Sachin was what everyone would love to be!

We identify so closely with someone like Sachin Tendulkar because he does things we cannot aspire to, or even want to given the amount of sacrifice involved, yet his centuries and aggregates and averages retain our faith in ourselves as a race. We can play a straight drive because Tendulkar plays it to perfection; we don’t have to chase perfection because he is doing it for us, writes Suresh Menon.

Great batsmen are not merely people who make a lot of runs. There is something other-worldly about their commitment and focus. It is almost ascetic. David Foster Wallace has captured this aspect of greatness in a footnote to one of his essays: “They are in many ways,” he says, speaking of top professional athletes, “our culture’s holy men.”

He goes on to say, “They give themselves over to a pursuit, endure great privation and pain to actualize themselves at it, and enjoy a relationship to perfection that we admire and reward and love to watch although we have no inclination to walk that road ourselves. In other words, they do it “for” us, sacrifice themselves for our (we imagine) redemption.”

That is perhaps why we identify so closely with someone like Sachin Tendulkar. He does things we cannot aspire to, or even want to given the amount of sacrifice involved, yet his centuries and aggregates and averages retain our faith in ourselves as a race. We can play a straight drive because Tendulkar plays it to perfection; we don’t have to chase perfection because he is doing it for us.

There is the glamour, of course. Supping with queens and presidents, calling Federer and Schumacher by their first names, and having 199 kg of rose petals overturned on us at a stadium (if that counts as glamour – the Cricket Association of Bengal seemed to think so).

Yet, we wouldn’t know how to address a queen or discuss life in general with a president. And would be embarrassed to say ‘Roger’ and ‘Michael’ when in the vicinity of these greats from other sports. Good to have Tendulkar around then.

And then there is that incredible straight drive.

But that’s not something all of us are willing to give up our daily routines for. Over a quarter century from the time he was 15, Tendulkar has been playing first-class cricket. At 16 he was good enough to play for India. It is difficult to appreciate fully what this means. He was a child prodigy, but it also meant he bid goodbye to his childhood around the age the rest of us were just beginning to sink our teeth into ours.

With Tendulkar it was always a fantasy ride.-VIVEK BENDRE

The rules and regulations — can’t eat this, mustn’t touch that, no parties, no dates, hours and hours and hours of practice, follow this or that physical regimen — are not for the faint-hearted. You can’t play 463 one-day internationals and 200 Tests without something snapping every now and then. Who wants to be a 30-year-old with the body of a 60-year-old?

Tendulkar didn’t. But often that was his fate. His back was gone, shoulders were non-co-operative, elbow had given up, wrist couldn’t take the weight of a cup of tea, toes, thighs — was anything worth this amount of sacrifice? He went through a phase where his body parts were on the cover of national magazines, surgeries discussed by experts in the manner of pundits discussing India’s foreign policy.

And yet he hung on. And didn’t just hang on, but thrived. When he made 136 in Chennai against Pakistan he was visibly in pain, struggling with his back. From 82 for five, he took India to within 17 runs of victory. The last three wickets couldn’t make up the difference and India lost. He was blamed. What manner of man is this who can take such pressure and continue to perform at his peak?

What manner of man is this who despite everything, all the runs, all the wins, all the years of providing undiluted pleasure to millions suddenly finds himself dealing with the pressure of perform-or-perish cries in the media?

Can we summon up such passion, such pride in performance, such professionalism when the slide into ordinariness becomes increasingly apparent? We cannot. Hence the importance of Tendulkar, the man who can.

That relationship with perfection. Spoken of casually in someone like Tendulkar, but a huge step in our lives as doctors, plumbers, writers, actors and musicians. It means an uncompromising approach to your job.

How many of us can claim, hand on heart, to have worked to the best of our ability every single day of our lives? Tendulkar did, both because he had to and because that was the way he evolved as a player and person. It was not enough to score runs — even Harbhajan Singh has scored international centuries — it was important to score runs with authority, class and the consciousness that the hopes of a billion people are riding on you.

We, the fans,were not prepared to undergo the sweat and toil that Tendulkar put in for 25 years, but we basked in his glory.-AP

No accountant’s daily work is shown live on national television; no doctor’s every surgery is discussed by a panel of experts on prime time TV. Would they survive if such things were done? And yet Tendulkar revelled in it, of having his every working day in office telecast to and commented upon by millions. And the straight drive was made all the more pleasing by his demeanour on and off the field. Great champions don’t have to be paragons of virtue and good behaviour. Tendulkar was. He realised his audience at home liked their champions modest and soft spoken. He was conscious of his duties as ambassador of a people who might be highly emotional and demanding. He had to be the reverse as a consequence, his feet firmly on the ground, head on his shoulders.

Our redemption lay in the success of a Tendulkar. If he was doing it for us, then he had better do it with panache and polish even if those attributes were foreign to us in our daily lives. He’d better be the best, for the weakest and silliest among us believe we are the best. That is why when he failed — as human beings tend to do occasionally — we turned harsh. It is easier to forgive the mediocre and the untalented than the truly great. After all, if his success was a reflection of our own success, then wasn’t his failure our own too?

We live life vicariously through the deeds of our heroes. The Walter Mitty fantasy is not always a private one. We don’t have to be legends in our own minds because we merge our fantasies with the deeds of true life legends who have eliminated the need for us to do it ourselves.

Our culture’s holy men are a special breed.