Take all the important matches of cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar’s career. Now string together all the match reports in chronological order. You already have half the book called Playing It My Way, which happens to be Sachin’s autobiography.
(Adding scorecards at the end of every series description also doesn’t help)
To be fair to Sachin, he had a tall order to begin with. Tendulkar is arguably the most written about sportsperson in the world and has had a long career spanning more than a quarter of a century (His schoolboy world record in 1988 is actually when it all started) where he faced non-stop media coverage.
Every nuance, every angle, every shot, every innings, every slump, every landmark… has been discussed ad nauseam by all the commentators, reporters and analysts. It’s quite difficult to present anything new.
But this book doesn’t even make an effort. Series reports are presented one after another relentlessly. You can argue that they are from the point of view of a legend, but then it doesn’t read much different from the match reports that appeared in the news reports of the day.
What about his captaincy tussle with Mohammed Azharuddin? Azhar seems just like a passing reference. What exactly went wrong with his captaincy? It’s just a bunch of lame excuses. No serious analyses or insight.
What about the terrible match-fixing scandal of the 1990s? Just a few lines are mentioned in a paragraph and we are told that winning the upcoming 2001 series with Australia is more important to leave it behind!
Sachin’s total silence then was baffling and his silence now as an ex-cricketer and powerful Rajya Sabha MP is even more baffling.
What about his close friendships and ties with legends Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Vinod Kambli, etc? There’s absolutely nothing in detail and everything is in passing mention.
His revelations on coach Greg Chappell don’t stand scrutiny. (And why shouldn't Chappell have played politics?
) Sachin also nonchalantly adds after that incident, he asked the BCCI to drop Chappell from the 2007 World Cup, as if that wasn’t in itself politics!
There’s not much said about the abrupt end of the captaincies of Ganguly and Dravid which were highly emotional issues for the players. In fact, most controversies that do not directly involve Sachin (like match fixing) seem to be non-issues for him and not worth going into.
There is really nothing new introduced where controversies like ball tampering in South Africa and Monkeygate are concerned.
Playing It My Way does have its moments though. It begins off well where Sachin tells what a naughty kid he was and how he had to struggle to practice as a kid. He travelled by the bus like a mere mortal stinking to high heavens and being taunted by the conductor non-stop day in and day out.
His non-stop practice, non-stop injuries and non-stop dedication as a child all give a glimpse into how he managed to play more than 20 years in international cricket full of grit and determination.
His courtship with Anjali begins quite well but it soon meanders off into a “Thank you Anjali” speech much like those given in a post-match ceremony. The book is full of these “Thank you speeches”.
It is full of interesting tidbits though: Like how Vinod Kambli once flew a kite in the middle of a school innings; like when he almost caught Kapil Dev while fielding for Pakistan (this became front page news for a national newspaper); his being caught by a UK cop for overspeeding.
Like putting too much washing powder in a washing machine leading to disaster while playing County cricket. The time when a stranger waved a gun at Navjot Sidhu in a London tube and Ganguly cowered for cover.
But then they are just a string of tidbits with no real meat.
Throughout the book Sachin mentions his favourite foods and what all he ate throughout the world. But in terms of great insight and new revelations for the average Indian fans there’s nothing but mere morsels.
Sachin was a player who held his cards close to his chest for so many years. Now when he speaks, he does start vaguely describing those cards, but still keeps them close to his chest.
This could be called a strictly “on the record” autobiography.
There is still scope for a second “off the record” “tell-all” autobiography further down in his life.
So don’t expect an exciting T20 match or even an ODI when you read this book. It’s more like a slow playing Test match that meanders into a draw.
When Stephen Hawking wrote A Brief History of Time, he was told that every equation he used in the book would halve the sales. While there’s absolutely no danger of low sales for Sachin (his fans are in the crores), someone should have told him that the book would become more and more boring with every mundane match report that was added.
In the Internet age where everyone wants every dish to be tandoori chicken or a burger, this is a huge helping of dal-chawal. Read it only if you are a die-hard Sachin fan or you feel like taking a long trip down Indian cricket’s memory lane from the 1980s onwards. Then you won’t be disappointed.
Otherwise it’s well left.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs here