Tendulkar’s innings in Trent Bridge was stirring, writes Rohit Brijnath
There is no truth to the rumour that Sachin Tendulkar has mailed a videotape of his painstakingly-constructed, match-tilting, rudely-interrupted 91 at Trent Bridge to Kapil Dev, with the words “What was that you said about pressure, paaji?” scrawled across the package.
Tendulkar wouldn’t do that. Because he’s too polite. Because if he did, it would mean Kapil’s recent criticism had got to him. Because he’s heard this genius-who-can’t-win-matches stuff more often than Ganguly’s heard that “princely” nonsense which Western journalists imaginatively whip up every time they sight the Bengal player.
Kapil was just nimbly leaping onto a crumbling old bandwagon recently with his doubting of the extent of Tendulkar’s talent. After 37 Test centuries, and 11,000-plus runs, this “question mark” over Sachin is tedious. We can hurl stats, for and against the notion, at each other for 10 days running, but it’s hysterical to suggest that “Tendulkar should start taking the pressure”.
Has Tendulkar ‘not’ taken the pressure? Have these 18 years of staying sane and performing as a nation howls for runs been just, you know, a stroll in a Bandra park? Was all that rescuing of India, all those forgotten years ago, when opponents used to say, openly, “Get Tendu out and India’s shoulders droop”, no big deal? Damn, he ate a pressure for breakfast Tiger Woods would have choked on.
Time has flown
But this is partially Tendulkar’s fault. People forget the player he was because they see the player he is. Time has flown and his majesty in the mid-1990s unscrolls in the mind like a fuzzy, hiccuping videotape. The clearer picture is not of the warrior rising amidst a Sharjah dust-storm, but of a man being beaten outside off by a bowler he’d have once dismissed into retirement. The longer he looks mortal the more room he gives former players to unkindly dissect his legend.
Still, Tendulkar’s innings in Trent Bridge was stirring. It showed what he can’t do, but also what he can. If his command was absent, his discipline was priestly. His face told us nothing of the wars in his mind, for he is an old pro who gives nothing away. He was beaten, he took guard, he played on, pure in his mission, refusing to bend to an instinct to lash out.
India needed patience and, cocooned in concentration, he did not let India down.
How vital the century that never came was for him, how keenly he required the validation of three figures, was evident in his reaction. After 139 Tests, he is old friends with the dubious decision, but his innate courteousness has meant he swallows injustices and moves on. It’s the only way he knows how to play cricket. But this time he staged a gentle, two-second dharna of disbelief at the crease. An ageing hero, who is in the middle of that awkward journey when the next century is no longer a case of “when” but “if”, was hurting.
Tendulkar has not merely worn pressure, but done so with a quiet dignity. Indeed, an entire generation of players, from Dravid to Kumble, has ensured that India, for all its other cricketing excesses, has a reputation for on-field decency. And young Sreesanth must not be allowed to tarnish it. There is room in sport for the colourful and the eccentric but none for shoulder charging and constant mouthing off. It is no good if you can neither bowl, nor behave.
Hosts are confused
No doubt the English have shown the Indians inadequate respect, but it is because the hosts are confused. Some bizarre metamorphosis has occurred in the dressing room wherein the English now think they are Australian, and believe mental disintegration is achieved by throwing jelly beans on a crease. John Buchanan must be aching with laughter at England’s interpretation of aggressive cricket.
But it is immaterial if the hosts started the unpleasantness, for India must always demand a higher standard of itself. And only an insecure team needs to respond in kind just to prove that it won’t be pushed around. The only worthy response from India should come through a resolute performance, in refusing to disintegrate or be distracted. As England will confirm today, nothing stings quite like defeat.