The clamour to let Tendulkar get his hundred has drowned out saner opinions on Indian cricket.
Confusion of goals and perfection of means seems to characterize our age, Albert Einstein once said. Such was the story at the Wankhede Stadium on Friday.
Just after Sachin Tendulkar narrowly missed the milestone everyone has been waiting for, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan quipped that India ought to follow on to give Tendulkar another shot at that hundredth hundred.
The quip was demeaning to the sport. It also belittled two fine young cricketers — Virat Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin — attempting to minimise India’s damages while trying to secure their careers. Should they have thrown their wickets so Tendulkar could bat again?
It overlooked the fact that India were miles away from saving the follow-on, and further away from securing the match. Aren’t these more pressing issues than a missed milestone?
Sanjay Manjrekar and Ravi Shastri weighed in during the lunch break. Manjrekar approached the subject with caution, saying Tendulkar should play in the ODIs against West Indies, so that he “gets this monkey off this back” before tackling the tougher challenges of the Australian tour. Shastri agreed.
This was an incredible comment on Indian cricket — about how the fleeting joy of an individual record (momentous as it is) is now twisting the thought-process behind team selection and wicket preparation. We know why the Wankhede wicket is as lifeless as it is, and its impact on the quality of cricket is there to be seen.
The upcoming ODIs present a chance to prepare young players for the big transition in Indian cricket. Instead, there’s talk of letting the veteran (with nothing left to prove to anyone) improve his individual record.
Sadly, this talk was led by distinguished former Test cricketers. When they shape public opinion in this manner, they can’t blame the public for pressurising Tendulkar to deliver that hundred.
Manjrekar was, of course, subtle in his comment. His was a polite way of saying that the milestone is making Tendulkar bat with atypical caution. The last time Manjrekar had used an animal metaphor to broach a similar subject, he was attacked by Tendulkar apologists. Even Tendulkar reacted to it, saying he wasn’t bothered about being called “the elephant in the drawing room”. (So why did he react?)
Ninety-four runs in a Test innings are still commendable. But only Tendulkar would know what demons he notices in the bowlers he would normally put through the shredder. In Mumbai, India’s No. 8 scored a hundred at a Sehwagesque pace; and even Rahul Dravid scored quicker than Tendulkar on Day 3.
He may not admit it. But we know it: Tendulkar wants this hundred badly. One only hopes he gets there quickly so that we can celebrate it, and let the spotlight move back to the game. That is where it belongs.