Even the most hardline cynic and defeatist in India will have to hold his evil tongue before he makes a Freudian slip on Sachin Tendulkar. Only a depressed few in bad faith in the entire country can dispute his greatness and that too only in insomnia or in an infamous narco-test conducted under dubious circumstances. Those who have actually put Sachin on the block have been usually mediocre and morbid sports journalists, who took up the beat not because they loved sports or sportsmanship or sporting qualities, but because they just landed up a job/beat in the absence of a better one. That many of them ended up being vicious and perverse, and proved their stupidity to the whole world, is transparent evi¬dence of the equally morbid belief that if you attack Sachin mindlessly, your copy will be read, at least read. Otherwise if you have watched Sachin play, or any other great, you al¬ready know every stroke he has played by heart, and you will only read a copy if it makes sense in sense and sensibility. It's like those commentators, including faded-jaded ex-cricket¬ers still shining, shouting "fabulous, fantastic, magnificent" on the idiot box, even while a non-stop, infinite procession of inane ads bomb you after every four or dismissal or appeal or injury or wide or free-hit or power play or six. Indeed, you can see the shot out there, it is fabulous, no one has to tell us that. The least they can tell us is if the ball was short of good length at 145 km per hour, a perfect out swinger, but could have disturbed the off stump, if the genius on the crease had not moved in a flash of lightening, balanced his body, did a subtle ballet with his left foot, and in a move softer and sweeter than the ball kissing/hissing the bat, turns this ideal, one-in-a-hundred delivery, with a soft handle, for a glance/flick/glide/push towards the off-side, the rippling ball mov¬ing faster than the two fielders could imagine, and touching the fence like the shore of a river. There was one such stroke Sachin played in this classical epical narrative at Gwalior which was folk, melody, magic realism, high art and a col¬lective symphony, in unison, yet separate and unique, all in scientific synthesis. The moment he arrived on Wednesday at the Captain Roop Singh Stadium named after the legend¬ary hockey player, there was an air of detachment which is like the will at the bottom of a hill, and his bat seemed to turn into a hockey stick ready for that precious penalty flick, the ball caressing the stick like an imagined relationship already lived in the mind. He was quiet, almost solitaire, solid and tangible in his solitude among the multitudes who watched him, his eyes, mind, fingers, feet and the movement steadfast and focused, absolutely relaxed, and yet as alert and light as a leaf in a leaf storm. There was something in his body language that was like that amazing dust storm innings at Sharjah in 1997 when he refused to leave the field, and he knew so well in his mind then as he knew on this February Wednesday, that this was his day and his night, as the magical narrative would unfold, like a gentle predator in the wild who has no threat perception whatsoever. That is why there was mini¬mum power-hitting: like a classical musician he moved with the symphony, nuanced, gliding, stroking, flicking, glancing, cover-extra-cover-driving, across the angular dimensions, beyond mid-wicket and long-off, unruffled, cramped, tired, in pin-drop perfection, playing for the team, as always for the collective, totally dedicated as batsman, fielder, and sharply intelligent bowler, thinker and mentor, who once won India a match by bowling the last ball in an ODI.
The Wednesday ode to joy was therefore a remembrance of both things past and future: a blender's pride of Sunil Gavas¬kar, GR Vishwanath, David Gower and Mohammad Azharuddin. Classy, classical, classified.