Tag Archives: Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar and the Bharat Ratna Arguments

This article first appeared in the DNA Digital on 18 November 2013 

Last Saturday, November 16, on the day that Sachin Tendulkar retired from international cricket, the Government of India announced that he (along with Professor CNR Rao) would receive the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour bestowed on an Indian citizen.

Before 16 December 2012, the award was for “exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of public service of the highest order”. On that day, it was changed so that it could be awarded “in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour”.

It was no longer restricted to exceptional individuals in art, literature, science and public service. The field was broadened to include “any field of human endeavour”. It was also ‘watered down’ to include performance as well as service. Cynics argued then, with some justification, that that the policy was altered to accommodate (arguably) India’s greatest cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar. Under the previous statement of the policy, he could not be awarded the Bharat Ratna.

In my view this alteration was partially right. There is no reason why the award could not be for “exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature, Sport and Science, and in recognition of public service of the highest order”. I did not like the addition of ‘performance’ to the criterion. Aakar Patel — and many others — did not agree with the rewording. Patel wrote in the Live Mint on 27th January 2012, that the award is poorer for the re-wording: “Deploying the forward slash communicates something pedestrian, not heroic.”

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The debate on the rewording of the policy has been reignited, as expected, after the announcement that Tendulkar would receive the Bharat Ratna. The timing of the announcement by the Government was cheekily uncanny. Just hours earlier, Tendulkar had made a heartrending speech at the Wankhede stadium on the conclusion of his last and 200th Test match. Perhaps for the first time in his playing career, this intensely private man allowed fans into a space that he and his family had guarded extremely ferociously for over 24 years. Through the medium of TV, radio and the Internet, he entered our homes and talked about his views and thoughts and shared a few anecdotes. He inspired, touched and provoked many that saw or heard what was arguably the most beautiful retirement speech. Across India and in many other countries, grown men and women wept as we heard Tendulkar speak from his heart, of the many people and organisations he owed a depth of gratitude to. Many more wept as we watched him walk up to the pitch, bend down, touch it and then touch his heart. He had paid his last respects to the arena that he gave so much to, gained so much from. We cried as he shed a tear. On social media, many adults wrote to say that with his retirement, their childhood had ended, for much of this childhood was seen through Tendulkar’s exploits on the cricket field.

On the day Tendulkar made that speech, even the most hostile cynic did not have a voice that was loud enough to protest the decision to award him the Bharat Ratna.

By the next morning, though, the naysayers began their rhetoric: ‘Kapil Dev deserved it more’, ‘Dhyan Chand should have received it too’; ‘Vishwanathan Anand should have got it too’, ‘Why give it to a professional sportsman, especially one that has earned so much money from the game’, ‘Public servants like E. Sreedharan deserve it more’. ‘M. S. Swaminathan should have got it first’, they said.

And then, Patel’s article started making the rounds again.

Patel says that the new wording waters down the stringency and rigour of the Bharat Ratna award. He argues, “The critical words “towards advancement of” have been dropped. Salman Khan performs exceptionally in his field. Does that qualify him to be Bharat Ratna? According to the new rules, it does.”

And Patel is right.

But does that mean that Tendulkar should not receive the award even if we retain the original “towards the advancement of” clause? No. There has been no player who has had the combination of “elegance, balance, poise, grace, technique, focus, determination, power, dominance, imperiousness, confidence, occasional arrogance, consistency, longevity, awareness and performance at the highest level in every theater he has visited and played in.” There is no doubt in my mind that Tendulkar has served the Indian team in a manner whereby he has worked towards the advancement of the game at the highest order.

Patel disagrees. He writes: “In any case, the Bharat Ratna isn’t a glorified man of the series award. When we give someone the Bharat Ratna, we honour ourselves. We hold up the person as an ideal of true greatness. As a model Indian, Tendulkar may not be the person to hold up in front of your children. He resembles a middle-class opportunist who will take advantage where he can find it.”

I’ve often felt upon reading Patel that he lives in a different India from the one I live in. Patel does cite three well-worn cases in his substantiation of the opportunism he sees in Tendulkar: the Ferrari tax-exemption case, the addition of a gym to his house and the reporting of a car accident in 1999.

Patel’s presentation of the Ferrari tax-exemption case ignores the fact that Tendulkar is well within his rights to seek a tax exemption on his Ferrari. Moreover, once he received the gift (with or without the exemption), the car is his. He can do with it as he pleases unless there is a clause in the gifting that prohibits a future sale.

As a tax payer and a citizen of the land, he has a right to seek permission to build a gym in his house, even after his plans have been already submitted. It is up to the government of the day to receive the case, examine it and provide such permission if it thinks that that is the right thing to do. Perhaps Tendulkar did employ a lobby group to influence the government’s ruling. Such tactics are perfectly legitimate in any functioning and vibrant civil polity.

Tendulkar’s sensitivity over the car accident in 1999 is also perfectly understandable, especially given the loud, sensationalist, high-pitched and TRP-hungry media, in which Patel plays a significant part.

In a 24-year-long sporting career, Tendulkar has played with almost no blemish against his name. He has always been a servant and a student of the game. He hasn’t been fined for either dissent or abuse even once in his immensely long playing career. His longevity and contributions to the game are unparalleled. He has been, at times, compared to the great Don Bradman; probably the greatest cricketer ever. Even if we ignore that as unnecessary hyperbole, Tendulkar has been mentioned in the same breath as Bradman, Gary Sobers, Vivian Richards and Shane Warne — some of the greatest players to have played the game. He himself has always talked about being a mere custodian of the game and has always talked about the game being much bigger than him. Unlike Viv Richards or Shane Warne or Gary Sobers, who had their occasional transgressions and peccadilloes, Tendulkar has played longer and emerged with an untarnished reputation. His career has been about integrity, pride and absolute fidelity to the fundamental tenets of the game.

If Tendulkar cannot be the person to hold up in front of children as a model citizen, I am not sure we have any in India from any walk of life: sport, art, science, politics.

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In a country that is utterly bereft of role models and heroes, Tendulkar has crafted a career without a single blotch and stood as a beacon of hope and a giver of pleasure.

The award to Tendulkar has also rekindled the sport versus art debate.

Like art, sport also seeks permanence. Most sportspeople and artists are engaged in the pursuit of excellence; in something that is more than the ordinary and banal. Although some sportspeople, and perhaps artists, are motivated by the bright lights, possible financial rewards, popularity and glamour — especially at the more popular end of their endeavour — most of them, at least in their formative years, are fuelled by a burning personal desire to drive themselves towards excelling in the domain in which they are rewarded with exceptional talent. And in that sense, they are self-focused because they seek to explore the unknown — either within themselves or as part of a larger creative endeavour.

Ed Smith, in a lovely articlein which he cites the magical beauty of Sachin Tendulkar’s wristy flick to midwicket, tries to answer if sports is indeed an art. He concludes that sport is more than a mere craft. Sport can be experienced at many different levels. Just like the arts.

Yes, sport may not enable us to find cure for diabetes. Unlike literature, sport may not enable us to understand the impact of a series of Russian famines. Unlike a painting, sport may not enable us to transcend the ordinary and peek into the realm that we cannot understand. Unlike a musical composition, sport may not provide us with the ability to see how frequencies may be interwoven together in complex arrangements. But sport, like art, science and literature is enduring. Exemplary sportsmen make contributions on a different canvas and seek the same permanence that artists seek. We live in a world where excellence demands sharp focus. As a result there is less of a chance of finding a Greek javelin thrower, with javelin in one hand and a paint brush in the other. Sport uplifts the soul as much as art can. Just talk to people who like to watch the Tour de France or long distance running or endurance sports like the triathlon. The narrative there is about straining, stretching and extending the limits of human endeavour so that we may understand more about ourselves, our fears, and the limits of our abilities.

