Tendulkar, and life after the moon landing

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A few weeks before he turned ex-president, Barack Obama sat down with television host Bill Maher for an interview. The first question posed to him was how he would spend the rest of his life, knowing that he would never have a job as exhilarating as the one he was leaving behind. 3 months into his post-presidency, Barack Obama made his first official public appearance yesterday, when he addressed students at the University of Chicago. Like most others who have traversed the road reserved for a chosen few , he is still trying to find an answer that some seem to have found, and which seems to have eluded many – where do you go after you go to the moon?

When astronauts who went to the moon returned to earth and normalcy, a few of them battled depression. For once you’ve gone to the moon, what else is there to aspire for? For the rest of us, our bucket lists are dotted with exotic locales, but the moon? If returning from a vacation is reason enough to go into a funk, imagine what it is like to return from the moon and go back to work.

Sachin Tendulkar’s moon landing lasted for 24 years. Through near career-ending injuries, self-doubt, heart-wrenching defeats, failed stints at captaincy, for 24 years, all the world was a stage for Tendulkar. No cricketer will ever be able to command the blind adulation that he has.

So how has life been for Tendulkar after his moon landing in November 2013?

Well, he turned 44 yesterday and he celebrated it at the Wankhede stadium with fans cheering him on. His team didn’t give him a victory as a birthday present, losing narrowly by 3 runs to the Rising Pune Super giants, who are staging a resurgence of sorts. He has been here and there, still trying to find an identity for himself, one that doesn’t involve him holding a bat and playing God so that an entire country can sleep better.

He has adopted a villages in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and according to reports, has helped change the lives of residents.

Of course, there have been missteps. Like this terrible effort at being a singer and ostensibly trying to reach out to a younger audience.

There have been murmurs of dissent over his no-shows at Parliament but at the same time, he has used most of the funds allocated to him as a part of MPLAD funds.

Even in retirement, he hasn’t spoken against the functioning of the BCCI, the Supreme Court’s intervention in how cricket is run in the country, the unceremonious manner in which the board was dismantled and the shamelessness of his one time boss N Srinivasan, who after being banned by the BCCI still sees himself as the President of the ICC. Actually, no ex-cricketer of stature has spoken about how cricket is being run in the country. At the same time, he has come out in support of other athletes like boxer Sarita Devi who was suspended by the boxing association for not accepting a medal. He has made it clear that politics is not his forte and has stayed away from administrative roles, lest his near-perfect image gets sullied. While Kapil Dev burnt his hands with a coaching stint, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri have played it safe by toeing the BCCI’s line. Now, we can add VVS Laxman to the list. Rahul Dravid, whose diction and clarity of thought are tailor-made for a never-ending commentary stint has chosen to mold the future by actually nurturing the next generation through coaching and mentorship roles in various capacities. Anil Kumble is currently the head coach of the Indian team and Sourav Ganguly has set his sights high in cricket administration.

Actually, where do you go after you go to the moon, after you’ve played God and then come back to earth?

Diego Maradona nearly snorted and drank himself to death before he was saved by gastric bypass surgery. His personal life is in constant upheaval mode as this recent piece articulates.

Pete Sampras retreated into private life to regain his sense of normalcy.

Back home, Tendulkar has molded himself to the demands of the social media generation where every mundane event is broadcast to the world. A largely private person who lived his life with the cameras thrust at him at every step of the journey, is now letting his followers into his world via facebook and instagram. The current crop of cricket stars sport tattoos and weird hair cuts, date film stars and live for the moment. They prefer to burn out rather than to fade away and whether we will see careers that stretch beyond a decade is yet to be seen.

The biggest problem faced by sportspersons who retire as icons is how to protect their hard earned legacy. Politicians have no sense of shame and can make comebacks scandal after scandal but a sportsperson’s equity lies in the feats they perform and the memories they leave behind. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to witness your sporting heroes grow old, sport a paunch, grey at the sides and appear in commercials selling retirement plans? Creating a career worth idolising without losing one’s way is only half the battle. Securing with it with a dignified retirement is another. After living a tunnel vision life where sporting excellence is the sole pursuit, normal life possesses a smidgen of that heady rush.

