At this moment of celebration of Sachin Tendulkar’s most remarkable achievement of 100 international centuries, the world should not forget the sustained contribution of that one person without whose help Tendulkar could not have scored all those runs. And that one person is: Me.
You don’t have to take my word. But just take the list of Tendulkar’s international hundreds and look closely. What do you see? Yes, 19 of those tons have come against the minions Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Kenya and Namibia.
Oops, wrong inference. Damn those statistics, which anyway, as Navjot Singh Sidhu would say, are like bikinis, a costume that is not meant for Tendulkar.
The thing is I have been keenly following Tendulkar’s career right from his first series, and in the first three years of his international cricket, he had just a solitary century to show, despite possessing in abundance that one talent which separates the truly great from the merely good: Yes, that ability to appear in all the right TV advertisements.
Hahaha. As ever I am just kidding. The point is after following every match of Tendulkar’s in his first three years of international cricket, fate interceded between him and me in 1992 in the form of there being no television set in my old aunt’s house, which is from where I had to pursue my college education at that time. So I could not keep track of his exploits in Australia. As it happens, in that series, Tendulkar scored two career-defining brilliant centuries, including that Hall-of-Famer 114 on the trampoline of a pitch at WACA, Perth.
I could not keep abreast of his batting brilliance in 1993 and 1994 also, and he scored a sum total of 10 international hundreds during that period of sublime effulgence. By 1995, I was, however, back in my home and the TV set was all mine, but, as it happens, Tendulkar scored just a measly single century in the entire year.
Just as the rest of the world was arriving at the conclusion that whenever Tendulkar hits a century, most likely India loses, I, a more discerning cricket-watcher than the rest of the world, was zeroing in on the bigger truth: Tendulkar scores a century when I don’t watch.
While there is still a lot of heat and debate on the former theory, there is no argument over the latter. In 1996, ’97, ‘98 and ‘99 alone, when I first put my thesis into serious test by not watching the game when Tendulkar was batting, he scored a grand total of 34 international hundreds, just one short of the 35 that Sunil Gavaskar managed in his entire career, which, I must point out here, would have been lot lower if I had followed his international stint just like I had Tendulkar’s.
After this experience, in my family and friends circles, the simple rule to eventualise a Tendulkar century was clearly established:
1) Push me out of the room when he was batting
2) Ensure that Steve Bucknor was not the umpire
Here I would like to point out that there have been instances when Tendulkar has notched some special hundreds in matches where I had been personally present in the stands. But the thing is I was there on all those occasions as a cricket reporter, which is to say I was not watching the match. For, in my experience, the one person present in the stadium who catches the least amount of action on the field has to be the cricket reporter. The other one who comes closest to him, I think, has to be the team’s coach.
A cricket writer, in this internet era of hourly updates and features, needs to file at least three ‘copies’ (lunch, tea and the end of the day’s play reports) a day. And this the reporter cannot obviously manage if he were wasting his time in extraneous activities like watching the match. At least I didn’t because I was busy crafting sentences like: ‘The ball, coming in from an angle, pitched on the off-stump, and darted, as if impelled by an invisible bow, towards the leg-stump, hitting the batsman on the high part of his back pad, which the umpire failed to spot’. Actually from the heights of the press box, leave alone the ball trajectory of the ball, trajectory of the bowler himself is a bit hazy.
Coming back to Tendulkar, after the World Cup last year, which, by the way, I didn’t watch much thereby ensuring a couple of Tendulkar centuries, I thought I can take it easy as he had achieved almost all that can be on a cricketing arena, and earnestly began following his matches in England and Australia.
But apparently some cricketing truths never die. The obvious one is: When you attempt a humour piece on cricket bring in at least one Ajit Agarkar reference. That aside, Tendulkar fails when I follow.
So, bitter at his failures, I skipped this Asia Cup, and you know what happened, how history was made and how Saeed Ajmal, well, we will not go into that.
Anyway, every time Tendulkar scores a century and looks to the sky as if to thank his dad who he believes watches him always and helps him score all those runs, I see it as a silent tribute, too, to a person who does not watch him and helps him score all those runs.
And at that moment of heightened emotion, I thank him for those moments of brilliance. I thank him for his unmatched skill. And I thank him for the fact that he doesn’t celebrate his centuries like Virat Kohli does. And then, in all that excitement and elation, I let out a happy and contented cuss word.