Tendulkar the great

Sachin Tendulkar... showing poise even under pressure.-PTI

Sachin Tendulkar’s build has never interfered with his larger-than-life iconic image. It is intriguing that his 5ft 5in frame has housed, for two decades, the heart and soul of Indian batting, writes Nandita Sridhar.

November 4: It was clear that the residents of Guwahati had waited a while for a full-fledged ODI match. For the smaller non-Test centres at the mercy of the BCCI’s rotation policy, a cricket match was a rare chance for the grownups to embrace childhood in the name of star-gazing.

The Indian and Pakistan teams chose some light practice before the first ODI. I was keen on sighting Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly for the first time. Almost like a fan, I stood back inconspicuous as the two went through their drills. What struck me first about Tendulkar was his size. Having grown up watching the great man on TV and from the stands, his frame has never interfered with his larger-than-life iconic image. Maybe it was because television cameras and long-distance view from the stands are not accurate enough. It is intriguing that the 5ft 5in frame has housed, for two decades, the heart and soul of Indian batting.

Ganguly was a different experience. The entire roller-coaster career ride seemed like it had taken its toll on him. Having been a big fan of his captaincy and his audacious, rebellious tendency to get on the Aussie nerves, the former India captain’s climbdown was hard to watch. But this was Ganguly. Fortunes could change anytime.

November 5: The press box at the Nehru Stadium, Guwahati, was for some reason soundproof, which made the viewing experience like watching a match on a gigantic screen with the mute button on.

If the banners were anything to go by, for the 20,000-plus who had turned up, the players in absentia were hardly worth a worry. M. S. Dhoni’s locks were missed the most. The captain’s close-cropped hair terminated endless statistical possibilities. He missed out on becoming the first long-haired player to captain India against Pakistan, the first long-haired to captain India in India against Pakistan, the first long-haired to captain India in India against a team that was not Australia, and countless other possibilities.

November 6: I must hand it to my luggage. It displayed a streak of adventure that surpassed anything I’ve managed in my travelling experiences. Travelling to Varanasi instead of tailing me to Chandigarh, my luggage came a day late, suitably richer with the experience.

Why, dear readers, am I filling you in on these details when you’d much rather lap up stuff on the team’s luggage? The problem is, nothing of such significance happened. Sources tell me that the Indians were welcomed by hundreds near the hotel with all the customary confusion and clamouring. You didn’t hear it from me.

November 7: The PCA Stadium in Mohali, one of the best grounds in India, has an aura about it. The size of the ground, the tinge of green on the pitch and the heavy mist that was easing its way down might have added to that today. Though some of the grass had been sheared to satisfy the modern-day viewer’s insatiable appetite for runs, the wicket was still one of the liveliest and the truest in the country.

There were matters far more pressing than a cricket match and a greenish wicket. India was still without a Test captain. No captain, no coach amounted to a national disaster equivalent to the country not having a Prime Minister and President.

Harbhajan Singh was asked about the indecisiveness, but rightly so, chose to focus on the match. Having tasted a bit of what Dhoni faced from the media everyday as captain, Harbhajan, I thought, would choose to decline captaincy if the elimination selection process did lead to him. But the man was braver than I thought. Would he turn down an offer to captain the Test team? “No”. Hmmm… .

November 8: Match day at Mohali. There were talks of dew, team combinations and everything else that could constitute the sporting rocket science called cricket match. The state-of-the-art facilities at the press box meant that we, the journalists, had nothing else to do but focus on the cricket.

As always, Tendulkar was an endless source of discussion. He was a little circumspect upfront, and found the fielders. “Are yaar, iska to time katam hua,” said one wise man. Later on, when the runs came in torrents, it changed to, “Are yaar, isme abi bhi kuch hai.” That Tendulkar manages to keep his head everyday is the mark of greatness.

While in the ‘nervous nineties’ (a term that fits some, but seems like an alliterative drivel for some), there was frenetic activity in the press box. Numbers flew far and wide as Tendulkar’s possible records, should he fall at 99 or 98 or 97, were confirmed and double-checked. You can accuse us of anything, but never of being unprepared.

Later on, after India’s loss, one journalist pulled a Nasser Hussain on Dhoni (Hussain famously asked Graeme Smith if South Africa needed Jacques Kallis in the middle, after the hosts crashed out of the World T20 Championship). “When wickets fell in the middle, don’t you think Rahul Dravid would have helped keep one end up?” Dhoni went on, “next question.”

There was a bit of late-night drama, as M. P. Pandove announced Anil Kumble as the new Test captain. There were whispers and discussions. What was all the fuss about? India’s highest wicket-taker in Tests, with remarkable work ethic, tenacity and years of experience was given an honour he was unfairly denied all these years. Who could deserve it better?

November 9: The cricketers left to celebrate Diwali, and left me to grapple with deadlines and an internet blackout. It was Diwali, shops were shut, and I was in no mood for some patronising ‘there-was-no-internet-in-those-days-but-copies-were-sent’ advice from anyone. One coffee shop had a machine, but that meant a large, creamy, rich blob of coffee was shoved down my throat in exchange for precious internet time.

November 10: There was hope for me after all. The auto driver at the Kanpur Station spotted erstwhile missing signs of intellect in my face and was ready drive down to the Indian Institute of Technology. A timely correction took me to the Green Park Stadium.

I was by now used to the multi-layered security even on non-match days. Security drills were being performed as final bits of chiselling were done before the D-Day. The effort that went into staging an incident-free ODI was immense.