Let us return to Patel and this simplistic argument he offers: “Kumar Gandharva took apart the gharana system, transformed the culture of Hindustani music and was also given the Padma Vibhushan. Tendulkar hit cricket balls. Many cricket balls, and very far. But Bharat Ratna?”

Allow me to alter the sentence: “Tendulkar lit the hearts of a million people through making many runs continuously in the most trying circumstances. A whole generation of Indian cricketers and Indian sportspeople wanted to play with pride, poise, productivity and promise like Tendulkar, who was a beacon of integrity and hope when India suffered agonizingly through the match-fixing crisis that paralyzed the sport in the late 1990s. Kumar Gandharva just sang notes. Many notes, and beautifully, But Bharat Ratna?”

For the record, I adore Kumar Gandharva’s music and his contributions. I developed the above parallel argument just to demonstrate how facile Patel’s argument is.

There can be no doubting Tendulkar’s contributions. The impact of his work is harder to measure, but there are statements of impact that can be made. Most kids would say that they want to bat like Tendulkar. Everywhere I have watched the game, he has been a draw card. People come to watch him play. He has been cheered on most international arenas he has played in. Audiences at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Lords’ and Antigua anticipate his arrival at the crease and cheer him as much as the crowds at the Wankhede, the Eden Gardens or Chepauk do. Just as many aspiring musicians wanted to sing like Bhimsen Joshi or M. S. Subbulakshmi, almost every cricketer of the next generation wanted to play the game like Tendulkar — not only in India, but around the world. Yes, Tendulkar never found a cure for AIDS nor did he advocate world peace, but neither did Bismillah Khan.

There is no doubt that Tendulkar is a popular choice. But he is, in my view, a clear example of how not everything that is popular is necessarily of lesser value. His contributions transcend the many divides and boundaries we have in our complex and layered society: rich/poor, urban/rural, haves/havenots, high-caste/low-caste, popular/esoteric, aristocrats/plebiscites. And his contributions to his field have an unmatched endurance.

In the past, the Bharat Ratna award has been handed out to recipients as though they were recognition for favours (not contributions) rendered. For example, 23 of our 41 Bharat Ratna awardees are politicians. It is easy to see why the prestige and uniqueness of the award itself has been sullied.

By giving Sachin Tendulkar the Bharat Ratna, my view is that the award has, once again, gained credibility.

— Mohan (@mohank)

God and the Argumentative Indian

This article first appeared in DNA on 11 Oct 2013 in two parts: Part-1 and Part-2

I once had the opportunity to travel from Mumbai to Singapore with Raj Singh Dungarpur. He was on his way to New Zealand as a representative of the BCCI at an ICC meeting. During our conversation, I asked him what his best decision was. Almost before I could finish my question he said, “Selecting Sachin Tendulkar to play for India,” and added with a twinkle in his eye, “although if you had seen him play as often I had, it wasn’t really a risky decision. It was bold, but not risky. And mark my words, any investment in Tendulkar will always pay off.”

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Raj Singh Dungarpur, Akash Lal, Ramesh Saxena, Gundappa Viswanath and Naren Tamhane selected a young, bright-eyed, squeaky-voiced, curly-haired teenager to represent India in Pakistan. A young and determined 16-year old Sachin Tendulkar played against a tough Pakistan team on 15 November 1989; a Pakistan team that had three genuine pace bowlers (in Wasim Akram, Wakar Younis and Imran Khan) and a world-class leg-spinner (in Abdul Qadir).

Almost twenty four years after that bold decision, Tendulkar will retire from International cricket after having played 200 Test matches.

And in these 24 years, almost as often as we have heard the chant “Saaaaaachin Saaaaaachin” we have also had Tendulkar embody the very essence of the argumentative Indian. Rahul Bhattacharya captures this beautifully in his piece “Man-child superstar” in which he writes:

“If the strokes are flowing, spectators feel something beyond pleasure. They feel something like gratitude. The silence that greets his dismissal is about the loudest sound in sport. With Tendulkar the discussion is not how he got out, but why. Susceptible to left-arm spin? To the inswinger? To the big occasion? The issue is not about whether it was good or not, but where does it rank? A Tendulkar innings is never over when it is over. It is simply a basis for negotiation. He might be behind headphones or helmet, but outside people are talking, shouting, fighting, conceding, bargaining, waiting. He is a national habit.”

*****

Tendulkar never promised us that he would lead India to victory in every match he played. Yet, we wanted him to. No. We expected him to. No. We made him mortal if he did not. We expected more from Tendulkar than we did, from even our politicians.

Tendulkar never promised that, at 40, he would produce the fluent strokes he played when he was 28. Yet, we always expected ‘the Tendulkar of old’ or ‘the Tendulkar of 1998’. We could, of course, purchase a DVD of the famous ‘Desert Storm’ series and see that Tendulkar of old. But that wasn’t enough. It was as though even time stood still when we evaluated Tendulkar. We could not accept an ageing Tendulkar and watch the Tendulkar of now. For the argumentative Indian, if Tendulkar did not reproduce his shots from 1998, he did not deserve to be in the team in 2013.

Tendulkar himself never promised us that all his centuries would be made in ‘winning causes’. Yet we expected his centuries to always result in India wins (or else those centuries wouldn’t count, or we labeled him a selfish cricketer).

Tendulkar himself never claimed he was God. But, we made him God and then the rest of us brought him down. Bit by bit.

In the end analysis though, in a country that is somewhat bereft of (sporting) heroes, Tendulkar, the hero, has outlasted the argumentative Indian, crafted a career without a single blemish and stood as a beacon of hope and a giver of pleasure.

Perhaps that is the mark of (his) greatness in the Indian context. Greatness in sport in India is perhaps not defined by the heady confluence of elegance, balance, poise, grace, technique, focus, determination, power, dominance, imperiousness, confidence, occasional arrogance, consistency, longevity, awareness and intent. He has been all of that over a long career. He has had all of those qualities over an extensive and distinguished career. Perhaps greatness in the Indian sporting context has to be marked by violent disagreements on the very essence of that greatness; what exactly that greatness is about. His greatness should have been automatically assured. Yet in India, Tendulkar has always polarized opinion. And that, perhaps, ought to be the accepted definition of greatness in a country that needs heroes but is equally eager to tear them down and ‘cut them down to size’ every now and then.

*****

Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement from all forms of cricket on Thursday, 10-10-2013. The fact that he had always worn the Number 10 India jersey may have had something to do with the timing of his retirement on this day. Or maybe it was the TEN that prefixed his surname which, in turn, may have earned him the number 10 jersey early on in his career.

The one other date that may have worked better for him — from the point of view of the numbers — would have been 10-10-10. If he had retired on 10 October 2010, he may have retired some five years too early. Indeed, on that very day, he was 44 not out at Bangalore against the visiting Australians. He went on to make a beautifully crafted 214 in that match. If he had retired on 10-10-10, we would have also missed his majestic 146 that he made at Cape Town on 4 January 2011. That Cape Town knock was his last Test century although, after that, he did come close to the 3-figure mark on a few occasions: a 91 (against England at the Oval in 2011) a 94 (against West Indies in Mumbai in 2011), a beautifully crafted 73 (against Australia at the MCG in 2011) a 76 (against England at the Eden Gardens in 2012) and an 81 (against Australia at Chennai in 2013).

