What Are Legends For?

A lot of friends are writing or have written paeans to Sachin Tendulkar. I don’t know what I can hope to say that they haven’t already said. Sachin, however, has been a study in excellence for me. And focus. Legends probably exist so we can get inspiration from them and maybe imbibe some aspect of their lives. This is the veritable benefit of living in interesting times. It may be a mixed blessing, though, for everyone who emulates legends too closely, because what is inspiring at one moment can be a crushing  and distant objective the very next, in a vindication of that most fundamental of compromises – that whatever is worth obtaining, becomes, in time, progressively and immutably harder to obtain.

There’s not much else other than cricket that you can imagine Sachin doing, although he’s known to have a thing for fast cars and sports cars. It is very hard, for me at least, to imagine Tendulkar the racing driver, although it is easy enough once you see evidence of it. It was far easier for my conditioned mind to imagine Sachin the cricketer, and natural to imagine Sachin the batsman. Commentators – and isn’t India is blessed with plenty of them with such a broad range and quality of ideas – often say this and that about batting technique, what with most of them being cricketers in their own right. I’m not a cricketer, connoisseur or batsman to launch away at length on these topics. But I do know that Sachin seemed intent on playing every ball on its merit. There was the next ball, the next run, and there was incredible focus on the field and every nuance of it – the pitch, perhaps the field settings, one’s own state of tiredness or health, the bowling styles and strategies at play. This is, in a sense, worth emulating, for every athelete and even for us non-atheletes. I caught myself complaining about workplace noise recently, and now that I think about it, Sachin probably was party to the noisiest Indian workplace – the centre stage and the very middle of the cauldrons of noise that Indian cricket grounds – that amplify noise and expectations when someone like Sachin walks into the middle. There are no quiet conference rooms here that you can retire to and get your work done, and there are no excuses. You just have to face the next ball bowled at you. It must be quite a feat to be able to concentrate in the big games on the objectives – despite the sweat and your aching sinews and the glares and sledges thrown at you. When you think about it, Sachin handled all the noise and distractions with aplomb, rarely agitated and rarely vocal or expressive of his anger, when he did get agitated.

Sachin’s early inroads into his eventual career in cricket surely made the “What do I do with my life” decision that each of us faces easy for him, for sure. Early in my teens, I probably had ten different ideas of what I wanted to become – chief among them being engineer, scientist and pilot. The only professions that combines them all is test pilot, and I don’t see myself becoming one if I tried very hard, despite a background in engineering. A pilot, perhaps and hopefully at some point (and perhaps this should be a note to self). Things haven’t improved significantly, as I continue to, at times, have doubts about the specific one or two things I definitely want to do professionally. And this is what is interesting about Sachin.

I can’t imagine Sachin ever being a multifaceted scientist, or a polymath. I can imagine him being an insightful kinesthetic athelete, however, or being variations of this. A footballer, maybe, given that he’s a natural sprinter and athelete, but then, football never took off in India, especially in Mumbai. An archer? Maybe, given his tenacity, focus and hand-eye coordination, but he was no rich industrialist’s son who could afford his own equipment – with due respect to India’s Olympic gold medalist. Some automotive magazine recently asked whether India had swapped Sachin the racing driver for Sachin we know, some 24+ years ago. I wonder if this is even a valid question to ask. Beyond the idea that Sachin “seems” to all of us to be “predestined” to be a cricketer (hind sight is 20/20, isn’t it?) and a world beating batsman, there are the twin influences of his own early interest and focus on cricket, and his support system – his family, especially his father, who seems to have vindicated his interest in cricket. Then there was his coach who went out of the way to help him. Indeed, a ton of people have seen Sachin’s farewell speech, and in all likelihood, anyone reading this has. The one thing that stood out to me about it was the value he placed on close relationships – his parents, wife and children, in laws and family, and managers all goaded him along. This is a bit unusual for someone who has achieved so much in one sphere of activity or influence. History is replete with examples of people who have achieved amazing things at the cost of family, close relationships and friends. Here’s an example to the contrary, although perhaps this is very possible in Sachin’s context. I say this because there’s a simplicity about his manners which makes this possible. The focus which keeps his mind on cricket allows him to relinquish depth in other things, perhaps, while being mindful of what needs to be done at the bare minimum. You won’t find syntactically correct English like Dravid’s in Sachin’s interviews and talks, or a high complexity of ideas in verbal expression – but behind what is said, you can sense the depth and earnestness of the man, and this is extremely vital to remember. Sachin seems to want to play cricket, and besides that, just be at peace.

Sachin will be remembered well by cricket lovers and statisticians for his straight drive and his numerous centuries and fifties and so on, but lest we forget, let us remember Sachin the sportsman too – focused, simple, if single-minded, earnest, never mean or ill-behaved on the field, and in that sense, gentlemanly, too. Perhaps one can argue that nice people (who are nice to a fault) aren’t generally well remembered when they don’t have a fitting record to remember them by, but Sachin has one, and an incredibly successful one at that, so we should resolve to remember the bigger picture of his cricketing life, and not merely his technique or his hand-eye coordination.

Once again: there are probably paeans and deep, evocative pieces elsewhere on the internet – you’ll surely find that the cricket writing fraternity on Wisden, Cricinfo and Twitter have written oodles of stuff about him. If you ask me, though, what I’ve written above is what struck me about the remarkable Tendulkar, especially of late. And yes, it is hard for me to believe at times that you won’t see him playing cricket on TV anymore.