Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Journey of Indian Cricket - from Azhar to Sehwag via Maestro Sachin Tendulkar!

Sehwag and the circle of the seasons
From Debojit Dutta, India
originally posted at Cricinfo Blogs
Sachin Tendulkar once replaced Mohammad Azharuddin at the centre of Indian cricket's consciousness; it is but the circle of life that Virender Sehwag is now seemingly taking over that mantle© AFP
It was one of those occasions when deserted by your own vernacular you seek consolation in another’s vocabulary and when even that is found to be depleted, you are left haywire – fixated on fixing a proper adjective to your newfound emotion. That emotion which allures both, but falls neither on the lap of joy or sorrow.
As it occurs to me quite often nowadays, I was dumbfounded and then appalled at my loss of words in describing Virender Sehwag's one-day double hundred.
I missed out on the live telecast of the match, (for reasons best known to the people in my office, the television was tuned to an Indian news channel, Aaj Tak) I had to rely on ESPNcricinfo for score updates. "Sehwag reaches his 100 off 69 balls. And runs out Gambhir off the next ball. 176 for 1," they tweeted.
All merry on this side. Viru had, after months of waiting, reached triple figures and keeping the upcoming Australia tour in mind, its timing could not have been better. Moments had passed in my juggling between Twitter and Facebook when someone updated their status pleading, "Sehwag, for heaven's sake don't score a double".
The immediate response was to laugh, laugh out loud. I did, and then regretted it. The profundity of the Facebook status was much greater than plainly visible. For what Sehwag was chasing was not a mere figure. For a generation born a couple of decades ago, it was a brutal invasion on their years of growing up.
The childhood, the adolescence, there was much to trade; so much to be traded to fill the next generation’s kitty. And, as it often happens in periods of transition, our kin were reluctant to fritter away their remains.
And trade but for whom — an impostor of our idol, a porcelain replica?
This miserliness did not fall out of nowhere. It's an inheritance we are carriers to.
Somewhere in 1998, if I’m not mistaken, I got into a minor war-of-words with my dad when he dismissed Sachin Tendulkar away (at the pinnacle of his career), calling him a debaucher. In his words, Mohammad Azharuddin was the artist. With a touch of his brush, he had painted many of the older generation’s dreams.
While chairman of selectors Raj Singh Dungarpur's casual offer to Azharuddin over a cup of tea – mian kaptan banoge? (man, do you want to be the captain?) – in 1989 gave birth to the new-age casualness, Azhar also brought a necessary face-lift to the way India approached the game. The era of Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh was pioneered by their carefree captain. Much before Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina learned to dirty their laundry, Azhar, one of India’s finest fielders, had mastered the art of mud-mingling.
His rise to fame, jostling past the elders to elderliness, extra-marital affair, eventual divorce and remarriage … Azhar gave the fans their first celluloid cricketer, before he himself robbed them off it.

Of Azhar, it could be said that he was brash and unpolished. There were stories about him being aloof, allegedly always at loggerheads with the seniors of the team. The media talked about his linkups with bookies. Vinod Mehta in his autobiography The Lucknow Boy recollects an incident during which Azhar, on winning the toss against Pakistan, pocketed the coin and claimed to have lost it to Aamir Sohail.

