ABC Cricket 1999-2000 Season
Australia's Most Authoritative Reference (ABC Publications)
Aus $5.50, 112 pages, illustrated.
Contribution by Gulu Ezekiel: Tendulkar's Big Test.
ABC Cricket Yearbook 1999-2000
Tendulkar's Big Test
By Gulu Ezekiel
At 26 and in his 10th year of international cricket, Sachin Tendulkar is today the most popular personality in India. At least if one goes by numerous newspaper polls.
He is also the "greatest living Indian" in the words of Bishan Singh Bedi.
When Tendulkar bats, the nation is all eyes. When he speaks, it is all ears. And when he is silent--as he was during those fateful 24 hours after the announcement by the national selectors that he would lead the team again--life virtually comes to a standstill.
His seeming reluctance to start a second stint as captain had the press fretting and fuming. The world's number one batsman had virtually gone underground, apparently to seek spiritual guidance from his guru.
Has any cricketer ever been the object of so much intense passion and scrutiny?
He tried to slip away once in Mumbai where he was born and learnt all his cricket. He donned a wig and dark glasses and slipped into a movie hall. Unfortunately the wig slipped off and he was instantly recognised. No one was interested in the movie after that.
Last year (1998) was a phenomenal one even by his standards. Pandemonium broke out at an awards function for Indian sportspersons at Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President's palace) where Tendulkar received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award (Jewel of Sport). Even the President looked stunned as he was abandoned by his staff and left standing alone in a corner,teacup in hand. Pursued by staff, VIPs, the press and assorted hangers-on, there was just one way out. A quick sprint to his car, wife in tow and all interest in the function promptly vanished.
A bad back kept him out of the game briefly in early 1999. Offers of a quick cure poured in even as the team lost to Pakistan in the finals of two one-day tournaments. That he was in intense pain was evident while he batted India towards victory in the first Test against Pakistan. But as so often happens, his departure brought about a collapse and India fell just short. Tendulkar's 136 may have been his best yet. But then, that judgement has been made after virtually each of his 19 Test centuries. The first of those came barely a year after his Test debut, against England at Old Trafford in 1990 at the age of 17.
His first series was in Pakistan in 1989, without doubt the toughest test for an Indian cricketer. There were two half centuries in four Tests on tour. His one-day international debut was marked by a duck. But in an unofficial match, he smashed Abdul Qadir for 27 runs in an over earning a prediction from the master leg spinner that the boy would one day be among the all-time greats. Imran Khan was not all that generous. Bowling bouncers to the baby-faced teenager he said was like child-abuse !
Australian fans have had wait seven years to see him in action. Centuries at Sydney and Perth on the 1991-92 tour gave them a glimpse of the emerging genius. Tendulkar still rates the one in the fifth Test at the WACA as his best. Ten years after that first series, there have been a world record 22 one-day centuries, including nine last year alone when he scored 1,819 runs in 33 innings. Many of those runs came against the Australian bowling attack both in India and Sharjah. The much-vaunted Warne v. Tendulkar clash both in the Test series and one day games turned into a no-contest, at least as far as Warne was concerned.
Tendulkar scores tons of runs and all at lightning speed. No wonder Warne was quoted as saying that he was having nightmares of Tendulkar coming down the track and hitting him for yet another six.
Whatever may be Tendulkar's exploits in Tests, the Indian fan today is obsessed with one-day cricket. The team played a record 40 matches in 1998 and there was unprecedented media hype surrounding the 1999 World Cup.
For some time now Tendulkar had been struggling not only with a painful back. On his mind was the fact that his father had a weak heart that had seen him in and out of hospital. The death of Prof. Ramesh Tendulkar just days after the start of the World Cup plunged the team and the country into a collective grief. But after the initial shock, came the question that no one dared to ask. Would he rejoin the team and if so when? As it happened, he missed just one match. But the defeat by three runs at the hands of Zimbabwe was to haunt India throughout the World Cup. Days later, Tendulkar was back and the spirit of his teammates was noticeably lifted. Defeats in the first two games meant India had to win their next three to make it to the Super Six. That was duly achieved. It was Tendulkar's presence that made all the difference.
Barely 24 hours after returning to the World Cup and he was scoring a century against Kenya. Neither the innings nor the opposition were of the highest grade. But the circumstances under which it was played made it very special. Even the normally loquacious Tony Greig struggled to keep his composure during the post-match interview.
If he failed in one area, it was in handling the captaincy, which he first got in late 1996, only to lose it a year later. Undoubtedly at 23, he was too young and not quite ready for such an enormous task. Hopefully things will be different this time around.
Tendulkar is not only India's most popular sportsperson, he is also one of the richest. Only world chess number two Vishwanathan Anand and world tennis doubles number one Leander Paes can match the millions he earns from endorsements. When he is not seen in action on the cricket field, TV viewers see him constantly pop up during breaks endorsing a vast range of global consumer products.
Australian cricket fans have had to wait seven long years to watch him in action. Take it from me, the wait will be worthwhile.
-The writer is sports editor, New Delhi TV and sports anchor for the 'Good Morning India' breakfast show.