The male analysis of Sachin Tendulkar is a two-decade long confession of Indian men. When they speak of him, usually through pilfered opinions, they reveal fragments of their own fears and private grouses. So when a guy says that Rahul Dravid is a more useful Test player than Sachin, he means to say, ‘I am an ordinary person and I want the efficient to triumph over the flamboyant, I want hard work to be accorded the same respect as unattainable genius, otherwise what is the whole point of my existence.’ When he says Laxman is more beautiful to watch than Sachin, he is saying, ‘I want you to believe that I am classy, an opera among rock concerts.’ And when he says that Ganguly was a better one-day opener than Sachin, he is saying, ‘I am a Bengali.’
As Tendulkar now absurdly escalates his game in what should have been his commentary years, as he stands alone as the rightful owner of One-Day’s most prized batting record, as all his old rivals have fallen whispering in their final moments that this man is the best of their times or even the best ever, it is easy to forget the many moronic things that were said about him. There is a huge quantity of third-rate literature, now deservedly serving as cones for peanuts, that once berated him in the masquerade of cricket analysis. Views that were, and still are, reproduced as the opinions of millions. Till recently, the most stupid Indian arguments were usually about Sachin. How many times have you heard someone say, ‘he does not win matches’. Increasingly, people who do not have mental problems are abandoning this line of thought, even refusing to admit that they ever held such an opinion. But not very long ago, it was a popular view.
Also, his centuries, apparently, did not result in Indian victories. Considering that he did not waste balls when he was in the middle, could it be that there were other reasons for our defeat apart from his centuries? Also, it is alleged, he never lasted till the end. As if it was his wish to go have a shower before the match ended. Could it be that the mathematical probability of an opener lasting till the end is very small?
In the past two decades, several batsmen have been regarded as Tendulkar’s equals. In columns, essays and drunken conversations, some batsmen were even considered better than him if the game were split into narrow genres. At some point or the other players like Inzamam, Ponting, Lara, Bevan, Sehwag, the brothers Mark and Steve (Waugh) have been placed by his side to see if his light dimmed. Sachin is like the digit in a stopwatch that remains unchanged even as the numbers in the units place go through a furious shuffle. But in the end, the contenders have diminished or vanished. Except Lara, who is the only batsman whose right it is to deny Tendulkar the honour of being considered the greatest of his time (though Lara himself has no doubts in this matter).
There were periods in Lara’s astonishing career when Indian men gleefully pointed at him and said, ‘this guy is better than Sachin’. The glee is the whole story. Many men, for different reasons, nurse a hatred for Sachin. It could be the complicated nature of male love, which has a bit of malice in it. Or it could be that Sachin reminds some men of their own worthlessness. Or it could be that people with low self-esteem, of whom there are many, rate everything that belongs to them, like Tendulkar, as inferior to what is foreign.
It is not surprising that the way Indian men talk about Sachin is exactly the way Caribbean men discuss Lara. “Lara has done nothing for us, nothing,” a man from Trinidad told me about three years ago. “Great batsman but a selfish fellow.” Haven’t we heard that many times in India—about Tendulkar? The same gloomy force that makes Indian men rate Lara higher, inspires Caribbean men to rate Tendulkar higher than Lara. A few years ago, when cricket fans in Guyana were asked to decide who was better, 85 per cent voted for Tendulkar. As we can see, the male analysis of Tendulkar and Lara says little about the batsmen but a lot about men in general.
After Fiat gifted him a Ferrari and he applied for a duty waiver of Rs 1.6 crore on it, there was a huge uproar. That was the first time he was slammed in the media. ‘How can he be so greedy’ was the cry of Indian men, all of whom spend a lot of effort evading taxes themselves. Rs 1.6 crore is a considerable sum even for Tendulkar. What was so morally bereft in trying to save that money? Are we morally compromised when we try to save a few thousand every year in tax exemption?
But the worst argument against Tendulkar will always be the myth that he was a bad captain. The truth is: his presence in the dressing room is such that as long as he plays he will be the only captain, whether he is called that or not. All men who tried to defeat his presence hurt themselves. Ganguly was a tortured soul. When he arrived at an airport or at a press conference, if there was Tendulkar, Ganguly was never granted the dignity of being captain. It was Tendulkar people wanted to see, hear. Dhoni’s great fortune is that his mind is clear, he knows his place—Captain and No. 2.
Tendulkar is a victim of not just mediocre analysis but also meaningless compliments. He is often described through a sentence that appears to be a unique Indian expression. No other nation is as fond of this line: ‘What strikes you about him is his humility’. It is a compliment usually given to a celebrity with good manners, who has made a journalist feel comfortable, who has offered him a glass of water to drink. How many times have we seen Tendulkar being described as humble, and readily accepted that view. But, are we confusing his endearing decency for humility? And his self-centered caution that ensures he does not always speak his mind, are we misinterpreting that disappointing aspect of his personality for humility? He might be humble, as somehow required by all his devotees, but my point is we don’t know.
Then there is the other annoying epithet—Little Master. You think he likes being called Little?