However, Dhoni’s Indians did not mind the easy pickings and the biggest positive was that the top four batsmen – Dhawan, Vijay, Kohli and Rohit – all but cemented their spots in the Test side while Ashwin showed definite signs of an emerging all-rounder and young Shami virtually booked his ticket to South Africa along with Bhuvneshwar Kumar as the new ball bowler.
That apart, the series was almost farcical, but for the vast majority, caught up in the emotional bubble of Sachin’s retirement, it mattered little that the matches were grossly one-sided. The maestro bid adieu with a classic innings of 74 that provided glimpses of a vintage Tendulkar by way of the cover drive and the superbly timed shot to the straight boundary.
And so, we have entered an unfamiliar post-Tendulkar era where the maestro will again be under public scrutiny as to how he intends spending his retirement, though I suspect that after a spell of holidaying, he would be back in the thick of things. I doubt if anything will keep Sachin away from cricket.
For sure, he will not be short on options, but he wouldn’t be in a hurry to take up new tasks until he get his ‘eye in’ only after which he would begin to play the strokes. Whatever, Sachin won more hearts with his farewell speech that reduced the country to tears, especially the mothers who came in for some appreciation for the sacrifices they make for their children.
I thought it was a well thought out speech even granting that it was delivered extempore. It resembled a typical Sachin innings based on solid preparation and not just another routine retirement speech that thanked the sun, moon and the stars. It was replete with surprises as Sachin touched upon his private life that he had so zealously guarded against media exposure. The little nuggets that he threw made the speech so much more special.
As Dhoni said, no sportsperson, leave alone a cricketer, has been accorded such a grand farewell. Even the UK Parliament moved a motion of thanks honouring Sachin while some of the leading US newspapers thought it fit to comment on his retirement and heaping praise on the little master.
As for the Indian government, it was quick to announce the Bharat Ratna award that in turn triggered a fresh wave of controversy. Whether you are for or against the award being conferred on Sachin, the fact is that under the statutes, the government was well within its rights and under the clause “for performance of highest order in any field of human endeavour” that was included in 2011 to bring sports within the Ratna purview.
Originally, the Ratna was “for the highest degrees of national service besides artistic, literary, and scientific achievements, as well as recognition of public service of the highest order”. The award also has attracted justifiable criticism considering that as many as 43 have been conferred the Ratna since its inception in 1954. To an extent, the number of recipients have somewhat diluted the exclusivity of the award.
As for Sachin receiving the award, I do not see anything wrong and I feel he has performed enough and more for over two decades, and at the highest level of the sport. Unlike any other “great” cricketer, Sachin has shouldered the heavy burden of public expectations since as a teenager, has lived a clean life with grace, dignity and humility that is given to few. In the process, he has set new benchmarks of excellence that will take a lot to even equal much less surpass.
Throughout his career, Sachin was the target of unfair criticism born out of envy and ignorance. For instance, the same Wankhede crowd that shed tears at his farewell match, had booed him mercilessly a few years ago when Sachin was going through a lean patch following injuries. Like a man, he took criticism and brickbats on his chin, never once losing focus. He replied the critics with his bat.
Perhaps, Sachin could have handled the Monkeygate and import duty over his Ferrari far better than he did. The two incidents remain blots on his otherwise spotless track record on and off the field. In the final analysis, Sachin became an icon that virtually every Indian identified himself or herself with. He became everyone’s favourite brother, son and son-in-law.
No politician or Indian enjoyed the kind of popularity and following, and on the scale that Sachin did. The affection and adulation were genuine and spontaneous. Some went to great lengths (like driving in reverse gear for 199 km to commemorate his 199th Test! Or instituting a temple in Sachin’s honour) to express their feelings for him.
Basically, Sachin was identified with solidity, trust, reliability and longevity, while his family completed a near-perfect picture of a middle-class Indian rising to Himalayan heights purely on merit and performance.
If anything, Sachin did not need a Bharat Ratna, for he was already one!