'Sixes', success & excess

IF "he batted like God" (as the London Times had it), touching — "in a trance of utter brilliance" — 50 (off 52 balls) with 8 fours and that Caddicky six over Nasser's England, it was in the earlier Group A match (against Namibia) that Sachin had served notice (on Pakistan via umpire Aleem Dar) about the shape of stings to come.

RAJU BHARATAN

Sachin Tendulkar... Bradmanly peaking in smashing 98 against Pakistan.-Pic. AFP

IF "he batted like God" (as the London Times had it), touching — "in a trance of utter brilliance" — 50 (off 52 balls) with 8 fours and that Caddicky six over Nasser's England, it was in the earlier Group A match (against Namibia) that Sachin had served notice (on Pakistan via umpire Aleem Dar) about the shape of stings to come. Sachin's 152 off 151 balls vs. Namibia flaunted 18 fours. One of which, as a ramrod straight smash, literally laid low umpire Aleem Dar. Whether the sporty Aleem `got up' to warn his Pakistan about what it should, consequentially, be expecting (on the Saturday afternoon of March 1), there is no way of knowing. But the way Sachin pulverised the Wasim-Shoaib-Waqar triumvirate into submission, viewers the world over were left `guesstimating' the ultimate Centurion plight of Pakistan — if the Elfin One's style had not been cramped just when he was superpowering his way to `Ten ton'.

As Ten's new running mate at No.4, Mohammad Kaif (35 off 60 balls: 5 fours) got, in the 155-for-3 bargain, just the elbow room he needed to free arms during India's grudge battle of wits with Pakistan. While the vervy Kaif had thus to convert himself into being the BRITANNIA foil to the MRFlamboyance of Sachin, Rahul (not out 44 off 76 balls) remained the fulcrum around which revolved the southpaw of Yuvraj — 6 dashing fours in yet another ODI match-winning 50 (off 53 balls). The measured manner in which India's batsmen chipped in to chip off, wedge by wedge, that 274 target carved out by Pakistan holds the key to super success in the Super Sixes — reached in the teeth of a certain media excess. No matter where Sourav's India is placed, right now, in this vital segment of the tight World Cup circle, memory of the `colonial' conquest of England and then the historic 273-overrun of Pakistan will endure. So much so that one-time Cricket Board President N.K.P. Salve's pet Pakistan-relating quote again made the gossipy rounds. That quote: "Give us Lata Mangeshkar and you can take Kashmir!" "Lata Mangeshkar" now trendily got updated to "Sachin Tendulkar"!

Even as the nation was thus the cauldron of emotion and passion, I fell to reflecting: "If only Sir Donald had lived to tubewatch Sachin sculpt his 98 masterpiece!" This 75-ball gem (studded with 12 fours and a six) Bradman would viewably have identified as "The bonzer bats exactly like I did!" As `The Bonzer Bonanza', therefore, do we flesh out that 98, witnessing Sachin megastar-turn the one group match that mattered to Kargilt-edgy India. "Magic hai to mumkin hai" — Sachin making batting look the easiest thing in the World Cup!

Having said that while observing India make it with panache to the Super Sixes, keeping in mind the disturbingly jingoistic celebrations accompanying the feat, it is imperative to be rational here. How many false starts India took to the Super Six! It is amazing how, as a people, all India collectively concluded that the World Cup was won and lost with that one 9-wicket mauling by Australia. Even the euphoric Ashish Nehra-swung 82-run win over England was envisioned as but the means to the end. The end — defeating Pakistan. Deflating Pakistan was something only Sachin could summon the nerve to be mindset upon doing. Also, think coolly about how compulsively fulfilled the Indian viewing public felt once the Pakistan deed was done. This underlines that, as a telewatching nation, we lack maturity a full 70 years after we came to world cricket. An entire nation in a ferment following that one loss to Australia was not an edifying sight. A nation celebrating the win over Pakistan far beyond four p(o)ints was also not cricket, World Cup cricket. For even before the Super Sixes came the time for media score-settling by the Souraving Brigade.

Maybe Sourav and his men had reason to be distressed about the `effigymnastics' of a people — totally lacking in cricketing comprehension — feeling downgraded by just one group match setback. But once India put this loss to Australia behind it with that clinching victory over England, Sourav (as the Indian captain) should have left the achievement to speak for itself. No way should Sourav have indulged in the norm of media-baiting he did by styling a couple of TV commentators "jokers". Only for Navjot dubiously to hit back with that journalist-vs-player bit about `the dog and the lamp-post".

