Not bowled over

Lead review

Not bowled over

Sachin Tendulkar seldom disappointed in his avatar as batsman nonpareil, as cricketer supreme. But you can’t quite say the same of his first major venture
post retirement, writes Madhu Jawali

For 24 long years, Sachin Tendulkar was an integral part of every Indian cricket fan’s existence. He allowed us to dare to dream. He made us hope and expect, and more often than not, he lived up to those expectations. As a fresh-faced, wide-eyed teenager, he appealed to our sense of protectiveness as he took on the big, mean fast bowlers across the world. As a superstar batsman for more than two decades, he evoked awe and admiration as he carried the Indian team on his shoulders. In his final years, first as he chased a World Cup dream and then his 100th international hundred, he allowed us to be a part of the emotional roller-coaster ride. And, when he bade goodbye to the game he embellished with distinction, he drove us to tears with a moving speech at the Wankhede Stadium in his beloved Mumbai.

What the little big man meant to millions of his fans was best described by commentator Harsha Bhogle who said: “When Tendulkar bats well, India sleeps well.” Tendulkar seldom disappointed in his avatar as batsman nonpareil, as cricketer supreme. But you can’t quite say the same of his first major venture post retirement. Playing It My Way was ushered in in a blaze of publicity and expectations. Tendulkar’s autobiography leaves you disappointed, just like his every failed innings. The book is everything the cricketer wasn’t — cold, clinical, without any emotional connect, replete with avoidable mistakes.

Tendulkar, the cricketer, was a student in pursuit of perfection. Tendulkar, the author, with help from his ‘ghost’, has shown that at least when it comes to expressing his thoughts and providing an insight into what made him the champion batsman he was, he is well short of the finished product.

Fiercely private during his playing days, Tendulkar wasn’t necessarily expected to let his hair down and allow the world at large into his own little cocoon. It was, however, not without reason to hope that he would dwell in detail on his remarkable journey from the bylanes of Mumbai to the hallowed turfs of Lord’s and Melbourne, Durban and Dunedin. Sadly, Playing It My Way has to be viewed as an opportunity lost — to connect with the fans, to help them understand better the enigma that Tendulkar was.

The writing is constricted and staccato-style, the flow conspicuous by its absence. You could still overlook that if the rest of the package made up for the lack of style. However, between them, Tendulkar and Boria Majumdar have come up with a flat tome that is more scoreboard reporting, if you like, than the story of a boy genius who went on to become the most celebrated cricketing personality ever — Mahendra Singh Dhoni included.

Indeed, if it wasn’t Tendulkar’s autobiography, you may not even bother going past the first 100 pages. That would perhaps have been a mistake, because there are some nuggets from his family life that have, remarkably, stayed away from public limelight for so many years. His wooing by Anjali, his relationship with his siblings, his worship of his professor father, his affection for his mother and for his uncle and aunt with whom he stayed during his formative days as a schoolboy cricketer, they are all exceptions to the otherwise dull narrative. Tendulkar has always been recognised as someone steeped in strong middle-class family values. That shines through in the chapters devoted to family.

But conspicuous by its absence is the human feel when he talks about his extended family, the Indian cricket team, with whom he spent perhaps more time than he did with Anjali, Sara and Arjun.

Most glaring in a series of embarrassing mistakes is the timeline in the entire Greg Chappell saga. In a carefully orchestrated campaign prior to the launch of the book when excerpts were released to the media, what was propagated was that Chappell approached Tendulkar shortly before the 2007 World Cup, asking him to take over the captaincy from Rahul Dravid. It was meant to lend further proof that Chappell was determined to undermine Indian cricket. As it turns out, Chappell sought out Tendulkar’s views on returning as captain in 2005, between the end of Sourav Ganguly’s tenure and the start of Dravid’s stint as skipper. Not unlike Dilip Vengsarkar approaching Tendulkar later in 2007, after Dravid stepped down as captain and before Anil Kumble was named the Test skipper. Sometimes, truth is a convenient casualty.

Tendulkar has spoken at length on the Monkeygate episode where his testimony swung the balance in Harbhajan Singh’s favour and resulted in the overturning of the three-Test ban imposed by Mike Procter, the match referee. He has also allowed us a huge peek into the events surrounding the Multan declaration when Dravid was the captain and Tendulkar was left stranded on 194, but there is not even a mention of the three hundreds Dravid made in England in 2011 when the rest of the batsmen hardly turned up. He has steered clear of the match-fixing saga that exploded in early 2000 and threw world cricket into a massive tizzy. He has also no more than touched on the IPL fixing saga of 2013 that led to the bans on S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan. The silence he maintained on the most obvious and potent threat to cricket during his playing days has yet to be broken.

Perhaps, Playing It My Way will have a sequel. Perhaps too, it will speak about cricket and technique and the mind, about adjustments and adaptations, about ebbs and flows. As for this one, suspend expectations. At least that way, you won’t come away disappointed.

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