Finally Sachin retires from one-day cricket. Young cricket lovers who are still in their early twenties would probably never have watched an Indian team without Sachin. Purely from a statistical perspective, Sachin is indeed the most prolific and the most successful batsman of all time. However, numbers and records neither tell the entire story of Sachin’s influence nor they do justice with his impact over Indian cricket and Indian psyche.
Sachin revolutionized the way India played, the way India thought and the way India approached her cricket. When Sachin arrived on the national scene India was not a strong team. It was 1989. Sunil Gavaskar, the highest run-scorer in test cricket then, had retired only a couple of years ago. Main batsmen in Indian team were Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Srikkanth etc. Most of them believed in ‘save your wicket and leave anything outside off’ approach. Technique was revered and aggression was ridiculed. Kids wanted to emulate Gavaskar and Vengsarkar. Scoring big and staying on crease was the mantra. Some notable exceptions to the rule were Srikkanth and Kapil Dev. While Srikkanth was generally laughed at, Kapil Dev was criticized and was called irresponsible for his aggression. The only player who stood out was Azharuddin. But Azhar’s super-flexible wrists made his batting look so exotic, nobody dared to emulate him. Apart from being defensive in batting, India was at times psychologically weak as well. Matches against Pakistan were the most glaring examples of problems with Indian mindset. India generally lost to Pakistan even before taking the field. Akram and Imran always looked unplayable. Abdul Qadir looked like taking wicket with every ball he bowled at us. And Miandad! Images of him, running amok on the ground after hitting Chetan Sharma for a six on the last ball left us depressed for ages.
However it all started to change on 16th December, 1989. India was going to play Pakistan at Peshawar. We switched our TV sets on in the morning. The match was cancelled due to bad light. The match was called off but not to disappoint spectators at the ground, a 20-over exhibition game was organized. By the time we switched the TV on again Pakistan was butchering our bowlers. So routine! TV switched off again! And then India played usual subdued game. It didn’t surprise us anymore! And Sachin arrived at the crease. All we remember now is, Sachin marching forward and hitting Qadir and Mushtaq for consecutive sixes. He was hitting a Pakistani bowler in Pakistan. That was the first big blow to the diffident mindset we were trapped in. The first proper victory of India over Pakistan that my generation saw over television was the one achieved in Sharjah in 1991. In that game, Sachin played a brisk 42 in 30 deliveries in final overs to help India set a competitive target. Defeating Pakistan in Sharjah was a tremendous boost to India’s confidence. A few months later at Sydney in the world cup game once again India defeated Pakistan. This time Sachin was man of the match. During those years Sachin not only established himself as the best batsman in the squad but he also became the psychological support for Indian fans. As long as he would be out there, our hopes of a victory would be kept alive. I remember the first game of Benson & Hedges series played at Perth against West Indies in December, 1991. India had been bowled out for 126. In reply Indian seam quartet of Prabhakar, Srinath, Banerjee and Kapil Dev bowled beautifully and brought India to the brink of victory. However all of them had bowled out their overs by 40 overs and West Indies scored 120 for 9. Debutant Anderson Cummins was playing a surprising cameo and had brought West Indies on the brink of victory. India didn’t have any regular bowler left to bowl 41st over. Everybody thought the experienced Ravi Shastri would bowl the over, but no! Sachin was given the ball and he managed to take the last wicket on the last ball of his over with scores tied. Two years later in the semi final of the hero cup, once again Sachin was asked to bowl the last over and here he managed to grab a victory from the jaws of defeat. Sachin was India’s talisman.
Sachin became a run-machine much later. I remember that after he scored two consecutive centuries in Sharjah against Australia, Doordarshan had telecast a program titled, ‘Legend at 25’. Yes! Sachin was a legend by the time he was 25. The only dark spot in his entire career would be his failure as a captain. However, during Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy Sachin got a much needed support and stability. Sachin concentrated much better on his game during Ganguly’s captaincy. In fact his batting average improved a lot during those years.
Sachin had many contemporary batsmen with whom he has been compared. For many bowlers Brian Lara was a more dangerous batsman than Sachin. For many Ricky Ponting had been a better batsman because for most part of his career he also had to burden the responsibility of leading his side. For some Jacques Kallis is a more complete cricketer because he is also a very good bowler. But no player has had such transformational impact on the mindset of an entire nation like Sachin Tendulkar had. It’s not his runs or his centuries that made Sachin so special. He provided India with something India was desperately lacking, Inspiration! That made him God.
Aakash Chopra in his book, ‘Beyond the Blues’ mentions that the way a player approaches his game also tells you a lot about the way the person is. I would like to extend this argument by adding, that by molding the way an individual approaches the game, one can mould his personality as well. Sachin changed the way India approached its game. That changed our mindset, our attitude and our body language. One example is Virender Sehwag. Without Sachin it would have been impossible to get a batsman like Sehwag. Sehwag openly admits that his role-model was Sachin. Had Sachin not changed the way we looked at our game, Sehwag would still be an underrated struggler shuttling in and out of Delhi’s Ranji trophy side.
It has been only two games that India has played since Sachin’s retirement. His absence is already felt. Not just in performance but in the way Indian team has approached the game. Once again, India’s nemesis has been Pakistan!