So, on 10-10-2013, he has, in my view, retired two years too early. I say that although I am confident that my view is going to be questioned quite soundly and ridiculed significantly.

But that is what you get when you have an opinion on Tendulkar. There is no middle ground. You are either pro- or anti-Tendulkar. He polarizes opinions like no other champion players does (particularly in India).

As Siddhartha Vaidyanathan says in a post on Tendulkar, “What pains me is how a large part of discourse on the Internet is so limited to black and white. You are apparently either for Sachin or against him. If you question his place in the side, you are a moron who has no right to express an opinion or an ignorant bum who has never held a bat in his life or someone with a vested interest.”

*****

For all talk that he didn’t care about numbers and statistics, numbers did seem to matter to the man; or at least to the people around him who had a stake in him — and many did. So the choice of 10-10-2013 to announce his retirement was possibly deliberately crafted and carefully constructed like the 241* he made in Sydney in January 2004.

Numbers may not have mattered to the man, but they did to the industry around the man. And there is an industry around the man; an industry that seems filled with brand merchants, product architects, advertising honchos and people who launch things.

Perhaps I ought to have said ‘there was an industry around him’.

I would, if I can bring myself to talk about God in the past tense.

I cannot. At least, not yet.

Numbers did seem to matter. He worked hard to get to that 200th Test. Whether he did so because he wanted to, himself, or because of the people who had invested in him who had a vested interest in prolonging his career, we will never know. But it had been an open secret for far too long that he would play on until his 200th Test and that that 200th Test would be played in India. Indeed, it was the worst kept secret in the Indian cricket landscape; an environment that seems to have a steady growth — and not a decline — in innuendo and secret handshakes and less and less of assured planning and fact.

That his retirement in a home series was engineered so blatantly by his cricket Board just makes the cricket world sit up again and wonder at the beast at the ICC table that we Indian fans have created; the ogre that we continually endure and support.

*****

So how did you feel when you heard of the news of Tendulkar’s retirement?

Me? Although I sensed, since the start of this year that Tendulkar would retire after his 200th Test and even though I was prepared for the announcement, I felt a numbness when I heard the news. I cannot imagine an India Test team without Tendulkar. I cannot quite bring myself to accept that someone else will now walk in at the fall of the second wicket.

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There was always a calm sense of assurance that Sachin Tendulkar would walk to the middle at the fall of the second wicket; that he would walk down the pavilion steps (or ramp), look skyward, squeeze his eyes, walk purposefully to the wicket, take guard and perform his pre-stance box adjustment routine.

That was assurance. It gave me comfort.

And I cannot yet bring myself to accept that the now famous and always assuring pre-stance box-adjustment routine will now be replaced by the vigorous bat twirl and ‘inside of the helmet visor wipe’ routine that belongs to Virat Kohli.

That acceptance may happen too, only because it must.

Tendulkar had given me — and many others like me — much joy in the 1990s when India got routinely thrashed all around the world. He gave me cause to celebrate because of the way he played the game. His cricket was simple, uncomplicated and beautiful. His cricket was untainted and joyous. His cricket was pure.

I had watched with admiration and pride as he grew in stature: he was first a kid playing in the midst of grown-ups, then a boy, then a lad, then a man and then, a God in his country and then, a statesman in world cricket. He did not want to be a God, mind you. We made him God. And the same people who made him God cruelly called him Endulkar in 1996 2006 when he was going through a rough patch, as all human beings must (and do).

But that was us fans. This God did have clay feet. Sometimes.

In the end, however, there was only one constant. He had always played the beautiful game with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm. He only wanted to play. He knew no other life.

*****

I had watched him score 119* in Manchester. Yes, that innings that really announced his arrival on the world stage. I was in England in those days. A few months later, I moved to Australia and there, I watched every ball he faced when he made 148 in Sydney in January 1992 in the company of Ravi Shastri. But more importantly, a month later, I watched in awe, with pride and a growing sense of admiration as he braved the pace of Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Paul Rieffel, Mike Whitney and Tom Moody when he made 114 in Perth. I had watched the young boy grow up to be a man and then, a legend. All in the space of 18 months. During that defining Perth innings, a boy wonder had become a man. That is, to date, the best innings I have watched Tendulkar play.

Or is it?

Was it that 241* in Sydney in 2004? Or the 111 in Johannesburg in November 1992? Or the 177 in Nottingham in 1996? Or the 169 in Cape Town in 1997? Or the 155* against Australia in Chennai in 1998? Or the 155 in Bloemfontein in 2001? Or the 193 in Leeds in 2002? Or the 194* in Multan in 2004? Or the 154* in Sydney in that Test in 2008?

There are too many wonderful knocks to list. But talk about the best Tendulkar innings always polarizes opinions, like talk about the man himself. And that is what you get by having an opinion on Tendulkar. There is no unique answer. Was that 241* his best or was it that 194*?

Perhaps that is the point about greatness. We can’t quit agree on what constitutes greatness, although there can’t be much doubt on greatness itself.

*****

And then there were the endless debates on whether Tendulkar played for himself or for his team. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan wrote on “Tendulkar and the ‘clutch’ question”  in which he quotes his friend Jay, who said: “Most fans agree on what is a big game and what is not. There comes a time during these big games when most fans smell the moment, the moment when the game is balancing on the finest of threads. I have seen Tendulkar occasionally sense the moment and pounce on it, imposing his greatness on the occasion. But I feel I’ve seen him not seize these moments more often.”

Perhaps these arguments would never have happened if Tendulkar had finished the game off and won that Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1999. What that ignores is that there were a whole bunch of players who could have stayed with and helped a bruised Tendulkar win that game for India.

Perhaps these arguments won’t have happened if Tendulkar hadn’t skied that McGrath bouncer in the 2003 World Cup final. What that ignores is that it was perhaps because of Tendulkar that India even reached the 2003 World Cup final.

Perhaps…

But that is also an integral part of Tendulkar’s greatness in a country that is only now getting used to thinking about greatness in cricket. Fans have to either criticize his 136 in Chennai against Pakistan for what he did not do, or celebrate it, for what he did.

*****

Many will say that Tendulkar had extended his stay; that he ought to have retired from all forms of the game on 2 April 2011. But he continued playing all three forms of the game after that day. It was not his responsibility to select himself in the team. To play was his choice; one we must always respect. He had earned it. But did we respect him? No. Arguments raged notwithstanding the fact that, of the four member middle-order who have retired in the last four years, India has only found stable and able replacements for Rahul Dravid (Cheteshwar Pujara) and VVS Laxman (Virat Kohli). Four years after his retirement, India still does not have a steady replacement for Sourav Ganguly after trying out Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, S. Badrinath, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja. All of these have only had mixed success.

Yet, we were keen to disrobe God although it was clearly the duty of the national selectors to have a chat to the man and talk to him about retirement — that is, if they wanted to replace him.

Did he overstay his welcome? No. As I indicated earlier, in my view, he still had a year or two of Test cricket left in him. The team has already seen the departure of Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble and perhaps Sehwag and Zaheer Khan. These days, a team that loses all of its stalwarts in one fell swoop is called Australia which thought — somewhat arrogantly — that there is an endlessly rich talent pipeline that affords selectors the luxury of a brutal revolving door.

National sporting teams need to carefully nurture talent and this needs the hands of an artist and not the axe of a wood-chopper.

Of course, Tendulkar’s place in the Indian team has never really been questioned (even in 1996) except, perhaps marginally, in the last one year or so of his career. Tendulkar still seemed to love the game and every time he took the field, seemed to play the game with the same zest that I saw in Manchester some 22 years ago. And he can still hold that 2-down spot.

