As the defining sports icon of our generation hits his most important half century, several excellent cricket writers have produced some outstanding essays over the past fortnight. Alagappan Muthu’s essay on Sachin Tendulkar at 50 is close to the top-of-this-heap.
Part of the reason Muthu’s essay is so good is because it reminds us of the adrenalin rush a generation of Indians got from watching Tendulkar power punch for India (at a time when very few Indian cricketers exhibited ‘power’): “Straight drives with so little fuss it felt like the fulfilment of a pact. “Just be a good ball and go for four, okay?” Back-foot punches that combined the grace of a ballet dancer with the power of a heavyweight fighter. And those flicks. If they could talk, they’d be like, “Come on, man. Don’t make it this easy.” He was geometric perfection. But also a bit cheeky. Sometimes, when the required rate was getting to him, he would play a shot that didn’t make sense even as it happened right before our eyes. An inside-out drive for six over cover to a ball pitching outside leg stump. That stuff was freestyle. That stuff was gangsta.
Plus, he went and did all this to the best of the best. Wasim Akram. Shane Warne. Courtney Walsh. Glenn McGrath. Muthiah Muralidaran. This five-foot nothing prodigy made world-beating his day job, and that at a time when Indians didn’t fancy themselves capable of such audacity.”
Another factor that makes Muthu’s essay stand out is how he contextualises Tendulkar’s greatness at specific junctures in India’s history when dark clouds swirled around the republic: “My memories of him are all of the accumulator that he became later in his career. The artist who became a technician, culling all the risk out of his game in order to increase productivity. But there was still some magic left. Like Chennai 2008, where his only Test-match-winning century in a chase came just a few days after a terror attack on his city.
It was one of his more bespoke innings. He left nothing to chance. Not even the fate of his non-striker. For 42 overs, he was the voice inside Yuvraj Singh’s head. And when it was done, he dedicated the win to the people of Mumbai and hoped it might in some small way ease their pain. Stone-cold precision born out of warmth, feeling and empathy. Suddenly Sachin’s greatness started to make sense. He got so good because he wanted to make everybody – including himself – happy.”
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