MP Tendulkar must aid his franchise first

Can Tendulkar do justice to both cricket and politics in his dual role?

Politics, unlike cricket, is not played with a straight bat, a former cricketer quipped. Sachin Tendulkar’s new innings as Rajya Sabha MP will afford him several new privileges (not that he has a dearth of these in any case), but as on the field of play, immunity from opponents seeking to knock him down will surely not be one of them!

A former cricketer I know was concerned that Tendulkar had accepted the government’s offer to be an MP. “Politics is a different ball game. It’s not played with a straight bat. How will he cope?” he argued.

It’s a rhetorical question to which there is no immediate answer. But I am not sure I share the former player’s concern entirely. Tendulkar’s nomination is under the special category, which is essentially a testimonial to a high achiever in public life, not for influencing the nuts and bolts of political discourse.

Whether Tendulkar is the most apt choice can be debated ad infinitum, but the pros and cons with any other name from the sports arena would not change a whit. If this is just a populist measure to make political capital, the gains can only be short-lived. The bigger reservation would be whether Tendulkar will have the time to be a meaningful player — in cricket and as an MP — in this dual role. Or is there a message in this about how long his cricketing career will continue?

All this is in the future though. For the present, as the IPL reaches the half-way mark, Tendulkar’s biggest task would be to shape Mumbai Indians’ fortunes in the tournament. The most resourceful team in the league has never won the title. It might be remembered too that victory in the Champions League last year came with Tendulkar not playing because of injury.
I write this piece with Friday’s match against Delhi Daredevils yet to begin, but win or lose, even Mumbai’s die-hard supporters would agree that the team has underper formed. More than anything else, it is the batting which has been inconsistent and Tendulkar’s absence through a finger injury has not helped matters.

Two of the four wins came off the last ball. While all this is enthralling from a spectator’s point of view, it does throw up questions about the match-winning quality of the team; and even more questions when you consider that in two matches, they barely reached 100. While Tendulkar has had no direct role to play in this, surely he must be desperate for some course correction, as it were.

Indeed, this IPL has shown some of the fancied, richer and stronger (on paper at least) teams to be a trifle shallow. Like Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata — the most rated teams before the tournament began — have been a little flip-flop, not entirely authoritative, though they are all ahead in the running for a place in the play-offs.

On the other hand, Rajasthan and Pune, despite their troubled passage — for different reasons — into the tournament, have shown admirable desire and chutzpah if not the array of talent as the above -mentioned teams. They could easily spoil the plot for the favoured teams.

The best yet have been Delhi and on two counts. They’ve managed to get balance in the side and high performances from key players. It’s a strong batting line-up and skipper virender Sehwag seems to have rediscovered his mojo while Kevin Pietersen is finally letting his bat talk more than his mouth in the IPL.

More pertinently, Delhi’s bowling has perhaps done better than the much-vaunted batting. Morne Morkel has been deadly, Umesh Yadav sharp, Irfan Pathan testing and young Shahbaz Nadeem the most guileful of the slow bowlers on view in the tournament. They look a cinch for making the last-four stage.

But this is still only the middle stages of the tournament, it must be remembered, and barring Deccan Chargers — who seem to look in a rather hopeless situation already — it would be almost impossible to predict which four teams will finally get through. The picture should be more or less clear in a fortnight, but what happens in the first seven days of this period will be crucial.

Thanks to the events of the past two days and the brouhaha around it, Mumbai Indians will be under the greatest focus and Tendulkar, because of his new assignment, in the limelight. His team and fans will he hoping though that the new MP (Member of Parliament) will not forget that he is an old-time MB (Master Blaster)!

(The writer is a seasoned journalist. This column was first published in Mail Today.)

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