In his retirement announcement, Tendulkar says, “It’s hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it’s all I have ever done since I was 11 years old.”

His job was to play. He knew nothing else.

*****

So, the debates will continue to rage. And I had one within 5 minutes of his retirement announcement. I thought that his best shot was the straight drive to a fast bowler. A colleague said it was the upper cut over the slips, back arched, eyes focused on ball, neck slightly inclined. Yet another said that it was the back foot drive through the covers. Another said it had to be the casual flick through deep square leg.

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We could not arrive at a meaningful conclusion. Perhaps one is not necessary.

We moved instead, to a discussion on his best innings ever. 241*, 194*, 111, 177, 155*… An hour later, with no conclusion in sight, we moved on to his best ODI innings ever. And so the night meandered on.

When an international sportsperson plays for as long as Sachin Tendulkar has, it is hard — nay, almost impossible — to pick out one specific shot, one specific innings, one specific moment. All of them were perhaps equally brilliant. All of them were crafted carefully. But more importantly, all of them were played by a young, enthusiastic, curly haired lad who loved the game, loved playing for India and wanted nothing more than to give pleasure to the people who watched him play.

Today, a day after the announcement, the numbness is gone. The sadness is gone. I only feel pleasure. Pleasure that I watched it all — from 1989 to 2013. Pleasure that I argued about him. For him. Pleasure that he enhanced the appreciation I have for the game. Pleasure that he was there as a beacon of hope  in 2000, a time when the match-fixing saga raged; a time when I thought I would abandon my support for the game I loved so much because I had learned that some of the men who played the game had played it to line their own pockets.

But then God was there. He did not know how to cheat or how to throw games. He could not be procured. And in the end, his love of the game is really the measure of his greatness. He played for the team always. He played for the fans who loved the game always. Throughout his life, he lived cocooned in the warm comfort of his home or on the cricket field. He knew of no other life other than cricket.

Meanwhile, the arguments will continue unabated…

— Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)

The author is an unabashed fan of cricket, tweets at @mohank and blogs at http://www.i3j3cricket.com and mohankaus.blogspot.com


Who’s more ‘clutch’? Tendulkar, Lara or Ponting?

By Ajit Bhaskar (@ajit_bhaskar)

Who is the most clutch among these three legends from our generation?

The Stage

Given the somewhat sensitive title of the post, I tried to think of a lot of emotional, heartfelt introductory content but I failed miserably. But it suffices to say that these three players are the best from our generation, particularly in the ODI format of the game. A couple of folks (Ian Chappell and Nasser Hussain) have opined on who’s the greatest among the three ‘modern greats’. Honestly, it is a tough ask to rate the three for each is excellent in his own ways.

I’m not here to ‘rate’ which one of them is the best among the three. What I’m going to address, is each batsman’s ability to perform in the clutch, which is one of the measures of a player’s greatness. After all, such performances tend to ‘define a player’s legacy’!

I am going to compare (statistically), the performance of these three players under ‘clutch’ situations.

Also, it makes some sense to compare these three players in particular because:

  • They have played in the same era.
  • They are all top order batsmen and have spent a vast majority of their careers batting in 1-4 spots in the batting order.

Ground Rules/Assumptions

  • I’m going to restrict this conversation to ODIs alone.
  • Clutch’ is defined as chasing a target. I will try to make things more granular as I proceed further.
  • Only India, Australia, West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, England and South Africa have been considered for this analysis. Sorry Zimbabwe, Bangladesh et al.
  • Only run chases are considered.
  • The pronouns HE and HIS used in generic sentences encompass BOTH male and female human beings. Do not hassle me with ‘sexist’ and other epithets.

A brief note on ‘clutch’

Various images flash across our minds the instant we hear the word clutch. Like Michael Jordan’s buzzer beating “The Shot” against Cleveland (followed by Jordan jumping in the air and then throwing his elbows exactly three times after planting his feet on the ground), Javed Miandad’s last ball six off Chetan Sharma (I hate Nataraj pencils just for that) and so on. As far as ODIs are concerned, a clutch situation typically involves chasing a target. The pressure that is associated with chasing a target, particularly when two good, competitive teams are playing makes for good drama and excellent cricket. The players who shine repeatedly and consistently under such circumstances become legends of the game.

The reason for emphasis on run chase will become clearer during the course of this article.

The Statistics

These are obtained from Cricinfo directly after applying a filter for ‘fielding first’.

Key observations:

  • They’ve been involved in enough run chases to qualify for statistical analysis
  • Lara has scored nearly half his runs chasing targets!
  • The ‘chasing average’ of all three players is pretty close to their career averages. This suggests that the pressure associated with a run chase doesn’t influence their performance significantly. In fact, Lara (on an average), scores 3 more runs during chasing.
  • All players show the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, i.e. elevated averages when their teams win during a run chase and reduced averages when their teams lose while chasing a target.
  • It’s the extent of this syndrome exhibited by the three players that is quite intriguing.
  • If we define Differential Chasing Average or D = Chasing Average during Wins – Chasing Average during Losses, it represents the degree of discrepancy in individual performance while a team goes on to win or lose. In principle, a ‘legendary’ player is expected to play the same way and produce at a high level regardless of the outcome of the game and the performance of other players on the team. So lower the D value, greater the degree of consistency of a player during run chases.
  • The D values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 19.53, 40.11 and 39 respectively.
  • Let’s pause and ponder over this for a moment. Taking Lara as example, when WI chases a total successfully, he tends to score FORTY MORE RUNS than when WI fails to chase a target. While an average of ~68 runs is fantastic during successful a run chase, that also indicates a lot of variation in performance. In other words, consistency is lacking. The same is true of Ponting (Differential = 39). However, the key difference between Lara and Ponting is that when their teams lose while chasing a target, Lara still manages to score a decent 27.5 runs, Ponting manages only 19 runs.
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, shows the least variation (D = 19.53). In fact, the variation is half of Lara’s and Ponting’s. This indicates more consistent performance during run chases.
  • Lara has the best Chasing Average in Wins by a distance. He scores nearly 10 more runs than Ponting and 16 more runs than Tendulkar during successful run chases.
  • Tendulkar has the best Chasing Average in Losses. It’s is about 13 runs or 67% greater than Ponting’s. He also scores 4 more runs than Lara during unsuccessful rn chases.
 Figure 1. Graphical representation of performance of Sachin Tendulkar (SRT, blue), Brian Lara (BL, Red) and Ricky Ponting (RP, green) during run chases.

 

Cranking up the pressure to ‘ultimate clutch’

While the analysis so far has provided an indication of the extent of consistency of these players, it hasn’t truly separated them as to who is the best among the three. So I’ll up the ante a little bit and crank up the pressure.

I’d like to evaluate these players’ performances under extreme pressure.  In many cases, teams are chasing fairly small targets of 100 or 150. While the task is still challenging, it is not as daunting as chasing a larger target. Say 250.

How do these players fare when chasing targets of 250 or above? The reason for choosing 250 becomes clearer when we take a look at how teams fare when they chase such targets.

Data Acquisition

  • Get the ODI inning by inning list for Tendulkar on cricinfo.
  • Set a filter for ‘fielding first’.
  • Open every single match/scorecard and choose only those where targets of 250 or above were chased.
  • Note the runs scored in each inning under two columns based on whether his team won or lost.
  • Calculate various parameters (Average, average during wins and losses etc.)
  • Not outs are considered as outs for calculating averages
  • Repeat the process for Lara and Ponting. Note that in Ponting’s case, a tied match is included for calculating chasing average.

