As an country we are obsessed with statistics and with individual achievement. Perhaps that is because of the way we have been conditioned to think from childhood, focussed exclusively on marks and ranks. Given that baggage of our upbringing, the euphoria that sweeps the nation as Sachin Tendulkar becomes the first man (yes a woman has already done this) to score a double century in a one-day international is understandable, being as it is no mean feat.
But two hundred is after all, just a number, a tall one nonetheless, a peak that was fated to be climbed some time or the other, given the improved scoring rates of today. As a feat and and as an innings, I would say not say this was any more splendid than his lone hand 170 odd against Australia in a losing cause, on a pitch not so friendly for batting.
However what truly takes one’s breath away has been the resurgence of Sachin Tendulkar over the past two years, after arguably the lowest point in his career when Dilhara Fernando took his stumps out in the match against Sri Lanka in World Cup 2007, a shockingly painful sight which made many (me included) have their faith falter in his career’s longevity. From the ashes of that despair however, he has since risen in a manner that may not have been as dramatically pronounced as Ganguly’s (because he was never publicly shamed and kicked out) but make no mistake, the return has been no less emphatic. Sachin is today, in a golden phase of his career with a magical run in Test matches and his innings of today showing, as if it needed showing, he can still take apart very good bowling attacks in the shorter version of the game.
Some people will say “This Sachin is no longer as fun he used to be. He has slowed down so much. How is he the greatest batsman ever if he cannot consistently dominate? Now he purses only personal records.”
The numbers though say a different story. (I am an Indian and so of course I will bring out numbers !) In ODIs, against a career average of around 45 his average in the last two years has been around 66. Wait that’s not all. Against a career strike rate of 86, his strike-rate in the last two years has been an amazing 97. That surely says that not only has he been more consistent (and hence valuable for his team) but he has also consistently scored at higher rates. True he doesnt play the booming cover-drives as he used to or send the ball over long-on with the same power as he once did. But he compensates for that with lesser number of dot balls played, deft placements and improvisations back of the wicket with the occasional thump through point or the swivel on toe throwing open a portal in the time-space continuum to days gone by.
While most normal cricketers have their performances falling away with age, Sachin has showed why he is a cut above the rest by moving his numbers the other way. True, his style has changed in the process but his effectiveness as a batsman over the past few years has increased. In his own way, Sachin has thus simply redefined his greatness.
Maybe the eyes dont gauge the line as fast any more, maybe the body does not move into position as quickly. Perhaps that’s true. Which makes him every more remarkable. Despite the depredations that time has wrought on the body and mind he still can bat, almost from memory, sometimes more impact-fully than he ever did in his salad days.
For the connoisseur of cricket as well as of life, it is this metamorphosis of his style, his ability to keep on adapting at an age that most mortals get ossified in their habits, his inherent “rising above all the cynicism” devotion to his craft (remember the four-saving dive in the first one day international) that is truly astounding, something far more awe-inspiring than the magnitude of his scores.
The old Sachin radiated heat. The new Sachin gives light.
But he still remains the sun.