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January 16, 1998


Heartbeat of India

send this story to a friend Amrit Mathur

When the little champion (to borrow a phrase from SMG) smashes bowlers to score a hundred it makes us feel good. It is a matter of profound joy to watch his cricket, the batting is superb, the man is amazingly gifted. But cricket apart, there is another angle to Sachin's batting -- his efforts fill you with pride.

Sachin is not just playing for himself, he is batting for all of us, he represents India, On him ride the hopes of millions, when he decimates the opposition the triumph is shared by all our countrymen. His performances and those of other sportsmen have an enormous bearing on the country. Sporting achievements contribute to national image and prestige besides providing a heady feeling of success and an unmatched sense of euphoria.

Nobody disputes the deep connection between sports and nationalism. Every Indian cricketer, for instance, considers it the ultimate honour to play for India; ask anyone about his ambition and the most likely response will be 'I want to play for India and win matches.' Nationalism is spurred by sport, this is reflected not only in player commitment but even spectator involvement. Maybe in today's plastic times it is pop/disco jingoism but at the cricket ground, with each hefty strike of the willow, the Indian tricolour is hoisted aloft and waved more enthusiastically.

While some players (notably Sachin/Sidhu) are overly conscious of this cricket/ country link the average player is essentially focused on the more urgent task at hand of performing well for his own sake.

Gavaskar repeatedly said that as a batsmen he concentrated on the bowler and the ball, the rest was quite irrelevant. Such was the great man's concentration he did not look at the scoreboard (is that humanly possible?), was unaffected by sledging/abusive close in fielders, never bothered about screaming spectators. Still, as a player, he always remembered that his performance sunk the nation into a bout of despair, caused incalculable disappointment and gloom.

How much this feeling of nationalism motivates a sportsman varies because the feeling must come from within. It is useful to tell people about responsibility, but the value of David Lloyd's methods (patriotic posters in the dressing room, playing of the national anthem) are questionable because despite much deshbhakti England's fortunes have not altered. They belong to international cricket's Third World.

Pakistan, on the contrary, is perceived as very patriotic, but their intensity appears to peak only against India or England. With other teams they are not as sharp, the matches lack the extra tension. Similarly, an Australia/England game has an added edge. As does an England/West Indies fixture, but all this is due to historical reasons rather than any deeper angle.

At Bombay, a hint of win on the last day triggered another spell of loud nationalism. Everyone was really fired when Tendulkar was supremely dominant. He caned the friendly bowling without mercy. When he is in such awesome form he is simply unstoppable.

So was Saurav, stroking the ball with ridiculous fluidity, the graceful swing of the bat crashing the ball into the fence (no billboards because the advertisers refused to cough up rates demanded by the organisers, also no ads on the sightscreens). It is one of those phases where every ball somehow finds the centre of the bat, it does not matter where his feet are. Even if he is batting blindfolded on an unprepared track Saurav would still play effortlessly.

Amrit Mathur

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