Book review: Hero

Apart from reinforcing his deified status by comparing him to Lord Krishna in the Hindu mythology, it is hard to note what new fact or perspective Devendra Prabhudesai has come up with, in Hero, his biography of Sachin Tendulkar.

Title: Hero

Author: Devendra Prabhudesai

Publisher: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.

Price: Rs. 500

One would imagine that not much is left to be discussed about Sachin Tendulkar and his ‘magical’ phenomenon that swept the entire country for more than two decades. His silky batting touch, his uncompromising work ethics, his resilience to challenges, his insatiable hunger for batting, his dignified conduct on and off the field, his simplicity — all have been commented upon at length by his countrymen who have been impacted by the aura he continues to exude. 

Apart from reinforcing his deified status by comparing him to Lord Krishna in the Hindu mythology, it is hard to note what new fact or perspective Devendra Prabhudesai has come up with, in Hero, his biography of Tendulkar.

Instead, the 458-page mega volume charts the landscape of Indian cricket in the era Tendulkar traversed it, with an obvious focus on him, and meticulously details the cricketing fraternity’s observations of him during his 24-year career. 

The thoroughly researched effort is akin to an interesting history book about a significant period of Indian cricket, with its chief protagonist being the man who most impacted it.

It is clear that Tendulkar had a big role in India’s gradual change from an inconsistent and weak side of the 1990s to the global power it is today. The shift also depicts how Tendulkar’s burden was eased with time. Although refreshing to recollect the moments of joy during his ‘one-man army’ bludgeons early in his career, the elusive team effort visible only in the new millennium contributed to India’s rising strength in a golden period. 

By 2013, the year Tendulkar retired, India was no longer the team too dumb to follow his ideas or complement his efforts. This improvement coincides with Tendulkar’s period of influence in Indian cricket; it is suggested as an example of divine incarnation that arrives to positively tweak the course of history. 

While this notion seems far-fetched or even outlandish, Tendulkar’s aura in this period was such that such assumptions are understandable. What cannot be denied, though, is that he had a sincerity and infallibility about him that transfixed millions; this is relived through the generous accounts of those times in the book. 

The account is further embellished by numerous anecdotes about Tendulkar and his peers — controversial or otherwise — and the author’s own perceptions on significant matters in Indian cricket. 

That John Wright had once outrun most of India’s team members during training when he was India coach is a wondrous fact, as is an incident depicting the unselfish nature of Anil Kumble; India’s highest wicket-taker had once offered to skip a game in 1997 to prevent the axing of a player from the team.

The brief period of Tendulkar’s captaincy has been depicted as a phase of frustration for him. Notably, through opinions from varied sources, Tendulkar seems to have been capable of carving out a fruitful tenure of captaincy. But, his team couldn’t fulfil his plans or expectations, and in many cases, he was not given the team he wanted by the selectors. 

A comment from Sourav Ganguly, reproduced in the book, is revealing. He says Tendulkar was his favourite captain, “a very good captain indeed,” and one who defined his international career. Ganguly feels that the young team around him could not “deliver the way the captain wanted us to.” 

Another criticism Tendulkar was subjected to was his inability to finish contests. From his 136 against Pakistan in 1999 to his 175 against Australia in Hyderabad in 2009, the period of his dominance is replete with examples of ‘incomplete’ knocks. Prabhudesai is scathing in his dismissal of this school of thought that rated Brian Lara’s unbeaten innings of 153 against Australia in 1999 higher than Tendulkar’s effort in Chennai against Pakistan, solely on the basis of their team’s eventual result. Lara was ably helped by his lower order in the one-wicket win in Barbados, whereas Tendulkar was let down by his own lower order — Nos. 8, 9, 10, and 11 — which could not collect 17 more runs for victory after his dismissal. 

For all his batting capabilities, however, Tendulkar should have retired from international cricket after the 2011 World Cup, the author notes. He would have exited on a high, with his dream of winning a World Cup being fulfilled. That for all of Tendulkar’s solo efforts over the years, it was deemed fitting that his team-mates’ efforts won India the trophy. 

Tendulkar’s run of form plummeted in the two years he played after that marquee event. However, the fall wasn’t a one-off; it has been a feature in the careers of a few batting legends, including Vivian Richards and Ricky Ponting, Prabhudesai justifies. 

In the penning of the Tendulkar era, the ‘magic’ of the legend is uniform. In that way, Hero is a reiteration of what he signifies for India. Tendulkar’s departure from the norm and his special quality is captured in an observation by cricket historian David Frith, reproduced in the book. Frith writes about the inherent “romanticism” in Tendulkar’s batting, and that he possessed none of the “vigorous” or “aggressive” nature of present-day batting. Yet, he has been every bit as effective. A breath of fresh air in India’s cricket.