Here’s how the three batsmen fare:

Key observations:

  • There is a LOT of collective failure! Just take a look at the W-L records. With these legends representing India, West Indies and Australia respectively, they have won ~30, 25 and 40% of their matches while chasing 250+ targets. The collective success rate is just 31%!
  • So, if anybody tells you chasing 250+ is an easy task, just show him this table. Even the ‘invincible Aussies’, who have boasted some of the game’s premier batsmen, bowlers and perhaps some the most balanced sides ever, have failed to win even half the games while chasing 250 or above!
  • Tendulkar’s average while chasing 250+ targets (39.9) is virtually same as his regular chasing average of 40.03. This is remarkable consistency. Lara and Ponting on the other hand, tend to score nearly 5 and 3 runs lower than their regular chasing averages respective, when chasing 250+ targets.
  • Tendulkar also averages the most during 250+ chases. While Tendulkar and Lara are separated by one run, Tendulkar scores nearly 3 more runs than Ponting.
  • The differential (D) values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 10.3, 34.2 and 46.6 respectively.
  • Let me emphasize a bit more on the D values. Regardless of W or L, you can expect consistent performance from Tendulkar. Lara and Ponting, on the other hand, tend to play extremely well when their respective teams are winning, but tend to score poorly when their sides are on the losing side. This is particularly true of Ponting, whose average of 18.5 when the Aussies lose chasing targets 250 (probability is 26 out of 44 games or 59%) or above is quite frankly, poor!
  • WI has lost 39 out of 52 games while chasing 250+. But even under these circumstances, Lara pretty much assures you 30 runs (chasing avg. during losses).
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, gets you 7 more runs than Lara and nearly 18 more runs than Ponting on days when your team is not doing a good job at chasing. This is a very significant difference in my opinion, given the fact that India and WI do not end up on the winning side often while chasing 250+ targets.
  • But when their teams win, Lara and Ponting fire and fare much better than Tendulkar. This is clear from their chasing averages during wins.

Figure 2. Graphical representation of performance during 250+ run chases for Tendulkar (blue), Lara (red) and Ponting (green).

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, no matter how high the pressure is, whether the game is being played on earth or elsewhere, no matter what kind of target the team is chasing, Tendulkar provides the most steady, consistent performance. Lara is a gambling man’s pick, while Ponting is (compared to Tendulkar and Lara) more of a hit or miss case. If snoring is a problem, you may need ZQuiet.

To me, this analysis puts Tendulkar and Lara a cut above Ponting. Particularly because Ponting has enjoyed the benefit of better overall teams than Lara and Tendulkar have enjoyed over their careers. But more importantly, the averages of 18.95 during unsuccessful run chases and 18.5 during unsuccessful run chases involving 250+ targets is something I wouldn’t call ‘stuff of legends’.

In a nutshell, if I were to pick one of these three legends to help chase my team a target of 250 or above, which in my book, is a clutch situation given the rate of failure involved, I’d flip a coin. Heads – Tendulkar, Tails – Lara.

Sorry Ponting, you just don’t make the cut on my list. Certainly not in ODIs.

Last Chance Saloon

[by Sunny Mishra (@sehwagology) and Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)]

The promotions for the forthcoming full tour to Australia by India have been on in full force on TV in India. These promos are a source of some mirth and a lot of unintended comedy. We have had former cricket stars hyping the event as “Thunder Downunder”. Shane Watson has the unenviable task of lecturing us on meteorology and climate adadptation. Through these promos, we are reliably informed that, while it is winter in India it is summer in Australia. Saurav Ganguly talks up the series as the ‘battle of the chirp’, referring to the mental fortitude that is required for teams to tour Australia. Bollywood stars have got in on the act. The tour has been called the “Agneepath” (“Path of Fire”) Series. It helps that a movie by the same name is due for release shortly!

Product placement meets TV meets cricket.

An India v Australia match-up has not, in the past, required any additional marketing. Fans of both countries relish the contest. The Border-Gavaskar series had the potential to be billed as The Ashes of the new millennium until Australia lost its sheen. Nevertheless, since the 2001 epic in Kolkata, Boarder-Gavaskar Trophy clashes between Australia and India have marketed and sold themselves. And if interest in the BG Series flagged at any point in time, that Test in Sydney in 2008 ensured that Australia-India Tests would always retain an interest around the world of cricket.

The Border-Gavaskar Series was an opportunity for the most powerful team of our generation to meet the most powerful team of our generation. It presented an opportunity for the strongest team to meet the richest team; an opportunity for the most talkative team to meet a team that was finding its voice (at times, even a provocative rude voice). Every series saw drama, emotion, guts, glory, evictions, fights, breakdowns, fight-backs, back-stabbing, court-room trials and more. This was Survivor meets Big Brother meets TV meets cricket. Always! So, the additional chest-thumping marketing promos have been somewhat strange and mostly unnecessary.

However, India did lose to England in the 2011 English summer. Badly! Most Team India fans have worked hard to try and banish the horribly painful memory of that loss deep into the recesses of their minds. England in 2011? India went there to play? Play cricket? No way!

Subsequent to that series against England, India has made a few small but significant changes in personnel, although the approach has not been changed substantially. India beat England in an ODI series and then beat a hapless West Indies. But both of these series were at home. In India. In familiar conditions. So, it is hard for us to gauge the impact of the reorganization and the restructuring that was necessitated by the horrible English summer.

Moreover, the injuries that plagued Team India in the horrible summer tour of England persist. These have not vanished. India has had to identify, groom and prepare new resources. Quickly.

Meanwhile, Australia is caught in a funny place. We cannot be sure whether they are in consolidation phase or rebuilding phase or start-up phase! That is how unsure the Australian cricket team is looking these days. The cocky sheen has been replaced by an immature diffidence. Australia present an image of a child eager to — and, at times, able to — peddle fast on a bicycle when it can’t remember if it has taken its first baby steps in life. It looks like a team what needs a “re” prefix to describe the process of transformation that it is undergoing, without being sure if it is resurgent, rebuilding, regrowth, regeneration or revival.

After the terrible Ashes loss at home at the hands of England (again!), Australia went about the rebuild that was required in a typically Australian manner. The result was the Argus review. A public enquiry was conducted. All stakeholders were contacted and interviewed. A tome was written.

This series provides an opportunity to assess the status of the sweeping changes brought in by the Argus review. Australia has new selectors, a new coach, a new coaching system, a relatively new captain, and a new T20 league. All of these were intended to arrest the reversals over the last couple of summers. All of these will be under scrutiny. The challenge will be to show demonstrable improvements, and fast.

The first few attempts at regeneration have been very mixed. A good session is immediately followed by a bad session. In the past few months the team has demonstrated excellence and weakness, strength and vulnerability, solidity and inconsistency, toughness and fragility — all in equal measure.

All of this has turned the pre-series Australian Press ritual on its head.

What we normally have every (Australian) summer is the Australian press attacking the visiting opposition captain and key players in a remarkably organised pack-mentality. This ritual would often commence a few weeks before the first ball is bowled. The opposing team would be made to feel the heat and the pressure before the first toss. A siege-mentality would often grip visiting teams even before the actual cricket commences.

However, this time around, the Australian press is internally focused — almost entirely. Should Ricky Ponting retire? Should Usman Khawaja play? And if so, at what position? What happens to Phil Hughes now? Why are there so many injuries to key players like Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Pat Cummins, Ryan Harris, et al?

