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Edited by Suresh Menon, the book is a collection of 18 essays by writers who have followed Tendulkar’s career and by Rahul Dravid, Sanjay Manjrekar and Anil Kumble who have played alongside him. The introduction is by Muttiah Muralitharan—the man who is to bowling what Tendulkar is to batting.
The advantage of having 18 different essays is that you have varied viewpoints in the same book. Some seek to answer Tendulkar’s role in the team, there are comparisons with Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting and Viv Richards, the role of his coach, and what makes Sachin, Sachin. All the essays are though tinted by a similar vein of can- do-no-wrong attitude and hero worship. So even when you have Gideon Haigh, who wonders why Tendulkar never speaks out against the issues of his day—match fixing, ball tampering or sledging—gives him the easy way out, writing that anything he says is likely to be misquoted anyway.
Every author has his own Tendulkar story, along with their professional assessment of him as a player. Much of the joy of reading Sach lies in reading these personal admissions. How Harsha Bhogle’s first interview with a then schoolboy Tendulkar had to be brokered through a vigilant elder brother. Osman Samiuddin’s love-hate relationship as both a Sachin fan and a Pakistan supporter, and his debate with his statician father on who was a better player—Tendulkar or Dravid. Bishen Bedi almost seems to chuckle as he recounts his dismissal of Tendulkar despite not bowling a single ball to him. Rahul Dravid credits Tendulkar’s performance as a 16-year-old for encouraging selectors to give youngsters like him a chance early in their careers as well.
It’s these moments when the book comes to life rather than those parts that say how great a player Tendulkar is, or how many runs he has left in him. There are only a finite number of times you can read those. Also worth reading are the essays by authors who have followed Tendulkar’s career since his unheralded days. While they also tend to fall into the same runs-greatness zone, they provide a treasure trove of anecdotes of his early career. There is one that reveals how the move of promoting Tendulkar to an opener was brought about by the combination of a tour to New Zealand, time differences between India and that country, a visit to a strip club and Navjot Sidhu getting a stiff neck.
The book is ultimately meant for a fan. And in that context, Barney Ronay’s concept of Tendulkar’s role in ‘air cricket’ seem the most fitting tribute to the man. ‘Air cricket’ to the novice is cricket played only in mime form, often using a bat-like object, and perhaps making a ‘clonk’noise as you dispatch imaginary balls. Ronay says it is possible only to play ‘air cricket’ shots that ‘belong’ to cricketers you love. “Brilliantly, I now have an air Tendulkar. It is a signature shot too, the wristy flick to leg. A sway into line, followed by a rotation of the hands. Occasionally, I alternated this with the similar, but more zingingly well-timed punch-block drive to the midwicket boundary. Hand me an umbrella. Give me a wooden spoon. This is what you’ll get now. It might not seem like much, in the grand scheme of things. But I have no higher form of praise.”
The book, at only 159 pages, is a quick read and easy to roll up. Do so and play a couple of air Tendulkar’s flicks of your own. I’m sure any Tendulkar fan would approve.
We have throughout his career heard a lot about Tendulkar’s grace in carrying the hopes of a billion countrymen. Undeniably this is admirable, but still you yearned quietly for some sign of rebellion, for a show of deliciously indulgent selfishness. Perhaps for a Virender Sehwag-style-six-out on the first morning of a Test Match, a world-weary session of slog and waft, or even just some sense of unbending selfishness behind the unerringly cool head perfect demeanour.
—Air Tendulkar, Barney Ronay, The Guardian