The Indian captain should, at all times, be leaving such "joker" devalue judgment to the viewing public to make. Sourav — seeing how his India was already back in Cloud-cuckoo-land by the dawn of February 27 — should have displayed the savvy to ignore the extent to which the end-Australia match views of Sunny and Sherry had hurt the team. Having a side-swipe at this teleduo — by getting pointlessly embroiled in the quality of commentary on parade — is something that is going to boomerang on Sourav in the long term. Nor were Sourav & Co. justified in reasoning that the Sherry-Sunny team, all by itself, heaped tons of coal on their heads. The public damage here was originally done by the multiple Hindi channels sickeningly high on the Bharat Army type of hype.

Indeed, not only after India's group-match loss to Australia, also after India's day-dream win over Pakistan, Sunil Gavaskar made it a STAR point to clarify the rapier thrust of his team criticism. I do feel that Sunil could have avoided, in the aftermath of India's discomfiture vs Australia, the sharp reference he made to our players having been busy, back home, going off to "shoot for a commercial". Validly was it pointed out by the Team Opposition, here, that Sunil himself had been the first star performer to get vocal about more money for our players. That the pupil, Kapil Dev, went on to excel the Little Master, Sunil Gavaskar, in this direction is the rub of the green note. Yet Sunil definitely had a pertinent point to make during the Cricket Board-exploitative era in which he raised that player demand. Even if it was not viewed as fair dinkum at the time.

The nub of the matter is that Sunil, tipping the scale at just a quarter inch under five feet, still stands tall in memory, as India's No.1, in the matter of asking our greasy Cricket Board to pay up and feel the performing difference. In this tunnel-end light, Sunil should have, ideally, gone easy about the top players of today taking off to "shoot for a commercial". But Sunil is his own man in the box-seat. He is a doer entitled to his ideas of "commitment'. He has the right to speak out as the STAR heard to be making 10,122 valid points in the ears of our viewing millions. Only, I seem to remember Sunil's getting involved in a similar passage of arms with Azhar when Hyderabad was the leading light of India. Stung to the Sunny quick, Azhar then startlingly came out with the viewpoint that may be it was "jealousy" (about the money the players were by then already making) that had prompted Sunil to get at him. Outcome — there appeared more than one article by Sunil Gavaskar (in The Times Of India) explaining how "Azzu" had got him all wrong. Maybe Azhar got Sunil wrong then. The exact way Sourav (with his team) got wrong the Sunny message to all India (via STAR) during the 2003 World Cup.

Sunny and Sherry alike talk of how sensitive players of today are even to one word of criticism uttered against them. But was the Sunny-Sherry generation of players any different? Sherry, to this day, carries a chip on his shoulder about having been labelled "a strokeless wonder". Not by this writer, yet "a strokeless wonder" was the very expression I had coined to synthesise the craft of Chetan Chauhan. I dare say Chetan was not pleased about it. Still this was an issue between a professional cricket writer and a Test player. The confrontation acquires overtones only when it gets to be one between a yesteryear cricket eminent and a present-day icon. This is a 2003 telly reality with which Sourav & Co. have to learn to live. Seeing how the idea in Harsha's getting Sachin to speak on fellow cricketers (on STAR) was subtly to ready Tendulkar as a telecaster in the not too distant future.

Such a possibility might look a `52-81-152-50-98' mirage in our TV mindframe right now. Yet how many of you divined Anil Kumble to be one preparing the ground for a commentator career side by side with venturing to hold his India spot as a top spinner? Indeed Anil, I feel, has understood best (among present-day cricketers) that the media-man has a `performing' job to do. Like the player has a performing job to do.

Conclusion — Sourav should have resisted the temptation to go public with his standpoint on certain commentators in the public third eye. Likewise, Sunny should be taking fresh mike guard, from hereon, about saying anything to do with what our players today make. Any playing criticism offered of today's superstar performers should be tempered by pragmatism. Even if pragmatism and Sidhuism look as far removed from each other as Saddam Hussain and George Bush. In fact, the open secret of Sherry's success, as a telecaster, is that he wears his heart on the sleeve from which his mike is projected as breaking into a tellingly vocalised bhangra.

The World Cup caravan will pass. Kapil Dev's English, Dil Se, will remain what it is. For all that, in the grand sum, each one of them is doing his job according to his arc-lights. So just be happy that India did make it to the Super Six — as Sachin asserted his pedigree just when it counted. Anything India accomplishes, beyond the Super Six, treat as a bonus.

World-beaters India only illusorily were even in 1983. Promptly arrived Clive Lloyd's West Indies, on our soil, to cut Kapil Dev's India to 5-0 size. Kapil could not save his India captaincy by end-1983.

Let us hope Sourav, by the Sunday of March 23, 2003, has done enough to keep the post. As first New Zealand and then Australia crashland in India to litmus test us anew, starting October 2003.