After much discussion, media hype and twitter hyperbole from all sides, it is finally upon us, Sachin Tendulkar is playing his last game of professional cricket. You don’t need me to tell you how good he was, what a fabulous advocate he was for the game of cricket or what an inspiration he was to millions of his countrymen, we’ve seen it all over the last quarter of a century. Whether he scores a fine century or gets run out without facing a ball is pretty irrelevant, though this particular soppy old git would like to see at least a few reminders of why we’re getting so excited about him.
Perhaps bizarrely, my main interest in all this isn’t really the cricketing aspect, at his peak, Tendulkar was an incredible player, but his fame, in India at least, goes way beyond that. he’s come to represent the growth and confidence of an entire nation.
We mustn’t get carried away, of course, India is still ridden with poverty, graft and corruption still pervades, but slowly and defiantly it is moving from a divided, post colonial mess, towards a modern, secular society. The liberal economic policies of the 1990s have seen GDP per capita rise from $352 when Tendulkar was making his Test debut in 1989, to $1414 today. With such incredible economic growth and the fact that it’s the worlds largest democracy, India has much to be proud of, but a long way still to travel.
As often happens, the outlet for much of this pride is sport, and cricket in particular. Cricket has long been an obsession for many Indians, but the reign of King Sachin, has seen a great deal of success for the national team, and of the course the explosion of T20, which may have been invented in England, but has been turned into a sporting and financial success in India. In a nation often divided by geography and caste, he has been a figurehead for all Indians, a mast which has been used to haul up the billowing flag of a nation that is confident, that is going places and that others need to respect. His own personality helps, he’s a modest man, devoted to and very protective of his family. Cricket has of course made him very wealthy, with a variety of business interests, which perhaps, makes him and even better symbol of modern India. He has used his position to support underprivileged children in his native Mumbai, though his fame makes visiting the slums almost impossible. He looks likely to take up politics after cricket.
It is ironic, that Tendulkar was not, perhaps, a stand out player in the smash and grab of T20 cricket, he only ever played 1 international T20 match for India, though his domestic T20 average of 32.9 is not to be sniffed it, The fact is that his reputation was already sealed by then, his record in Test and one day cricket is incredible, and many of his records look set to stand for some time, particularly with the way the game, particularly in the sub-continent, is tilting towards the shorter format of the game. Some perspective is required however; yes, he was an incredible player, capable of playing aggressively against the finest bowlers of his generation, but he was often surrounded by many other great players, both in his own team and amongst the opposition. Looking at the India team of 2013, he’s almost a relic, normally when a great player retires it leaves a yawning gap, but in this case I’m not convinced it does, MS Dhoni is a fine captain and a rambunctious player, Virat Kohli, perhaps the first great product of the T20 generation.
AS I finish this, Tendulkar has just taken to the crease, enjoy your last hurrah Sachin, you’ve earned it. India will miss you, but Indian cricket probably won’t.