To a generation of die-hard fans, Tendulkar isn’t 44, he is forever 14 with a flock of curly hair and an impish grin, the boy who became a man who became a legend who became a God, all under the harsh glare of the unforgiving spotlight. When he began his career, we had one channel and homes had one television, mostly black and white sets that were the only source of  news and entertainment. When his career ended amidst an outpouring of tributes and tears, the television was competing with social media and live streaming of matches on mobiles.

His image maybe a little too squeaky clean for our liking, his transgressions, however minor, unable to hold their own in the face of blind faith and worship. His utterances are mostly politically correct and his every move revolves around preserving an image that we have of him – that of a middle glass boy who is grounded and hasn’t lost his head or himself to fame.

If there is only wish, it is this – that we are slowly given a glimpse of not just Tendulkar the legend but also Tendulkar the man. He will never be able to lead a normal life in the country of his birth but maybe the second half of his life will have him still bringing a smile to people’s faces, sans cricket. Maybe he will let his guard down a bit, speak up more and not resort to singing songs to reach out to his fans.

For someone who was always asked for the moon when he had a bat in his hand, life after the moon landing has just begun.

 

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Joy in the City of Joy

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The Eden Gardens is more than a ground. Some days it’s an author, writing tales of triumph, anguish and revenge. Some days it’s a poet, spurting out verses that effortlessly rhyme. Between March 11-15, 2001, it rubbed shoulders with the likes of Valmiki and Homer to script an epic. Sourav Ganguly, playing his first test in his home ground after being anointed captain, succeeded in striking himself off Waugh’s good books by keeping him waiting at the toss. It seemed like David was going up against Goliath. And all bets were placed on Goliath.

Summer had spread its tentacles and General  Steve Waugh and his men landed with war plans to conquer the final frontier. Closer to home, a different kind of war was being fought. The board exams were on, futures lay in the balance and parents rediscovered the neighbourhood temple. If only I had known at that time the transient nature of trigonometry, biology and the periodic table in my life and the ephemeral  joy and comfort that cricket would provide, life would have been infinitely simpler.

The first test in Mumbai was done and dusted in 3 days. Waugh and his merry band of soldiers thundered into Kolkata to stake claim to the what they thought was rightfully theirs – a series win and a world record 17 test victories on the trot.

March 11, 2001: Steve Waugh calls right and sends India’s bowlers on a leather hunt for the first two sessions. Hayden, Langer and Slater ensure that Australia get off to a strong start. India were missing the services of its spin warhorse Anil Kumble. His deputy, a young tyro by the name of Harbhajan Singh, who would go on to be Australia’s nemesis in more ways than one over the next decade, comes to the party after lunch.

Australia win the first two sessions. At 250/4, the day was seized by Australia. Well, almost. The first to go was Ponting, lbw. For Gilchrist, coming off a scintilating century in the first match, it was a baptism by fire. First ball duck, lbw. Replays show that the ball edged the bat but thankfuly, referrals were still a decade away. The same fate would be reserved for him in the second innings – a first ball duck. Shane Warne comes to the crease – the spin prodigy vs the eager student. He flicks the ball to S Ramesh standing at slip. Did the ball hit the bat or the pad? Did the ball touch the ground when Ramesh caught it. Eden Gardens doesn’t know nor does it care. It erupts nevertheless. The umpire asks for a replay. Adjudged out. The first Indian to ever claim a hatrick. The stadium erupts like a dormant volcano and the instead of molten lava, ecstasy spreads through the city of joy.

March 12, 2001: Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie take centre stage at 290/8. A quick ened to the Australian innings is predicted but then Steve Waugh shows the world the stuff champions are made off. Summoning all his reserves of stamina, fortitude and experience, he carves his first century in India. Australia end their innings at a chunky 445.

The ecstasy of the hatrick quickly dissolves into hopelessness as the Indian batting unit disintegrates. Ramesh falls with the score still at zero. Das soon follows suit. Hope makes an appearance as Dravid and Tendulkar are at the crease. Hope beats a hasty retreat as Tendulkar is adjudged lbw to Mcgrath. The decibel levels at the ground are on mute. In walks the prince to assuage the despair that has spread among his citizens. A rare misjudgement by Dravid costs him his wicket. A superb catch at gully ends Ganguly’s brief reign. As wickets tumble, Laxman unleashes some of his magic in the midst of the ruins.

