Saturday, April 2, 2011

India wins, Sachin gets the elusive prize

In one of the closest world cup matches that I have seen, India beat Sri Lanka in Mumbai today to win the world cup of cricket.

Endless pages will be written about the match and India's victories in the run-up to this amazing final. Well deserved and just praise will be showered on the Captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Good words will be said about Yuvraj Singh, the man of the moment, as well as about determined seniors like Zaheer Khan and youthful fighters like Gautam Gambhir.

But all of this will be dwarfed by the glory that India will heap on Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.

To understand this generosity, you need to understand the place Sachin occupies in the hearts and minds of Indians. You can go online and find that most Indians think Sachin is the greatest batsman who ever lived. Most neutral voices think he is in the top 2 or 3. South Africans, Australians and Pakistanis probably put him in the top 5 or 10.

These rankings are not important. What you need to understand is how much Sachin became a symbol of a type of Indian aspiration.

You've all heard the trite and over-repeated story of how a socialist India, freed from its bureaucratic shackles by globalization, became an economic powerhouse.

But if you lived during that period of change, as a middle class Indian, you'd remember how it felt in the 90s. The world was opening up. The internet and TV brought images of how far ahead other countries were, and how quickly some countries that used to be like us (China) were changing.

We were slow and poor and frustrated. We developed a thirst and craving for something Indian that was modern (not from our proud heritage) and yet still world-class.

Today, in India, we still have loads of problems. But there is a long list of Indians who have done things or built things or manage things that have the tag: "as good as anywhere in the world".

But it wasn't like that before. Its easy to forget how rare it was to have a news report about an Indian that made us feel proud.

As we opened up in the 90s, however, there started to emerge flashes of brilliance in the darkness. A. R. Rahman was one, and thats why I think people of my generation are such fanatics of his music.

Sachin Tendulkar was another. He produced batting that was truly amazing. His gift was instantly recognized by our competitors in the cricket world.

We started to win some matches against teams with whom we had deep psychological issues. More importantly, we started losing matches gracefully, due to a Tendulkar ton. Sachin became, rightly or wrongly, a symbol for the aspirations for an upcoming India. Another rare example of an Indian who was doing something world-class.

His professionalism, talent and the drive to win shone like a jewel in the bureaucratic dirt that was Indian cricket in those days. We can now reasonably suspect that he won matches for India that were in the process of being thrown away by the match-fixing goons (look at Sachin's batting support: Azharuddin got a life ban and Jadeja got a 5 year ban). How many times has the batting collapsed around him while he played on and on, against all odds, with tail-enders like Kumble, Prasad and Srinath? Every time he has performed, India has statistically been the winner.

However, as India changed, we no longer depended on Sachin for our honor. Many aspects of India became world-class (although really really slowly and still on ongoing process), and our economy started getting a global reputation for services and industries where we actually delivered high quality results.

The impact of these trends in the larger Indian scene inevitably led to changes in cricket. Suddenly, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly gave us fighting matches, even when Sachin did not perform. Younger players were showing much more grit and determination. The turning point was MS Dhoni's victory in the 20/20 World Cup. This was followed by the IPL and the total economic domination of cricket by India.

In this new world, Sachin continued to perform, with feats and records such as the only double century in ODIs (obtained last year, when he was 37). But we all felt he was still playing the game to achieve his last unrealized goal: a World Cup Victory. His last chance would be the world cup held in 2011 and co-hosted by India.

Today he got his Victory, in his home ground of Mumbai. He failed with the bat in this particular match (but did amazingly throughout the tournament). As Virat Kohli put it:
"Tendulkar's carried the burden of the nation for 21 years, it's about time we carried him on our shoulders."
Here is that emotional moment. Cheers to you Sachin, for all those times when you provided a shining example of world-class Indian professionalism, skill and art.

2 comments:

itsagradmadsadworld said...

Love it!

Anjali said...

Nice, you make points similar to this article (long but I liked it): http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=110329%2FCricket