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August 14, 1997


For flag and country

Harsha Bhogle

I'm worried - because Independence Day is leaving me cold.

I'm petrified that 50 years of being a sovereign country isn't evoking in me deep feelings of patriotism.

For someone who has flaunted his Indianness everywhere, has thought of himself as a very proud Indian, it is all a bit unnerving.

And it is scary that I am not alone in thinking this way. Are we taking too much for granted? Do we need to forgo a bit, to understand the value of what we have? Do we need to sacrifice something to realise something else? I don't know....

Meanwhile, another man is shot dead on the streets of Bombay.

And two members of Parliament (does it deserve a capital P?) are seen on television shoving each other the way two kids would when they both want the same toy.Gee, you think maybe they are shoving each other for another piece of India?

And two days before the 15th of August, an Indian team bats in Sri Lanka in a manner that is so cruelly typical of contemporary India. At management school, we studied achievement motivation. This cricket team - and the nation it represents - seems to lack it, don't they?

324 to win from 90 overs on a good track with 10 wickets standing. An opener who had scored a century in the previous Test, to be followed by three others who had made Test match centuries less than a week ago. And yet India waited. And batted at a Hindu rate of growth. And only made some grumbling noises towards the end.

'What if we had lost?' was the theme song of India's cricket. Where was the romance of searching for victory?

50 years ago, the founding fathers (I just love the dignity that expression carries with it) of this nation could well have said 'What if we are deluged by communal trouble? What if we cannot grow enough food? What if we cannot generate enough power to run our factories?'

They didn't. Which is how we achieved Independence - because they dared.

There must have been a certain intoxication in the air then. Where is it now?

Why can't someone tell our cricketers that you cannot win unless you want to? That victory isn't waiting to be plucked? That an army that only thinks of defending can never win a war? We have an aggressive young man who, when he was captain of Bombay, had only one thought in mind. To win. Very often, Bombay won because his vision took them there. As captain of India, however, he wants to ensure that he doesn't lose.

This is a man who was blessed; who was born to do great things. The nurse must have told his mother: here, Mrs.Tendulkar, cradle a legend. He made 6 from 46 balls yesterday. Ever seen a Ferrari driven by an Ambassador engine?

Just 20 miles south of Rameswaram as the crow flies, Sanath Jayasuriya made 340 and 199; Aravinda da Silva, smooth, quiet and rapid like the sports cars he loves, made six hundreds in a row and to top all that, Susanthika Jayasinghe ran 200 metres like death was chasing her and she was saying 'catch me if you can'. It couldn't.

The voice of experience says these things go in cycles. Maybe there is some truth in it, but I find it very difficult to believe that the only way out is to wait for the cycle to return. How many captains won cricket matches for their sides by waking up early and standing in the balcony to see if the sunrise brought a new cycle with it?

Ajit Wadekar told me in 1993 that in South Africa (his first series as coach) he found that the Indian team had forgotten how to win. That it wasn't a thought that presented itself at first sight. And as a consequence, losing was a decent alternative. I wonder sometimes if that is the cycle that has returned.

I wonder too if the true sign of a leader is to be able to distance himself from the self. To be able to put individual ambition aside and look at the larger picture. I am not sure Sachin Tendulkar is able to do that just yet. Arjuna Ranatunga is, but remember, it took him a very long time to do it. He reminds me so much of Clive Lloyd, happily staying in the background while the Greenidges and the Richardses vowed crowds and cowed opposition bowlers. But when there was danger around, Lloyd was the rock they couldn't move. Everybody knew it. Most important, the likes of Greenidge and Richards knew it too, and that is why they always respected him. In the Asia Cup, Ranatunga has sent a similar message to Jayasuriya and Aravinda.

Tendulkar needs support to be able to perform and to motivate. He needs someone who can tell him `You are the boss on the field, let me handle the rest off it'. He doesn't have that kind of support just now. That is why what Indian cricket needs is a great coach. We need a man with vision, with intellect and self-respect.

Meanwhile Sitaram Kesri is shouting from the rooftops about falling at the feet of a woman 31 years younger then he is. The daughter-in-law of the last woman about whom he had similar feelings.

Vision. Intellect. Self-respect...what am I talking about? Sorry.

Maybe what Tendulkar needs is a session with Mark Taylor. The more I see him bat, the more I am amazed by his leadership skills. Batsmanship has deserted him like water does a good drought; his bat and feet work in approximations and even if he scores 76 and 45 like he did at Trent Bridge, the man padded up and sitting in the pavilion to come in after him can never take time off to visit the loo for. He averaged 50 plus in the Ashes, had a very healthy Test average and would have walked into a world side at one stage, remember.

Yet, instead of moaning, instead of growing a beard and snapping at people, he retains a great sense of humour, is in command at all times and, I believe, is now one of the great captains of this era. If I had to choose two adjectives to define him, I would go for selfless and dignified. He batted on a fresh, seaming track at Leeds because he wanted Shane Warne to bowl in the fourth innings. I know of a few people who would have said `let the pitch ease out a bit before I bat on it'. I believe that act, more than anything else, must have won him his side's respect. And remember, in Australia it is tough to earn respect if you are not performing.

Tendulkar doesn't need to earn it. He has it already. But only as a batsman. He needs to go out and win it as a captain.

But before that, he must learn to find some peace of mind. He must find something that will help him relax. Ranatunga found it through Buddhism. Azharuddin found it through religion too.

But in a sense, aren't all of us troubled, tormented? Don't we watch the news and read the newspapers with anticipation and with fear?

Do we chuckle at ourselves anymore?

So can India's cricket captain find peace? For his sake, and for the spirit of the nation, let's hope he does.

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