March 13, 2001: VVS Laxman’s 59 is the only respectable score on the otherwise abysmal scorecard as India crumbles for a miserly for 171, racking up a debt of 274 runs. Any captain in his right mind would have enforced a follow on and resigned himself to an easy victory and if you were the captain of Australia, who were parading around as the invincibles, victory was a foregone conclusion. Till today, unconfirmed rumors abound of Steve Waugh prematurely ordering champagne to celebrate the victory, which in his mind was a foregone conclusion. 

The top order puts up a better performance in the second innings. Laxman is pushed up the order and arrives after the fall of Ramesh. If Gilchrist’s scorecard was a golden duck, Tendulkar picked his jersey number as his Lakshman Rekha by getting dismissed for 10 in both innings.  The prince stamps some of his authority on the proceedings but falls two runs short of a well-deserved half century. In walks an out of form Rahul Dravid to give company to Laxman.

This was a few years before the cell phone wave would engulf the country. Live streaming wasn’t invented and checking scores online wasn’t yet a way of life. As always, whenever the Indian cricket team is playing, precious man hours were wasted trying to catch a glimpse of the proceedings. Office goers took a break from their ornery jobs, school kids took a break from their frightening exams, and at the Eden Gardens, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman took center stage.

Laxman reaches his century and his counterpart assiduously plays out his deliveries till the close of play. It is interesting to note that on the same day in  1996, the Eden Gardens bellowed with rage and curtailed a world cup semi-final. The image of tears cascading down the face of Vinod Kambli still rankle. On that fateful day, the Eden Gardens chose to pen a tragedy.

March 14, 2001: Indian begin the day with VVS Laxman on 109 and Rahul Dravid on 7, still trailing by 20 runs. What transpired on this day has been analyzed, over analyzed, written, and rewritten. The stadium wears a deserted look. No one expects a fightback or a miracle. The result has been decided, only the execution remains. My take on Laxman’s masterpiece dwells on the innings a little more deeply.  In the zenith of summer, the Indian team scaled new heights. One guy dealt in magic, the other, in valor. They batted, with ice towels draped around their necks, battling the unforgiving heat and the world’s best bowling lineup. Session by session the scorecard careened from despair to hope and finally halted at redemption.  VVS Laxman had surpassed Sunil Gavaskar for the highest individual score for an Indian and Rahul Dravid’s poor run of form was history. The scorecard read 589/4. The lead was 314.

March 15, 2001: VVS Laxman inches toward a triple century but gets out to a soft dismissal in the morning for 281. By this time, the match is beyond Australia’s reach. Laxman walks back to a warm applause, his feat yet to sink into our collective consciousness. Rahul Dravid falls to a run out and India finally declare at 657, setting Australia a target of 384. Given the caliber of the Australian batting line up which featured the likes of Michael Slater, the Waugh brothers, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden, a draw was on the cards. The spin duo of Venkatapathy Raju and Harbhajan Singh attempt to spin India to a victory. Australia begin strongly. At 160/3, everyone braces themselves for a draw.

Then the epic changes course.

Harbhajan dismisses Waugh and Ponting in quick succession. Out of nowhere, Indian cricket’s folk hero, Tendulkar, emerges from the shadows. He accounts for the scalps of Gilchrist, Hayden and Warne. Harbhajan returns for a final bow and takes the final wicket of Glenn Mcgrath. The Eden Gardens exploded, no erupted. No one knows what happens of the champagne bottles.

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQGTXhqVmCQ

Some rate Kolkata 2001 as the greatest test matches ever played, Laxman’s innings as the best innings ever played. Dravid’s 148, Harbhajan’s 13 wicket melee and Tendulkar’s belated outburst, all seemed to find each other and come together for a magnum opus.Unwittingly, the test laid the ground for the future and opened the doors to what is now fondly referred to as the golden era. On March 16th 2001, I wrote the last of my board exams. School had well and truly ended. Playtime was over.

A chapter closed. But the epic lives on.