These are some of the questions that have to be asked. And key press outlets in Australia have started this postmortem. The questions and barbs from the Australian media are being directed at the hosts this summer. There are self-doubts. These need addressing much more urgently than the potential gaps and vulnerabilities of the opposition camp. The Australian press is internally focused.

So, this series does provide some interesting story-lines. Some these will be distractions. Others will surely affect preparations.

For India’s senior soldiers, this is the “Final Frontier”. A win in Australia will check off another item on the bucket list of the “Triumphant Trinity”! (Ok, we were struggling here after the Fantastic Five became the Fabulous Four!). The Trinity has come close to a victory in Australia in the past. But the team lacked the killer punch; that finishing touch.

Sachin Tendulkar will be eager to get the 100th 100 completed. [Editorial Comment: Under normal circumstances, we may have said “Tendulkar needs to get that monkey off his back.” However, that would be a tad insensitive for an India tour of Australia! So the Editor culled that cliche out of this piece!] If Tendulkar does not get to his 100th century early on in the tour, this distraction will become as unbearable in the Australian press as it has already become in the Indian press. That distraction is one that the team does not need.

There is a risk of the series becoming a Ricky Ponting farewell tour — that is, of course, if the retirement does not happen before the tour commences. The 2003/04 series became a distraction for the home team as Steve Waugh’s retirement took center-stage in Australia. A Ricky Ponting farewell tour would be a needless distraction on a side lane when the team is struggling to cope with driving the bus within the confines of the lane markings.

Both captains will have to manage these diversions expertly.

One could say that Australia’s overseas assignments in Sri Lanka and South Africa have exceeded the expectations of a team that is in ‘re-build mode’. However, Australia will look at key moments in both these series and will want to ask questions. Being bowled out for 47 at Cape Town was a stunning low-point. At home they have been stymied by a plucky New Zealand side. The Kiwis used the conditions better at Hobart after being outplayed at The Gabba in Brisbane.

The loss at Hobart to New Zealand just prior to the “Agneepath Series” will hurt Australia. Going into the last day, one could not imagine Australia losing. Yes, New Zealand (and in particular, Doug Bracewell) bowled brilliantly. However, the bowling was hardly menacing. What was scary — from an Australian perspective — was the tentativeness and mental fragility that was on display. Apart from Warner and Lyon, briefly, all the other batsmen poked prodded and perished. This slide to ridiculousness was started by Ricky Ponting. Until the Ponting dismissal, one could not imagine an Australia loss. Ponting spent 51 minutes out in the middle. 51 minutes of extreme self-doubt. 51 minutes that defined Australia’s loss. 51 minutes of agony for any Australian fan. 51 minutes of pain.

So much so that the words in the poser: “Ponting will depart? Yeah? When?” perhaps need to be urgently rearranged to: “Yeah! When will Ponting depart?”

Another major concern for Australia is the litany of injuries. While Watson is expected to recover in time for Boxing Day, the return of young gun Patrick Cummins is unknown at this stage. Shaun Marsh should return to his spot at 3. The fitness status of Ryan Harris is unknown.

While the return of Watson and Marsh is welcome news, they will be short on (recent) match practice. The Big Bash League is the only cricket available for Watson and Marsh to secure match practice; and a hit in a T20 game is hardly the ideal preparation for Test cricket.

And while on this topic… Who thought of having a domestic T20 competition in the middle of a first class season, and while the home Test-series is on? Even the BCCI wouldn’t have come up with this pearl of extremely bad programming. The BCCI office bearers would have had to be on a terrible cocktail of hallucination-inducing drugs and vodka to have come up with such a silly concept!

The scheduling is so terrible that even if Patrick Cummins’s injury heals prior to the Adelaide Test — commencing 24 January 2012 — he would have to make an entry into Test cricket without any first class cricket under his belt.

As a Team India fan, I have seen many ridiculous attempts at non-management by the BCCI. But this piece of ridiculousness is something that would make even the BCCI officials reject with extreme and violent disgust.

India’s preparations have hardly been ideal either. An injury cloud hangs over Zaheer Khan. He has played two first-class games for Mumbai in the domestic Ranji Trophy competition. The comeback signs are good. But, will he last the tour? For India to have a successful tour, his form and his bowling-leadership will be crucial. One is never sure when Ishant Sharma will break down. For some time now, his body appears as though it is being held together by band-aid. Sreesanth is injured. Praveen Kumar is injured. Varun Aaron is injured. Harbhajan Singh is injured. Munaf Patel is injured. Ashish Nehra is not injured, but is not in selection contention. Who knows why? This means that the Indian bowling sports a new, young (and somewhat untested) look about it. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar form the pace attack while R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha form the spin strength.

While the rest of the team was playing against West Indies in an ODI series, a lead party of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma reached Melbourne prior to full squad assembling in Canberra for the two practice games.

Practice games? Yeah right!

India is scheduled to play an Australia Chairman’s XI for a pair of 2-day games. Typically this side is a clutch of rising domestic stars led by a seasoned veteran. However, since the Big Bash League will have commenced on 16 December, it will be difficult for Cricket Australia to provide a competitive side to play against India. So, will it be adequate match practice for the visiting India Team? We do not think so.

The senior Indian players value structured practice sessions more than practice games. While there is plenty of time for that, what is lacking is net bowlers. CA is under no obligation to provide them net bowlers until when the Tests commence. So there is a scheduling mess here too — once again, caused by a senseless T20 competition that carves up the domestic Shield season in half. India will, therefore, need to ensure that it takes an additional pace bowler on the trip. Either that or India needs to make do with Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar bowling ball after ball to the batsmen in the nets!

The lack of net bowlers is not a new problem that Indian teams have faced in Australia. This issue has surfaced on past tours to Australia too. Net bowlers have often been unavailable and practice facilities have often been “off limits”. Throw downs from the trainer are hardly going to prepare any batsmen — however experienced — for the probing examinations and searing pace of Peter Siddle and James Pattinson.

So, there you have it. It is a strange series that has more doubts than Agnee (fire). And if the teams have a path towards a certain future, this is unknown either. Yet, what we do know is that this has been billed as the Agneepath Series. It represents a battle between a team that is trying hard to rebuild and a team that has to ensure that a rebuild is unnecessary.

An Australian team that is in transition presents India with her best opportunity yet of securing a series victory in Australia. India has challenged Australia’s dominance in the glorious decade that Australia has had. India twice ended Australia’s record-winning sequences. It is now an opportunity to achieve what South Africa and England have both recently achieved — a win in Australia.

For India’s greatest generation of cricketers this is the last chance saloon.

— Sunny (@sehwagology) and Mohan (@mohank)

Top 10 reasons why Sachin Tendulkar hasn’t scored a century of centuries…

10. What? Another hundred? Aren’t you satisfied with ninety nine? Hundreds just get boring after a while…

Maybe to you Sachin, but not to the nation. Did you know that Jack Hobbs has 199 centuries to his name – Okay, Okay! They are just first class hundreds, but still?

9. Nervous nineties!

Hmm…I can see how that can be an issue. You have after all been out in the nineties 26 times in your career (not to mention the one occasion when you were 96 not out and Malinga bowled a wide to concede the game to India – Damn you, Malinga!) . But, you also crossed the nervous nineties 99 times – surely you can do it one more time.

8. I want to feel the way mortals do – and go through a lean patch of no centuries…

You’ve already been through a lean patch once, remember? We want you as a God, not a mortal. Common and get on with that hundred!

7. I want to get it against Pakistan

Oh, dear! I know you made your debut against them, but it might be a while before we have another match against them, and the nation can’t wait that long!

