The most revered cricketer in the world is Sachin Tendulkar and if anybody tells you differently, he (or she) should be lowered head first from the top of the Eiffel Tower, have his (or her) ears tweaked, nose tickled with a feather and knuckles rapped with a sledgehammer.
Usually, there is more tortuous punishment for heresy, but since India was born out of non-violence (never mind Harbhajan Singh planting his palm smack on Sreesanth’s chubby cheek in the first edition of the IPL), the offender could be let off after that and fed a purgative to cleanse his system of such outrageous thoughts.
In India, of course, Tendulkar is not only revered but deified. He is master, lord, master-blaster, god, little master… you can choose the most euphemistic description without fear of reproach or dissent. Everything fits right. Yet, there remains one area where his stupendous record falls short: when it comes to captaincy, god becomes all too mortal and questions are occasionally asked, even if in furtive tones.
It is borne out by Wisden, and from anecdotes real and apocryphal, about how some of the game’s greatest players were somehow never brilliant captains. Hammond, Sobers, Richards, Lara, Botham are a few names that come readily to mind: their captaincy record pales in comparison to their other feats. Is it because they expect every player to perform to the same high degree that comes so easily to them, and are therefore impatient of lesser mortals?
But while I agree that Tendulkar’s record as Test captain falls short of the extraordinary standards he has set otherwise, I think this assessment is also a tad unfair because he is also judged by a different yardstick from other players. For instance, in Saturday’s match between Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals, Shane Warne, considered the Wizard of Oz in matters of tactics and man-management, conceded 212 runs to Mumbai and even lost the match, but came out unscathed as captain; Tendulkar, having won the game, however narrowly, had darts of doubt thrown at him.
Life’s not fair, even for the world’s best, best-known, most loved, richest cricketer. I doubt any captain on Saturday could have done much to thwart Yusuf Pathan’s onslaught at the magnificent Cricket Club of India. When a batsman scores 100 runs off just 37 deliveries, a captain can at best wring his hands in despair and pray. Tendulkar did more: he ran to his bowlers to guide them, cajoled his fielders to put in more effort — did so much work in fact that he ended up being fined for slowing down the over-rate.
None of this could faze Pathan however. With four wickets down for very little, and chasing a daunting 213, Rajasthan looked down for the count till the tall and strong Pathan opened his powerful, imposing shoulders and started hitting the ball with such frequency and such long distances that it seemed the parameters of a cricket field needed serious and rapid revision.
In the end, Mumbai won by a whisker, a mere four runs, but Pathan it was who won the awe and admiration of everybody, including the mighty Tendulkar. He has come nowhere near a Test match and last year lost his place in the one-day side. His batsmanship still appears one-dimensional. Make that two: slam-bang. But in the Twenty20 firmament, Pathan is the game’s fastest rising superstar.
In 2008, when the IPL began, he came cheap; at a little more than $100,000. Come next year, when all players will be up for sale again, the buzz already is that he will be a Multi-Million Dollar Baby. Want to know more why the IPL holds so much fascination for almost every cricketer in the world?