattarcharya’s insights bring us close both to the intricacies of the game and the world of the Indian cricket fan, who is “always excitable, ever demanding and reserves the greatest heights and adulation” for the World Cup which will soon unfold. A defining moment beckons the Indian team as several new stars jostle for prime time attention soon.
The best thing about the book is its understanding and style, even when one feels that Bhattacharya has been too generous to some of those among the young guns who have yet to decisively leave their imprint. The Indian heart will hope that the optimism turns out to be right. The manner in which he has delineated the corporate influence on the game and his ability to be generally objective makes this a welcome addition to a shelf surely becoming crowded but whether all that is emanating has quality remains a matter of opinion.