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January **, 2000


India Down Under

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When the going gets tough...

The Spare Crib/Abhilasha Khaitan

I've been thinking. Imagining.

And in my imaginings there is a scenario where Sachin doesn't make a big one for a few matches in a row. And for the sake of argument, not only are centuries and half-centuries not coming through, the man doesn't even reach the double figure mark in the said matches.

Excuses like back injury, emotional reasons, pressure of captaincy have been exhausted and over-used. We're talking about a form issue, to do with temperament and ability to perform at that point of time. Natural talent notwithstanding, the criteria would be demonstrated proficiency and performance in the preceding matches, spanning say, even a couple of months.

It's an unlikely and undesirable scenario, but just for academic interest, should it materialise, what would be his fate? Speculation would lead to denial, and we'd all say that no matter what, Sachin is special, and we'd never nail him.

Is that a fact?

Put Sachin in Mark Waugh's shoes. An average of below 20, and I am being generous here, over the last 10 matches. Walking into Eden Gardens, Wankhede Stadium wherever, with 50,000 -90,000 Indians, die-hard fans of the Sports Icon of the Century, watching him.

What would happen then?

Remember when Mark Waugh entered the MCG. Obviously, there would have been enormous trepidation and hesitation in his mind. No matter what they had to say in the commentary box about how cool and relaxed he seemed, his demeanor reflected nerves.

Obviously, there would be nerves. I mean, give the guy a break. He'd have been dying! Think about it, after 98 Tests, there is talk that you might not make it to see the 100th? And then they give you a lease of life, which lasts only as long as the next Test match?

So, it is with the thought of survival that he makes it to the next match, and he steps onto the ground. What would he expect from the crowd? They're intelligent, knowledgeable about the game, as are viewers across the globe. They know that this guy has been having a rough time, and he wouldn't be scoring too many in a hurry. So, how do they welcome him?

Mark Waugh would have expected many things, silence, indifference, skepticism. All that and more. But not what he got. A standing ovation, the crowd egging their hero on, telling him that they're behind him and that they believe in him. It's one thing to rest on one's laurels, yet another to be out of sorts. History should be a spur to success, and not an excuse to relax. Absolutely. No one's arguing. However, history should also serve as a reminder of past glory, and therefore, motivate.

It should motivate the sportsman into digging deep, finding reservoirs of ability and courage, to overcome the slump. Equally, it should motivate the audience into believing. Into keeping the faith.

An umpire gives the batsman the benefit of any and all available doubt. Should not the spectator do likewise? Should he not have the faith to see through a slump, to recognise it for what it is? To encourage, to motivate, rather than damn, condemn?

Should not the fan refrain from dismissing a batsman till he is truly out?

And just as its not cricket to humiliate a batsman who's been given out, any hero facing a trough in his career should be supported by them, by the people who cheered every stroke he made in better times. Its easy to applaud a guy who's performing heroic deeds match in and match out. But when the hero tires or needs rejuvenation, even his fans tire of him. And then, its not a pretty sight when the erstwhile ovations turn into jeers, and we start demanding his neck.

In our country, we do this all the time. And we don't even wait for a few bad days. Just one bad day is enough to hate a guy, and one good day enough to love him. Are we just fickle, or are we just way too demanding? It's no fun to see India lose. Even as I write this, I've turned my back on the ongoing India-Aus match, because the scoreboard does not make for very pretty reading, and it upsets me. When Sachin strode out to open, I (like everybody else) wanted and expected him to do the 100 number with Sourav, and that would have been ideal for all those who wanted him to have opened in the first place. But that was not to be.

Maybe they should have stuck to the other batting order. Am telling you, he should resign as captain. His game is getting affected. He hasn't made a century in the last 3 matches.

It's not just about Sachin. We do this each time India falters. Agreed it's been happening too often in the last couple of months. After a point, most televisions are switched off, because its not just disappointing, it gets tedious. But, is that reason enough to bad mouth those who're probably cursing themselves on their dismal performance? They're playing the game, and would dearly love to win. So, they've been found wanting, and it's time they pull up their socks and get going on setting things right.

But, think about the sinking feeling within each one of them, at the thought of returning home as failures. Of having nothing to declare, when they land at Sahar or the Indira Gandhi airport, but their collective disgrace.

The fear of facing one's own people is a terrible thing. Ask Akram, who has been through it after a brilliant World Cup campaign ended in one final aberration. Ask the Indians, who carry that fear with them today.

> I am not suggesting that you pat them on their backs, and be proud of them, no .Not until they give you something to be proud of. But must we kick those who are already down and out?

Everybody loves a hero. But to be there when the going is tough is what makes the difference between fair weather friends, and the real kind.

It's not a sunny time for the Indian cricket team, and they predict more thundershowers in the offing. You can weather it out with your country, or you can rush in for cover.

What you do, which choice you make, tells you something about the kind of person you are. Man enough to tough out the tough times, to back yourself -- or in this case, your team -- to come through it? Or mouse?

The Spare Crib/Abhilasha Khaitan

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