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G Rajaraman - Keep the Faith

My favourite story of Tendulkar was almost a decade back and it told me a  thing or two about the man

Friday, October 17, 2021
What a journey and what a man!

In the beginning there was just an intense dream. And, of course, there was faith that the dream could be realised. Back in 1989, when he made his Test debut against Pakistan, he was a wiry lad, eminently gifted and confident. The 35-year-old now sits on top of Test cricket's charts as the greatest run-scorer in its history. He has lived the dream every moment. Along the way, he spawned, fuelled, stoked, encouraged and inspired others to dream as well.

What a journey and what a man!

On Friday, even when Sachin Tendulkar turned Peter Siddle to third man for three runs and ventured into unchartered terrain, he was showcasing a remarkable intensity, a quality he has not allowed to flag even one bit. When his partner in a stirring fightback, Sourav Ganguly turned down a plea for a third run, there was an intensity in his "C'mon yaar" reaction.

He has remained intense while adjusting to changing environs of the dressing room with great comfort. There have been many who came to the Test side after him and have faded away. From being a little teenager to being the senior statesman in the squad, he has accepted the changing roles and evolved. He has stayed intense when, despite the growing years, he is thinking a step ahead of the bowlers. Of course, all batsmen make mental preparation. But when you can read the bowlers as well as Tendulkar does, you can find fruit over a number of years.

Till the time his body started complaining, Tendulkar radiated an unadulterated joy with his Viv Richardsesque approach to batsmanship. The first signs of trouble came during the knock of 136 against Pakistan in Chennai in 1999 when his back caused him trouble. A defensive and watchful approach seemed to take over his mindset and accumulating runs was paramount.

I have often said that Tendulkar has shifted gear – deliberately, it would appear – to be an accumulator rather than aggressor that he was in the first decade of his wonderful career. With a set of wonderful batsmen around him like Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ganguly, he has had the chance to determine his own role.

But none of that has diminished the intensity he brings to the table.

My favourite Tendulkar story – and I will never tire of relating this – is more than a decade old. I was interviewing him for the first time during a match at the Lal Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad and I remember asking him what was uppermost in his mind when he scored a century – happiness or satisfaction. He took his time and told me that the two things were different states of mind.

"I am allowed to be happy when I score a century because it is a milestone but if I allow myself to be satisfied, I am denying the facts that I may have edged a few deliveries or may have been beaten or mistimed a few shots in the innings," he said. "Satisfaction is like engaging the handbrake in a car and hoping the vehicle would move forward."

He could not have given a better expression to his hunger for excellence. It was a great lesson in living. He has given Indians – and everyone else – many wonderful moments. Not only to celebrate them but also to ruminate on some of those in our moments of solitude and reflection.

On Friday, as the helmet came off and he looked heavenwards, it was clear that he was having a private moment with his late father, Prof Ramesh Tendulkar. Each time he does this, he reminds me of the first time. There was a lump in the throat as one saw him make his way to the crease at the fall of a wicket in Bristol in May 1999.

He had returned to bat for India from Prof Ramesh Tendulkar's funeral. His innings against Kenya under grief and stress was reminiscent of Raj Kapoor's wonderful performance in the lead role in Mera Naam Joker. Aware of his mother's death, the protagonist in the movie wears a pair of dark glasses to hide his tears from the world as he entertains the audience under the big tent.

Tendulkar could not even shed tears in public. And, when he reached the century, he gave one of my most poignant moments in many years of watching cricket. It seemed like he was locked in a brief and private conversation with his baba, his dear baba. "This one is for you, baba," he seemed to say as he looked up heavenwards.

Indeed, no one cricketer has given so many people around the world such unadulterated joy as he has, taking them along on a remarkable journey. No one batsman has caused such jaw-dropping awe among rival bowlers as the little big man. No one causes the air to be filled with so much electricity that can bathe more than a whole stadium in glorious light as consistently at the little big man. Sachin Tendulkar.