The Tipping Point?
- Sivaram Srikandath
Story Dated: Sunday, September 23, 2012 16:40 hrs IST
New Look Sachin
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Vinod Mehta is one of the smartest editors in India. There is no doubt about that. I must confess, however, that I am not a great fan of his particular brand of journalism - I find his personal biases; his incessant efforts at promoting cliched, headline grabbing pseudo-secularism; and his adamantine obsession with furthering the cause of Our Lady of Eternal Petulance, Arundhati Roy, rather tiresome and annoying. At the same time, I enjoy him immensely as a writer. He is erudite, amazingly well read and possesses a wry sense of humour - qualities I admire in editors - and his columns, filled as they are with arcane and apposite literary anectodes, are a delight for the reader.
In his most recent column in the Outlook magazine, he provides this wonderful take on Sachin Tendulkar's current loss of form. I quote, "It's not the gap between the bat and the pad, or the slow reflexes or just old age catching up with Sachin, it is his new hairstyle. Not only is it awful and makes Tendulkar look like an unsuccessful Page 3 showbiz animal, it has altered his whole personality. Instead of the solid, no-nonsense dependable Sachin, we have a fake Sachin, someone who is not sure who he is, or who he was........ perhaps his agent is the culprit trying to polish up his client's image in order to make him more glamorous to advertising agencies. Whatever, the project is a disaster."
A bad hair day leading to a loss of form ? Only someone like Vinod Mehta could have made that connection !
But the more we think about it, the more it seems to ring true, doesn't it? The current Sachin we see on television looks ersatz - a simulacrum of someone who we used to completely and implicitly trust. Earlier, when he spoke to us, there was an instant connect. When he told us that Boost was the secret of his energy, it was easy to believe in him. But now, that charming innocence that made him so endearing to all of us appears to have vanished. Instead, what we see is a celebrity with a confused hair style doing yet another brand endorsement. The magic is gone !
The comic aspects of Mehta's column aside, there is another real issue here. That of thinking the unthinkable; and questioning the unquestionable. In a country where cricket is religion and Sachin its ruling deity, I know it is sacrilegious to even joke about the matter. But someone has to bell the cat, and now is as good a time as any other. I know that legions of Sachin's fans will think of organizing a lynch mob to get me, but let me ask the question anyway.Hasn't the time come for Sachin to say goodbye to active cricket ?
There, that was not too difficult, was it?
At a time when two of our finest cricketers, the formidable Wall, Rahul Dravid, and that icon of wristy elegance, Very Very Special Laxman have graciously stepped down, isn't it only natural to ask whether or not the time has come for Sachin also to hang up his cricketing boots? Sure, it is easy to get all misty eyed and sentimental over Sachin and wax eloquent, like historian Ramachandra Guha, that "when this remarkable batsman is going through a lean time at the crease, it behoves us to not call for his retirement, but to recall his better days."
Recalling his better days is fine; but the simple truth is that age is finally catching up with Sachin, and international cricket is a demanding sport. Frankly, it is painful, and a trifle embarrassing, to see him wait patiently for his next big innings. We could, of course, take comfort in trite platitudes such as form is temporary and class is permanent, or that Sachin himself is the best person to decide when he should quit and argue a case for his continuing on at the crease for a few more seasons.
But is it worth all the pain ? Women's tennis legend Billie Jean King said at the time of her close friend Andy Roddick's retirement at the recent UP Open, that injuries and age make you look miserable. "You lose a lot more. You hate to lose, Especially if you have been No.1" And Sachin has been No.1 in our minds and hearts, on and off the cricket pitch for more than two decades.
So, maybe, the time has come for us to sing a final huzzah for the champion. Another great cricketer, Imran Khan says. "if I were in his position, I would want to leave on a high and my greatest worry was that I should never be at the mercy of the selectors." Sachin has already proven that he is God. He leaves behind a lasting legacy such as no other modern cricketer has, or ever will. There are no no new mountains to climb, or no fresh peaks to scale as far as he is concerned. He has done it all. The tipping point has now arrived and it is truly time for Sachin to bid adieu.
As the great Aussie all rounder Keith Miller put it, it is always better to retire when people are asking you, why did you, rather than why don't you?
I know it will be difficult for us Indians to accept it. But there will be life, even after Sachin !