Little Master vs Little Blaster

What comes through, in the grand Sachin sum, is `Ten's' exemplary humility in the face of peerless public adulation. In the case of most performing greats, I have found their being self-effacing to be something of a put-on.



FROM a perch "near Mt Everest", did condescending appear Sunil — in being a trifle late to congratulate Sachin? On the contrary, away from it all beyond Kathmandu, well could Sunil, this time, have been still weighing the quote from his column he felt bound to be reproduced a third time now. The way it was, first, in The Sportstar when Laxman's Eden 281 vs Steve's Australia witnessed VVS's going past Sunny's long-standing India-highest of 236 not out against Clive Lloyd's West Indies, end-December 1983 at Chepauk. On that March 2001 Eden Laxman occasion, I had come up, in this journal, with the Sunil quote: "A record is a personal feeling of satisfaction that is hard to put into words and it is precious to the individual. Sure, records are meant to be broken. But still, when it is taken away from you, there is a tinge of sadness..."

Look how `a tinge' careful was Sunil now, in closing the `34-35' credibility gap between his bat and pad, as he wrote the Sachin-day after in the Sunday Hindustan Times: "When a record is taken, there is a tinge of sadness. But when it is broken by a talent as prodigious as Sachin and a fellow Indian, that tinge (of sadness) is forgotten in a trice and one rejoices at a new benchmark being set."

Sunil knew there now was no elbow room for doubting Sachin's `coming'. Yet my gut cricketing point remains — that, where Sunil's 34 Test tons were all un-helmeted, each one of Sachin's 35 centuries for India has been with the protective headgear in place. A helmeted head not to be easily turned, for all that, remains Sachin. So named was the boy by Papa Ramesh Tendulkar — as an ardent admirer of Sachin Dev-Burman's music — and `Ten's' pet singer is Kishore Kumar! Sachin fell from a tree when Mohammed Rafi was warbling Tere mere sapnen ab ek rang hai (in Raag Gaara) on Dev Anand while Sachin Dev-Burman's Guide was showing on National TV. Maybe `Tiny Ten' wouldn't have so lost balance if, instead, it had been Kishore Kumar resonating Gaata rahe mera dil (in Raag Pahadi) on Dev Anand from the same Guide! Kishore Kumar was pre-eminently a Sachin Dev-Burman discovery. In fact, a composing genius like Salil Chowdhury told me: "You know, each one of us, bar Sachin Dev-Burman, failed, early on, to spot the spark in Kishore. Hats off to Sachinda for gauging Kishore's true potential so early in that singer's up-and-down career."

The little genius in Sachin, likewise, is claimed to have been spotted by many. But I myself bypassed Sachin more than once while `Ten' was batting, as a tennis-ball kid, on the Kalanagar Road of Mumbai's Bandra suburb. Frankly, I took no more notice of Sachin then than I had of Kishore Kumar in the Talat Mahmood era when the ghazal was king. The point is Sachin, like Kishore, grew on us. `On song' as a child prodigy, Sachin continues to grow in the Little Screen of our imagination. How Sachin somehow stayed Kotla-firm to put Sunil in the `35' shade by displaying, like Sunny, the patience of Job in awaiting his opportunity to `Kotlambast' his way to 100 not out!

Maybe, on that second Kotla morning, Sachin fell marginally lbw (109 off 196 balls: 14 fours & a six) to the wily Murali. But do you share my teleview that even this lbw decision could have gone in Sachin's favour? Yet Sachin instinctively divined that the umpiring had, broadly, gone his way while he went on to `record' 100 not out. So Sachin now accepted the `lbw-to-Murali 109' Simon Taufel ruling as the rub of the greenstone. Even if to us, spot viewers, it looked as if the two umpires, by that misty second morning, had stepped out after having taken a good hard second look at each one of their reject-lbw rulings on the first Kotla day! Thus, alongside Sachin, Sourav (40 off 129 balls: 4 fours) fell lbw to this closer-look syndrome.

The point I underscore is Sachin's abiding ability to take the umpiring rough with the umpiring smooth. What comes through, in the grand Sachin sum, is `Ten's' exemplary humility in the face of peerless public adulation. In the case of most performing greats, I have found their being self-effacing to be something of a put-on. But Sachin Tendulkar shares with Lata Mangeshkar the rare quality of being genuinely humble. Always, in Diva Lata's instance, it is others who have spoken of her greatness. So it is with `MRF' Sachin.

Is Sunil then not humble? Sunil has been unfailingly modest about his 34 Test hundreds and 10,122 runs for India. But Sunil's inherent performing humility somehow came to be masked by his international playing career's being one of ceaseless confrontation with Authority. In the process of being so outspoken, Sunil sometimes came through as being conscious, even arrogant, about his talent — in an era when Authority habitually grudged our cricketing icons their performing due. `Sunny Tonny' had further valid reason to be resentful — about our critical community's never pinpointedly acknowledging that no fewer than 13 of Sunil's 34 Test hundreds had been Little Masterminded against the ferocious pace of the West Indies. Clive Lloyd even wrote (under his own byline) that, in his eyes, Sunil Gavaskar "is the greatest". Lloyd argued that he had never seen Don Bradman bat.

Does the fact that Sachin has only three Test hundreds against the West Indies take away some of the sheen from his Sunil-excelling `35'? No way, for the West Indies ceased to be a world pace power even as Sachin rose to his zenith. Sachin's bloodlines against peak pace need only Allan Donald attestation. Rewind to the wildly demonstrative way Allan Donald came to celebrating view, each time this pace ace scalped Sachin? How could we possibly forget the way Sachin met fire with fire as he struck 169 versus South Africa (being the last man out to a dream boundary-line right-handed catch by Adam Bacher) in the early-January 1997 Cape Town Test? Compared to such heroics, Sachin's Kotla Test 109 vs Sri Lanka might fade into near insignificance. But what we have to remember, here, is that Kotla had `Ten' coming out of the kind of lean trot during which viewers even queried why there was one international yardstick for Sachin, another for Sourav.

We now had the rare advantage of telewatching Sachin and Sourav in joint Kotla Test action. Compared to the style that V V S Laxman had earlier brought to chiselling 69 (12 fours, 117 balls), initially Sachin, then Sourav, looked strugglers. But this is the Nari Contractor point about Test cricket — that you never must tamely yield your wicket here. That you have obdurately to stick it out there for the shots to flow. Recall how Sachin never said die in the teeth of being struck numberless times on the pad. To start with, December 10, 2005, hardly looked Sachin's day. But Sachin made it his day. That is what puts the true-blue achiever stamp on this run millionaire. At 32, Sachin is a cherubic happening still. Aaj tak, `Ten' as a centurion knows no cricketing peer.