6. Waiting for Ricky Ponting to catch up

Ok. He was close to your record at one stage (at  least on test hundreds); but you’ve just left him too far behind. Did you know that your closest rival has only 69 international hundreds? And have you seen his form lately?

No way is anyone going to catch up with you. Just go ahead and get the hundred, dammit!

5. India has already seen a #1 Test ranking, ODI World cup win, World T20 win – the only thing remaining is this record. Don’t they need something to look forward to?

Puh-lease, let us worry about that. Just go ahead and get your damn hundred so that we as a nation can focus on something else.

4. I want to score it in a T20 international

Haven’t you retired from International T20s already? We don’t want to see you in that format ever again. (Ok, maybe just in IPL) – so, don’t even think about it…

3. Every time I score a hundred, India loses!

Not sure who came up with that. India have lost 24 of the 99 matches you’ve scored a hundred – so that makes for 75 matches that we’ve either won or saved. I’ll go with the .25 probability of India losing the game when you score a hundred.

2. I want to have the unique double of 200 international wickets and 100 international hundreds in tests and ODI’s combined. And do it in the same match!

Oh, yes – you’ve got a combined total of 199 wickets in ODIs and tests together. Let me talk to Dhoni and arrange for you to bowl in the next game you get a hundred.

But wait a minute, haven’t you got a wicket in a T20 international as well? That should make 200 in total. You’ve got no excuses any more!

1. I want to get to the century with a 4 or 6. Six hundred may be a bit ambitious, so waiting for the right opportunity to score 400!

Ok. That I can wait for. Is that going to be at the next game in Mumbai – in your home ground?

-Mahesh-

Clutch Redux

A few months ago, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan (@sidvee) wrote an excellent article titled “Tendulkar and the ‘clutch’ question”. This was an exquisite essay, which recognized Tendulkar’s many virtues: his incredible longevity, passion for the game, hunger for the fight, impact beyond cricket, and his poise even when burdening a billion expectations. However, @sidvee’s article also states that Tendulkar’s performance in the “clutch debate remains partially unresolved”. Apart from this expression of thrust/hypothesis, one very minor gripe that I had with the article was that it was a somewhat convenient fence-sit, for most part.

A “clutch moment” is defined as one where an athlete senses the moment, pounces on it and imposes his greatness on the occasion. The end result is normally a victory.

This article was @sidvee at his very best. The arguments were excellently and passionately constructed. It even had a typo (“goosbumps” instead of “goosebumps”) to show us all that @sidvee was human after all. There were many comments from readers of this article. If the quality of an article is measured by the debate it generates, then this one certainly belonged in the top-drawer. There were also a few ripostes to @sidvee’s article; the best of these was one by Mahesh (@cornerd).

At first I thought I would not buy into the debate, for a variety of reasons. For a long time now, I have employed a wicket-keeper for any arguments on Sachin Tendulkar’s greatness. Occasionally, I would find myself in the thick of a virulent debate on Tendulkar’s greatness. The main reason for staying away from the “clutch” debate, however, was that the Sachin-clutch argument was old-hat to me. It had done many a spin around my block!

But then, I am not a great fan of a fence-sit either: a fence-sit gives the fence sitter nothing more than a sore bottom! So, I have decided that, after nearly three months, I will weigh in to the debate after all.

In a subsequent piece, @sidvee quoted from Stephen J Gould’s brilliant piece on Joe DiMaggio’s phenomenal 56-game hitting streak, in which the author comments on the nature of legend.

“A man may labor for a professional lifetime, especially in sport or in battle, but posterity needs a single transcendent event to fix him in permanent memory. Every hero must be a Wellington on the right side of his personal Waterloo; generality of excellence is too diffuse. The unambiguous factuality of a single achievement is adamantine. Detractors can argue forever about the general tenor of your life and works, but they can never erase a great event.”

The argument is that Tendulkar’s peers — Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh, Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Aravinda De Silva, et al — have faced and seized clutch moments. These moments have been recorded and recognized in their respective CVs. Meanwhile, the argument is that Tendulkar let his clutch-moments slip through his fingers.

Indian cricket fans will point to the fact that if India had won the Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1999, we may not have felt the need to have this argument. Tendulkar would have had his clutch moment on his CV. That moment would have been further augmented, ornamented and romanticized by virtue of the fact that Tendulkar battled through an injury to get India to within spitting distance of victory in that Test. We like blood. We like our sporting heroes to be gladiators that vanquish evil. The clutch is a much better clutch if the sportsman has morphine in his body or his jaw strapped by a bandage.

We willed Tendulkar to win that match for us. But he let us down! Tendulkar got out within sight of victory. India lost. The Indian cricket fan has not forgotten!

When we turn our focus on that heroic-tragic Chennai Test against Pakistan that India lost, few fans seem to remember that it was a low scoring match; that no team had crossed 300 in that match; that apart from Afridi, who had scored a second-innings century as opener, no other player stamped his authority on the game; that Saqlain Mushtaq bowled as brilliantly as anyone has seen him bowl; that the pitch was crumbling; that at 82 for 5 chasing 271, India was cooked already! It was against this backdrop that we must see Tendulkar’s epic effort. I do not wish to be a Tendulkar apologist. That is not his point. His record speaks much more than I can.

However, the point I wish to make is that the scorecard does not record the above details. The scorecard does not record the fact that Tendulkar first shielded and then battled Nayan Mongia through an epic contribution; often chiding him for taking undue risks; always encouraging him. Worse! The scorecard does not record the fact that, with 53 runs to get, Mongia departed to an ugly pull off Wasim Akram! By getting out, Mongia had said (like almost all Team India players of Tendulkar’s era had), “You do it on your own from here. I am out of here!” The scorecard does not record the fact that Tendulkar was in severe pain at that point in time. His back had given way by then. The scorecard does not record that, despite that pain, he chose to change gears and belted a few boundaries once Mongia got out (needlessly). The scorecard also does not record the fact that all it took was one single fatal miscalculation; one small error of judgment is all it took for Indian fans to label him permanently as a clutch failure! The scorecard does not record the fact that, when Tendulkar departed at 254, with 17 runs still to get, the Karnataka quartet of SB Joshi, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad could only get 4 between themselves! The fact that the Karnataka quartet disgraced themselves is forgotten. The fact that they collectively devalued Tandulkar’s efforts to get India to that point is also forgotten.

The point is that “clutch” is a difficult concept in cricket. It ignores the team. It ignores Nayan Mongia and the Karnataka quartet. It is agnostic to contributions (or lack thereof) from a team. It is a uni-dimensional and harsh measure. As @sidvee himself points out, it is impossible to compare greatness across different sport or indeed, different players in the same sport who play for different teams and in different eras. It is precisely because of this that I value Tendulkar’s centuries more than I value Ponting’s centuries; Ponting did not have to face McGrath, Warne and Gillespie! Clutch applies perfectly only to tennis players and golfers! They chart their destiny themselves.

Almost exactly a decade later — one month shy of a decade later — Tendulkar chose the same venue (Chepauk, Chennai) to “atone” for his earlier inability to close out a win. He stayed not out till the end, scored an unbeaten century and ensured that India won against England. This was an important win for the country’s pride, leave alone the team! This win emerged from the shadows of the 26/11 tragedy that had shocked a nation. I am told that there was not a dry eye in Chepauk. This could have counted as a clutch. But even this was contribution was not enough.

I suspect that most Indian fans are still not able to forgive Tendulkar for that 1999 game. As one reader said on @sidvee’s blog, Tendulkar constantly gets the short-shrift. We are quick to make Gods out of mere mortals, but we have a constant need for our legends to be nothing short of Gods — all the time.

