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Trashing Tendulkar isn't cricket


Many sportslovers have lost the capacity to look at the larger picture and understand events in a historical perspective, writes Nirmal Shekar

MANY a connoisseur of cricket may have come to believe, on Sunday, that the unthinkable has happened when Sachin Tendulkar was booed all the way back to the pavilion at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai by sections of the crowd. But, in truth, it was unimaginable only because we may have failed to scratch the surface of our fast-evolving cricketing culture, only because we have probably failed to see the fast-emerging darkness in the very soul of a once-great culture, which is dumbing down rather alarmingly.

Trashing Tendulkar for an uncharacteristic failure is much like attempting to dismantle the Taj because one of its walls has developed a minor crack over time. It is simply not done. And the shocking incident in Mumbai says more about where we — as a nation of cricket-obsessed people — are headed than about Tendulkar's own travails in the twilight of an unmatched career.

In the fullness of time, we will know whether the great man's nightmare-run with the bat is a temporary slump in form or, perhaps, the beginning of a much more serious career crisis. But, right now, this issue is less relevant than the fact that people who may have never had the good fortune to let their spirits soar to exalted levels with each Tendulkar symphony chose to greet his first innings departure with catcalls and booes to leave a scar on the not-so-pretty face of the game in India.

If the poignancy of that dark moment on Sunday afternoon went way beyond sport, then it was also a quick reminder that as sportslovers quite a few of us have now become ``here and now'' people in the worst possible connotation that term can take on.

For, if the ones that booed the little maestro had had the good sense to look beyond the man's momentary struggles at the crease to the grand monument he has left behind, his dismissal might have brought a sort of heaviness to their hearts and tied up their tongues in sheer disbelief.

Then again, for many sportslovers, that is precisely the problem today — they have lost the capacity to appreciate history, to look at the larger picture, to go beyond the most recent stimuli and understand events in a historical perspective.

Worshippers of instant celebrity

Many of us, thanks to the influences of the age in which we live, have become worshippers of instant celebrity. The non-stop dross coming at us from all directions has forced us to wilfully conclude that today's success is the greatest success ever achieved, that today's seat-edge thriller is the greatest game ever played, that today's superstar is the greatest megastar of all times.

When our sporting culture has suffered this sort of corruption, when its essential core has been eroded by these giant new waves, it is hardly surprising that a great icon such as Tendulkar should himself become a victim in his own backyard.

The point is, Tendulkar never promised any of us a masterly century in every innings that he might get to play. We were the ones who set that impossible goal for the little man. That he has failed to meet that unrealistic goal is no sheen off his greatness; it merely throws light on our own foolishness.

At no point in his remarkable career did Tendulkar tell us that he was immortal; we turned him into a sort of superhuman phenomenon — where none exists in the known world — because we were perhaps ashamed of our own all too human limitations and wanted someone not-quite-like-us to look up to.

Never in the last 16 years that he has been dominating our sporting consciousness has Tendulkar ever hinted that he was invincible; we turned him into an invincible champion because we felt the need to bolster our own sense of everyday reality with something supernatural.

Harsh reality

The harsh reality of the capricious business of sport is this: every champion that has ever drawn breath, every champion as yet unborn, can be sure of one thing — some day, he will fail. The world of sport is yet to toast a truly invincible athlete.

But, then, in dealing with Tendulkar's failure — or any issue of this sort — it is very easy to find the answer we want; much, much more difficult to find the answer that matches the truth.

Of course, as passionate followers of the game, we are entitled to our own opinions. If some of us believe that the great man may not deserve a place in the team if he continues to fail, that's fair enough. Nobody owns a place in the Indian cricket team — not even Tendulkar.

But what is not fair — and will never be — is to stoop down to the sort of mindless pettiness that triggered the Mumbai booing on Sunday.

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