Sachin and his aura

Sachin broke records for fun. He scored nearly 16,000 Test runs and a grand total of 100 centuries in all his Test and ODIs. I leave the rest of the universe to squabble about whether he or Don Bradman was the greater batsman; it is not important, a moot point, writes Ted Corbett.

One of the gods of sport retired recently and another 15 turned up in England to provide us with, at one and the same time, an unforgettable sight and a cause for apprehension as they turned around a game England seemed to have stolen.

It is easy to understand why both Sachin Tendulkar and the New Zealand rugby players known as the All Blacks – from their black kit – have this aura. On the back of Tendulkar’s phenomenal batting India have risen almost to the top of the world rankings and it is generally accepted that the current All Blacks, like many men holding the same title in former times, are the greatest side the world has ever known.

They beat England, a rising force, in comfort and made the Englishmen realise that if they are to win the World Cup they must improve enormously.

Sachin broke records for fun. He scored nearly 16,000 Test runs and a grand total of 100 centuries in all his Test and ODIs. I leave the rest of the universe to squabble about whether he or Don Bradman was the greater batsman; it is not important, a moot point.

What I do know is that both of them rose above the ordinary, captured the attention of their admirers in a way that few sportsmen have. Bradman represented working class strugglers in Australia at a time when there were few jobs and plenty of hardships. He took away some of the pain of the 1930s as one Aussie after another swigged his beer, gave his cork-lined hat a swing round his index finger and said: “Put it any you want, cobber; but we’ve got the greatest cricketer in the world and you ain’t.”

So, for a billion and more Indians in recent years. “We may be in trouble on the cricket field and in the economy but, never mind, Tendulkar will make a century tomorrow and all will be right with our lives.”

(If you think that is an exaggeration, trace pictures of the poor of Rio de Janeiro deep in undreamed of poverty in the favelas that line the hills and are called home to countless families. I have often wondered how they could stand on street corners, watching TV of either the wealthy footballers or soap operas of Dallas and Dynasty where it is clear the characters have more money than they know how to spend. Surely, I used to think, these guys will, driven mad by the smell of such unlimited funds, burn down the central business district and demand equality. Instead they dream that one day all those dollars may belong to them. Amazing.)

They also dream of sporting gods. Life can be difficult in India and no doubt Tendulkar’s runs have helped many a dhobi wallah get a good night’s sleep but that does not explain the essence of the power of the All Blacks, or Manchester United, or the Yorkshire cricket team in their glory days, or the home run expert Babe Ruth, or Muhammad Ali, who set an example as the blacks of America teased money, position and influence from the men who had once been the white masters.

The All Blacks owe their status to their success in a small, distant barely populated pair of islands after taking on and beating the separate countries of the British Isles. Men of Pacific blood built like tower blocks and descended from ruthless warrior; they had fast feet and hands and somehow had an instinctive grasp of the essentials of this British public school game.

The white, mainly university educated rich of England could not contain this amalgam and crumbled in front of it to the joy of men who have been forced to leave Britain – mainly Scots – who grinned as broadly when they heard of defeat for those who had oppressed them.

Those four million or so New Zealanders still feel they have a right to their independence largely thanks to the success of the All Blacks; after all their cricketers meet with the sort of success you would expect from an isolated nation.

Manchester United owed their god-like status to Scotland too. Matt Busby, who never lost the Scottish accent, was their first great manager and when he was badly injured and thought certain to die in the Munich air crash that just added to the legend. Along came Alex Ferguson and turned those victories into a permanent place in Europe. Now another Scot David Moyes is in charge and appears to be another boost to their greatness.

Yorkshire cricket’s great days have lapsed badly as I knew when only 250 or so turned up for Fred Trueman’s funeral service. Since I was a lad, and ready to worship Yorkshire like every other youngster in the county, the county have stopped winning, stopped producing characters in the mould of Trueman, Geoff Boycott, Ray Illingworth and a dozen others who put together 31 championship crowns and cemented their place in the cricket pantheon.

When a king dies it is just to toast his successor and we should do that as Tendulkar moves aside. I think I see greatness in the next generation but we must wait for someone else to take his place.

I am saddened by the departure of Tendulkar but we will see his like again. Another giant will turn into an all-conquering god and the records he has created will be broken as they were meant to be.