Friday, November 22, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar, and the Grand Farewell

I have never subscribed to the “Sachin is God” cult that many fanboys have been revelling in, for the great man’s swansong. He is a great player, and a humble servant of the game. And some of the magical moments that he has given us Cricket fans will always stay etched in my memory. But is he one of the best players in Indian cricket today? Probably not, in my opinion. Also,  I firmly believe 2011, right after the World Cup win, was the perfect time for him to sign-off. By delaying his retirement, he has done a big disservice to his own legacy.

However, ignoring his patchy form in the past 2 years, and looking at his larger contribution to Indian Cricket, and Cricket in general, the man deserves the grand farewell that he is getting. But it is annoying to see every media outlet eulogizing about Sachin for the past few weeks and making a messiah out of a man. For many non-fanatic fans of Sachin, this media frenzy is so overwhelmingly irritating that they have started directing their ire towards Sachin. A bit naïve, if you will, since Sachin is not to blame if the media wants to milk his legacy to the last paise.

In their ill-directed tirade against Sachin, many of my friends, all otherwise logical thinkers, have started questioning Sachin’s contribution to the game, and why he is being accorded the honours for simply playing a game for 24 years and amassing a personal fortune in the process.  They even question “What difference has he made to the lives of Indians? There are more deserving people than Sachin, such as Mr.XYZ (Entrepreneur), Ms. ABC (Social Activist), Mr. LMN (Politician) etc.” In Sachin’s defence, he is a cricketer and a socially responsible celebrity. He should not be expected to do things that are not his core competence. A contextual yardstick needs to be applied to determine an individual’s standing, rather than compare people across multiple walks of life. In simple terms, an apples to apples comparison. In that context, there can be no debate on Sachin’s standing as the best in modern Indian Cricket (Modern being defined as the period after 1975, when multiple formats were introduced into the game). Possibly, the best in Modern World Cricket, considering his statistics across all formats of the game. Do note that I have further qualified the yardstick by introducing the generational aspect as well- since there are people that will also argue that comparing across generations is very subjective, and they may be right.

Now, if the above mentioned XYZ, ABC, LMN etc can be considered the best in their chosen fields, in India and possibly across the globe, then my critic friends may be right in pointing out that Sachin is getting an undue share of the adulation that should have rightfully gone to these other world leaders. But since that is not the case quite clearly, this argument can be laid to rest.

It is also interesting to note that Indian Cricket, and as a consequence, World Cricket became a marketing juggernaut in the early to mid 90s and has not looked back since. While some of the changes (advent of Satellite Channels in India) can be attributed to the policy changes during the time, it is to be noted that none of the other sports managed to ride this wave as well as Cricket did. Heck, even the Indian Pop scene that emerged during the 90’s thanks to the MTV-Channel V outlets could not sustain beyond the decade. Clearly, Cricket did something better than everyone else, because of which we have a sport that makes a small town boy from Ranchi a multi-millionaire and a 24 year old Delhi lad becomes one of the highest paid Celebrity in the world. One name comes to mind- Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. It was Sachin’s heroic performances that captured the imagination of the country, and catapulted him, and the game, to the dizzy heights that it now enjoys. The unbridled enthusiasm that he brought to his game, the irrepressible passion that he played his game with, the unflinching commitment that only he seemed capable of were all unique only to Sachin. And Sachin Tendulkar was Indian Cricket. And vice versa. There are tomes written about the time when Indian fans would switch off their TV sets the moment Sachin got out, and it is pointless to write about that.

As regards the question about the difference that Sachin has made to our lives, a sport, or any other form of entertainment, cannot be evaluated on the same tangible measures as politics or policy making. Politicians’ and Administrators’ primary job is to bring in changes that improve the tangible quality of our lives- infrastructure, education, Benefits administration, Freedoms, rights etc.  While it is debatable if they have really managed to do their jobs effectively, it is an unfair argument to expect an entertainer or sportsperson to take up that mantle, unless they also assume other positions of actual power and influence. Their sphere of influence is therefore, restricted in that aspect. What they do, however, is to provide an outlet for the disillusioned masses, to channelize their energies in healthier activities such as sports or drama.  Apart from the little joys that we get by watching the game, that is. As such, the difference that any form of entertainment can bring to our lives is a matter of personal choice- I could choose to laze on my couch while enjoying Sachin’s batting, or choose to get inspired to go pick up the sport myself.

On a slightly different note, the commercialization of cricket, which, as I have argued above, can be attributed largely to the contributions of Sachin, has resulted in opportunity creation across many industries- marketing, advertisement, media, merchandizing to name a few. And many of us are beneficiaries of these opportunities- that plum role as a Marketing Head at Pepsi India, or as the Area Sales Head for Star Cricket etc. 

It is futile, therefore, to question what difference Sachin has made to our lives, and use that as an argument to deny him his moment of glory. The little master surely has earned his place among the all time great sports personalities of the country, and casting aspersions on his contributions would not serve a country, that does not boast of too many modern day heroes to look up to, particularly well.

Whether he deserves a Bharat Ratna is a discussion for another day. Till then, Sachin! Sachin!

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