His crimes were fragrant, not that he cared to hide them. And it was this puzzling impunity that separated Azhar from the rest.
Rohit Brijnath wrote in his column for ESPNcricinfo: "He (Azhar) was my favourite, because no sportsman ever made me struggle so much, no Indian athlete demanded so much inner debate, no cricketer so confused the senses." He was liked because he wasn't perfect; he was liked because he never tried to be liked.
However, the turn of the decade changed all that. In the match-fixing fiasco, which still rests like an indelible scar on the face of Indian cricket, Azharuddin was found to be the most culpable of all sinners. This blow was hard to swallow for even the most ardent of Azhar followers.
Somewhere between all this, but hardly under anyone's shadow, emerged a curly-haired kid. His rise was inversely proportional to Azhar's fall. By the time the fixing scandal broke, he was already an established star. Tendulkar stood in contrast to the former’s frivolity. A complete antithesis, he was more consistent, hardworking and disciplined, and he lacked the petulance that his long-time captain was inebriated with.
Our fathers' invention was fast-slipping out of their own embrace, they knew, still it was shameful to adopt the insignificants' imagination.
To the generation gone by, all things we found ‘cool’ were scornful luxuries: burgers, pizzas, the new colas, the very word 'cool' and every other evil that liberalisation of the Indian economy brought. Sachin seemed to emblemise this change; he scored quickly, his batting was fizzy in a way and he could also be described usingthat word, if I am allowed to use it three times in one paragraph.
They looked at him with childish cynicism, as if he was the reason why Campa Cola lost its vitality.
Our Tendlya would dance down the ground, swat the balls all around, score at run-a-ball (if not more than that) and then endorse everything from Power shoes to ‘Visa power’. The coming generation of engineer-cum-writers, doctor-cum-actors, accountant-cum-singers who were bent on breaking conventional barricades had got their multi-tasker to look up to.
For some, Sachin exceeded the game itself. I know people who remember the exact Sachin innings that coincided with the appearance of their first pimple, and also those who would tell you about the time they first parted with the peach fuzz over their physiognomy and Sachin scored a duck, following which, for months, they didn’t pick up a razor again.
Amid all adulation and idolisation Sachin kept his conquest going. Undeterred by the flurry of off-field activities, he continued churning out boundaries, waitressing to the insatiable millions. Sehwag showed up and vanished and showed up again.
On his debut, which he made in a One-Day International against Pakistan in 1999, much less stouter than he now is, Sehwag looked totally innocuous. He scored only one run, before falling LBW to Shoaib Akhtar, and went for 35 in the three overs he bowled.
His positioning in the batting order — at No. 7, below the likes of Saba Karim, Khurasiya and Robin Singh — showed that even to the team management he was rather inconsequential.
In his next stint in national colours, which came after almost two years in the wilderness, Sehwag performed admirably. In his fourth match, in a series against Australia, he made 58 (off 54 balls) and then picked up three wickets to bag the Man-Of-the-Match award.
So far, so good. Sehwag did shine in the series but so did Vijay Dahiya. Conceiving him to be a utility player, I even made him a regular in my favourite game, book-cricket.
With Sachin unavailable for the tour of Sri Lanka that followed, Sehwag was promoted to open the innings. Sehwag delivered a hidden message in his 69-ball century against New Zealand. I failed to decipher. It was the third fastest hundred by an Indian. But accidents do happen, I had said to myself.
In every innings thereafter, he started giving tuitions on hard-hitting. The 'nervous nineties' were nervous of him. Even when on 99 he would attempt the big hits and when he faltered, there was no shame, no discontent. The jat from Najafgarh who had hardly envisaged fame would walk towards the pavilion with a self-assured contentment.
Blasphemous comparisons to Tendulkar were made. Stance, shots and even physical attributes were measured and, when human vision failed, they resorted to graphics. As if the need was to establish a dummy. During most part of the 90s, when Sachin scored in losing causes, I had seen placards asking for 'Ten more Tendulkars'. Those statements were laudatory, these comparisons bordered on lunacy.
But soon, the dummy started looking livelier, at times shining brighter than the deity. Sehwag soon formulated his own brand of atheism.
He preceded a number of players who would wear their heart on their sleeves, cover it with their armbands and advertise it to their fancy. Harsha Bhogle's tweet after Sehwag reached his double hundred was, "I wonder sometimes if Sehwag achieves these landmarks because he doesn't worry about achieving them."

It is true. Nothing bothers. Nothing worries him. For ‘seriousness’ and ‘nervousness’, it would appear, had been parted with when he parted with the placenta.
Wanting to not fall prey to the rules of evolution, to not allow my dream become a requiem so soon, I have tried various tricks of sustenance. To my little cousin, in eulogies—guised as lullabies, I would preach how great a batsman Sachin was. How much faster he was, still, and how much more responsible and steady.
Flashbacks now remind me how, in stages of life, we all are juxtaposed. How, in clockwise alignment, 'me' and 'my cousin', 'dad' and 'me', we all stand.
My cousin, who was barely four or five years old, at the time of my preaching, soon gave up all I had infused in him. He must have celebrated Sehwag's double-hundred. Of course, Sehwag, in the process of scoring it surpassed Sachin's 200, previously the highest individual score by any player in a 50-overs game. But the next time we meet, I will brag about how my hero still remains the first cricketer to reach the landmark. Bring it on.

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