I am not a big fan of “clutch” in team sport. It is all too individualistic. Even Roberto Baggio does not qualify as a clutch failure in my books. Yes, he fluffed that penalty shoot in 1994. But that ignores his teammates’ many misses during the game. I am not in favor of tagging transient acts of excellence as “clutch” in a team sport. If we did, we run the risk of calling Ajit Agarkar or David Warner as cricket geniuses (the logic here is that clutch suggests genius)! By the same argument, I am not in favor of tagging transient acts of lack-of-excellence as “clutch failure” in a team sport.

As Mahesh (@cornerd) says in his riposte, Tendulkar’s preparation for the 1998 series against Australia constitutes “clutch” to me. To me, clutch in a team-sport is not a specific instance in time. It must be demonstrated through sustained acts of (heroic) excellence for it to be a clutch.

And Tendulkar certainly has these sustained acts of excellence in his CV.

— Mohan

An Architect, a Few Builders and a Decade…

On 22 March 2001, India made a compelling statement to the world of cricket. On that day, on a dusty track in Chennai’s M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, a week after that match in Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly’s men stopped Steve Waugh’s Australian juggernaut in its tracks in a Test match.

India had won against the Australians and other major teams before — mostly on Indian soil. So what was it about this victory in Chennai — almost exactly 10 years ago — that inserted a special marker on an important journey? The victory in Chennai in 2001 felt different. It tasted different. The victory somehow meant more than just a victory to me.

That victory came after Indian cricket had plunged to its worst lows — and that was off the field with the betting scandal. There was no place to hide for the proud and yet tragic Team India fan!

The first article I read this morning — the morning after the night before — was by @sidvee! In a piece titled, “The Baton Passes”, he writes about the 28-year wait for the baton to be passed to a new generation. This excellent writer, who is 29 years old, is a part of “young India” that has not suffered through being a Team India cricket fan as much as fans of my generation have. That does not give me bragging rights. It just provides a different perspective.

For many of us who are part of “older India”, the 1983 win was almost a one-off. We supported a team that often flattered to deceive. We supported a team that had few men who had the stomach for a fight. We supported a team that would crumble at the first sign of trouble. We supported a team that in-fought so much that it almost did not need to see an opposition to wave the white flag! We supported a team that was run by corrupt individuals (It still is, but that’s besides the point — a victory like last night’s victory serves as a good sandpaper!) We supported a team that had a Board that suddenly found money in the mid-90s through television money and a sudden realization that they had something that few other nations had — a billion adoring fans! We supported a team that was run by a Board that suddenly had power and did not not know how to use it!

So, we could only talk about the exquisite grace of a GR Vishwanath square cut, the steely resolve of a Mohinder Amarnath forward defense, the athleticism of Kapil Dev (“that catch“), the technique of a Sunil Gavaskar straight drive or the loop of a Bishen Bedi ball.

But all of that changed for me on 22 March 2001. I felt that, as a long-suffering cricket tragic, I could start thinking about that dream house I wanted to live in as a fan of Team India. I had seen my architect in that landmark 2001 series! On 22 March 2001, it was almost like I had reached a final agreement with the architect on the design of my dream home.

I could not wait for that home to be built.

It has taken a decade for that home to be built.

And finally, that home was built last night, when India won the Cricket World Cup, 2011.

If Sourav Ganguly was the architect with John Wright as his chief consultant, then MS Dhoni was the final builder with Gary Kirsten as his chief consultant. Along the way, we have had a senior engineers who have toiled assiduously and bravely. Considerate, careful and composed men like Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid — ‘The Wall’ which is quite appropriate in the context of this building analogy!

For a keen follower of Indian cricket, this has been an exciting decade when brick has been laid carefully upon another brick by the above players. All of them knew that India could build that home for an ardent fan. And build it, they did! And credit to last night’s World Cup win must go to each and every one of them. I wrote about these architects and initial builders a year ago.

It was Sourav Ganguly who changed the relationship between the BCCI and players. He fought for all that Sachin Tendulkar had pleaded for, before him, but could not get: a physio, a professional coaching set up, and more. But more importantly, he built a team in his image. A team that had a stomach for a fight; a team that wanted to win it; a team that was not scared of boarding a plane!

And the core elements of his team are still there — Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan are his proteges and represent the start of that so very non-Indian generation of cricketers that loved a fight; a generation that did not back down; a generation that did not give up at the first sign of danger.

But that initial blueprint, which was first stabilized by Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, is now Dhoni’s team!

Apart from the reassuring constancy of Sachin Tendulkar in Indian cricket, Dhoni’s team contains the key elements of the team that Sourav Ganguly architected so carefully. A team that took the fight to the opposition. A team that had a point to prove.

However, today, it is an India team that is built on Dhoni’s image. He is self-assured. He is completely centered and is not there to prove a point. He knows that the men who traveled the path before him have proved a point or two! He does not have a point to prove. He acknowledges that he stands on impressive shoulders. Witness the manner in which he invites Anil Kumble to the presentation ceremony to lift the Border-Gavaskar trophy in the 2008 series against Australia.

Today, Dhoni stands on broad shoulders and admits it. But it is his firm hand on the wheel of the bus that takes Team India forward. It is his team. He takes decisions. We may not like some of them. But he does what he thinks is best for the team and cops it on the chin when it goes wrong. He is about building a strong team that will keep winning comfortably, compellingly and conveniently. He is about consolidation of a considerable strength. His is a team with young individuals who are cut from his cloth. It has individuals like Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina who will take the baton forward (as @sidvee says so eloquently and compellingly).

In yesterday’s game, Dhoni promoted himself in the batting order. It was a strong statement. If Ganguly had a point to prove in Brisbane on 7 December 2003, Dhoni read a book — not just a statement — last night by coming ahead of Yuvraj Singh in last night’s game. It may have been to keep the left-right combination going. However, I think Dhoni wanted it. I believe he wanted to make that statement. He also knew that the spinners were on at that time. With Yuvraj Singh’s initial shakiness against spin, it needed someone who could nullify the spinners. He walked in purposefully.

Here was a proud leader of a proud team. He did not have a point to prove. He wanted to make a statement. Team India had changed right before our eyes in the last decade from proving a point to making a statement.

It was therefore fitting that Dhoni hit the winning runs yesterday. The steely eyes that stay transfixed on the trajectory of the ball as it crosses the boundary line for the winning runs communicates to all of us the sharpness and ferocity of his intent. Please watch this (thanks again to @sidvee). It tells a story on its own and does not need a commentary. As the ball reached the fence, the bat twirl at the end of it communicated that he was satisfied that the job had been done. He was there at the end as the leader. He had completed the job that had been started by the fabulous architects and the fastidious builders before him. He was leader of a team filled with potential leaders who not only just prove a point — that chapter has been written — but, who will go forth and make a statement.

And how fitting was it that, at the end, when asked what it felt like to hold Sachin Tendulkar aloft on his slender shoulders, Virat Kohli — a future Team India captain perhaps — said, “Sachin carried the burden of the entire nation for 21 years and now it is our turn to carry him on our shoulders.

Sachin carried by Team India

It has taken a decade for me, the average Indian fan to see this house being built brick-by-agonizing-brick. At times, it looked as though the house might get blown away — for most Team India fans, for example, the year 2007 did not happen! There were times when we were ragged. There were times when we were completely pear shaped.

But the last decade has been a thrilling decade of dreams which have now become a compelling reality.

It is now time to enter that dream home. Do enter this beautiful house with me…

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)