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August 10, 1999


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Easy does it

Harsha Bhogle

It is not difficult to see why Sachin Tendulkar was reluctant to become captain of India again. And it isn’t difficult either to see why he was virtually forced to accept it.

If you were to make a list of the most difficult jobs in the game, the captaincy of the Indian cricket team would almost certainly make it to number two. Admittedly, it is nowhere near being as complicated or as dangerous as being captain of Pakistan, but to produce real results in a world of unreal expectation can be extremely frustrating; especially if you have a primitive cricket system behind you.

Luckily for Tendulkar, while the media in India can be enormously demanding, and critical, it is a lot more mature than that in Pakistan. (I don’t think you will ever see a newspaper headline here that says “Hang Tendulkar” or even “Hang Azhar”). And Indian audiences are a lot more understanding. It must amaze the Pakistan cricket team that in spite of not making the semi-final India’s cricketers continue to enjoy mass adulation while getting to the final of the biggest cricket event in the world has earned them ridicule and physical danger.

Yet, it is true that to accept the captaincy of the Indian team is, in some ways, also an acceptance that the era of goodwill will come to an end. That is just one of many factors that make it a bed of thorns. Add insufficient control over team selection, a new coach every year and insensitive scheduling of international matches and you can understand why Tendulkar was reluctant.

But he was forced to accept it because the selectors and the BCCI did exactly what the rest of the country does when faced with a cricketing problem. They looked at Sachin Tendulkar and having done so, eased themselves of all worries. It is called the Lazy Husband Syndrome and very briefly, it means that when a problem appears, you toss it to your wife and put your feet up. The LHS assumes, erroneously sometimes, that the wife cannot toss it back. And luckily for the BCCI, Tendulkar didn’t either. But it is important to know that he could have, given his disclosure that he had told everyone concerned that he was “reluctant to accept”.

Now, with most people “reluctant” means I-don’t-really-want-to-but-if-you-insist-maybe-I-will. I am not sure that is what Tendulkar meant when he used that expression. I remember a time when he called me from the USA about a series of programmes that he didn’t want to be part of. He could have said “I don’t want to do them”. Instead he said “I’m a bit `reluctant’ to do them”. He spoke in Marathi but that was the only English word he used. I remember putting at the back of my mind that day that when Tendulkar says `reluctant’ he is actually trying to be very polite about saying `no’.

And yet I think he has done the right thing; both by coming clean on his initial reluctance and by accepting. He has shown a degree of honesty and, to my mind, a touch of humility in admitting that he wasn’t mentally ready to accept such a big job. (Does anyone in India believe Tendulkar is not ready for anything!) And by accepting, he has shown an appreciation of the honour that goes with the job.

I believe his success as captain will lie in embracing two qualities he hasn’t actually been very good at so far; in accepting and living with failure and in being able to relax. It is not that he has spurned them, it is just that his talent and his intensity haven’t allowed him to become friends with them.

Tendulkar is the product of a city that is enraptured by success and which tends to consign failures to the rubbish bin. From the time children are 12 or 13, they are driven ahead with dreams of success. There seems no time to fail and to learn from it, there seems no place for the late bloomer. 95% in the 12th standard examination means you have failed, for it consigns you to an out-of-town professional college. To get into the elite engineering and medical colleges, you have to have the accuracy of an assasin; one mistake in any of three papers and you are gone.

That is why Mumbai is such a scary, frightening city. That is also why it is a restless and impatient city, for the young men and women here have a morbid fear of failure. The poet Shahryar, who wrote those haunting songs in Umrao Jaan, captured it perfectly in an earlier film called Gaman. Seene me jalan, aankhon me toofan sa kyon hai. Is shaher me har shaks pareshan sa kyon hai (A reasonable translation would be Why is the heart burning, why is there a typhoon in the eyes? Why is everyone in this city so restless?)

Everyone works late here in quest of success, lights in offices are on till late at night and my hypothesis is that Mumbai contributes the same percentage of hypertension to India as it does income tax. It is from such a success-at-all-costs atmosphere that Tendulkar comes, and that is why he found things so frustrating in his first term as captain. I suspect he could not live with a heterogeneous set of people, and that is why he is reported to have said that he could have produced better results with the Mumbai team. Understandable. When he lead Mumbai to such great success in the Ranji Trophy, he was with a team of people who thought alike.

But success is not a very good friend. From time to time, like a bee, it visits other flowers and that is why the philosophers tell you never to fall in love with it. Instead, when success eluded Tendulkar in the West Indies and then in Sri Lanka, he grew restless and the subsequent stress started playing on his cricket. Now, he must learn to relax, to accept that the best may sometimes not be good enough.

I just wonder if it might be a good idea to do what Allan Border and Bob Simpson did in the middle eighties with the Australian team. They picked players with the right attitude, commitment and pride to start with, and built a team around them. Out of that came cricketers who were not the most outrageously talented but who played with a fierce desire, and they formed the core of a very successful team.

These were players like David Boon, Steve Waugh, Craig McDermott, Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh. Once the work ethic was established, even the wild talents of Mark Waugh and Shane Warne fitted in. There was no room for Greg Mathews, for example and even Dean Jones struggled to stay afloat towards the end.

Tendulkar has both the attitude and the discipline of an Australian. Now he needs a coach who shares his views and between them they need to produce an Indian team that can blend its great talent with a little more pride. At the end of the day Tendulkar needs to be sure that his team gave everything they had. Once he knows that, he can relax and allow the bad day to go by.

I also think he needs a vice-captain with a healthy attitude towards success and failure. And that is why I think the selectors should appoint Jadeja as vice-captain. There is a temptation to give it to Rahul Dravid and while Dravid is a studious, thinking cricketer he, more than anyone else, in the team resembles Tendulkar. Like the captain, he is very hard on himself when he fails and that is why they may not form the best combination. Jadeja is more cheerful and I get the feeling he may be better at getting the team to re-motivate itself.

I think the key to Tendulkar’s success in his second term will lie in his attitude. He can afford to be more relaxed, for he has a more settled team than he had in 1996-97. The success of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid will hopefully take a lot of pressure off him. And if Srinath stays fit, he will have the strike bowler he did not have for the greater part of his captaincy.

Now, if only he can find another opening batsman...........

Harsha Bhogle

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