Cricket has become a way of life in the subcontinent. It expends a large amount of people’s time and energy for an outdoor sport; it has a subculture with codes of behaviour clearly defined, such as ‘good’ is when players play for the team, while ‘evil’ is playing for self; it has a rule book and the umpires interpret the book in real time. As the authors say, “It promises a paradise on earth for those who deliver for the team and country and purgatory for those who cross the line, like fixing matches and slapping team-mates. It is a religion and the players are at the centre of it, the demigods of the subculture.”
In the book under review, the authors discuss the hero of Indian cricket with over 28,000 international runs and 80 centuries to his credit. Sachin Tendulkar, the highest run-getter in both Tests and OD1s, is the God of the religion called ‘cricket’. His exploits on the field have brought hope and joy to millions of fans. And yet, like God, he has his set of detractors always willing to remove him from the pedestal.
The authors, who consider themselves fans and analysts in equal measure, follow the cricketing demigod — his advent, his peak, his fall and his resurrection. Armed with irrefutable statistical data, which they conceptualise and analyse minutely, the authors seek to end all debate on Sachin Tendulkar’s status as the greatest cricketer of the modern era. They compare him with his peers in both forms of the game and provide the viewpoints of experts, players and commentators so that the reader can independently draw his or her own conclusions.
Just as the United Kingdom has a ‘footballing’ culture where the weekend games are followed as enthusiastically as any sermon, similarly on the subcontinent, there is a ‘cricketing’ culture which has shown itself capable of absorbing as much time as a fan or a fanatic can devote to it. Every day people sit transfixed by the drama unfolding before them. Cricket has now replaced traditional sports, like hockey and football. It has also devoured weekends, with the usual traditional weekends spent with the family taken over by OD1s. Now this has taken over entertainment with T20 cricket, which consumes time that would ordinarily have gone to hobbies, but more likely to TV serials or movies.
For media companies, Cricket Boards and for players, cricket has no purpose other than to entertain and make money. About the game itself, fortunately cricket “has ennobling characteristics and some (a small minority) players” also have the ability to uplift the game and the soul of fans and fanatics alike. This upliftment comes through a simple appreciation of the player’s skill in batting or bowling or fielding or an awe-inspiring display of sustained performance. Nonetheless, wheeling-dealing does go on in the matter of selection and allotment of games to centres despite all claims of transparency. But every time there is a challenge to cricket —match-fixing, ball-tampering or rebel leagues —the game manages to save itself. The authors admit that the game “has the capacity to cleanse itself through what it has to offer.”
In this book, the authors present the career graph of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar — the rise of the ‘wunderkind’ who addresses the tough questions asked of him — through the lens of statisticians; criticisms to which he is subjected by Ian Chappell and Cricinfo among others.” Numbers are not everything but once one has framed and understood the match content, they are certainly stronger than opinions.
The authors compare Sachin with his peers in both major forms of the game and present data to substantiate their observations. The data given in the book is till May 2008 when the manuscript was compiled. Mike Coward has written in The Australian on the 2008 Test series between India and Australia, “Tendulkar can be intense in his desire for perfection. Today, he is more the master practitioner using all his experience and guile to benefit the greater cause. And to his unbridled relief, he generally receives greater support from those around him.”
What Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator has to say, sums up Sachin Tendulkar very succinctly: “He looks upon this game as a vehicle of fulfilment, as a servant rather than a master. There is a delicious irony to it. One of the most humble devotees of the game is himself an idol to so many.”
(HarperCollins Publishers, A-53, Sector-57, Noida-201301.)