Why the 100th is a worthy obsession
Television news is the whipping boy of choice these days. It gets accused of every possible digression. Of playing judge, jury and executioner. Of stoking unrest. Of reducing public discourse to a farce. Of ignoring issues of substance for frills and celebrity. Of reducing news to theater. Some of this of-course is true and this is meant to be no defense of the chaotic world this writer is very much part of!
For the past few months venom has been spewed on our ilk for the obsessive wait for Sachin Tendulkar's 100th international century. Every time the great man has arrived at the crease and failed to reach the landmark, fingers have been pointed in the direction of breathless news anchors. The burden it seems rests heavier on Tendulkar because news channels simply can't stop talking about it. Every time the milestone nears, it is almost as if his mind becomes a concoction of hollering TV demons, urging him to surge towards his 'maha-shatak'.
Now while that is a convenient diversion, it is a futile argument. Neither did wall to wall TV coverage contribute to any of Tendulkar's 99 previous centuries, nor has it played a role in his inability to complete the 100th. His astounding success is entirely due to his own skill, talent and devotion. And in each of the 21 innings since that 99th hundred, Tendulkar has been dismissed either through an error of his own judgment or the skill of the bowler he has been confronted with.
In-fact, I refuse any longer to be squeamish about the obsession. This has been an illuminating journey for those willing to see it as such. Tendulkar is the most awe-inspiring individual for this generation of Indians, sporting or otherwise. His unmatched feats and longevity have elevated Tendulkar to the status of divinity. But what we have learnt through this frustrating spell is that he too is human. There I said it. It is the greatest lesson of this much reviled crass obsession for a statistic. Like the rest of us, Tendulkar too is fallible. Is given to self-doubt. Like you and me, battles demons in his head. Like the insecure employee in a large firm, he too is consumed by doubt. That sometimes talent and ability isn't all it takes. That when uncertainty nibbles away, even great men flounder. It is when a Rampaul or a Clarke can win a battle against Sachin Tendulkar.
While awaiting the landmark we have also been re-introduced to the most basic premise of sport. That at its purest sport is unscripted drama. So often in these months Tendulkar has arrived at what we believed was the perfect stage for the milestone to arrive. The World Cup final in Mumbai. The 2000th Test at the home of cricket Lord's which was also the 100th between India and England. At his home ground Wankhede where he was once a ball boy at a World Cup final. Melbourne and Sydney where he always walks out and departs to standing ovations. Yet that hundred has been elusive.
The inherent message is this. In the cauldron of a sporting contest there are no certainties and no givens. Every accomplishment is to be earned and every inch is to be fought over. That while fans and prime ministers and soothsayers await the grandeur of a moment, the 11 men you front up to aren't willing to let you have it. They will contribute to the resonance of the applause if you succeed but won't allow you a freebie. I am certain Tendulkar won't want it another way. Neither should we. And for that lesson alone this has been an obsession worthy of indulgence.
The argument that the endless wait for Tendulkar's milestone is damaging to the team cause is equally amusing. If Tendulkar were to make a hundred would it be an island on the score-sheet? Had he gone past it at Sydney, would India not have had a chance to avoid an innings defeat? Had Siddle not found an in-dipper to breach his defense at Melbourne could a Tendulkar hundred not have helped India take a first innings lead? In cricket, an individual contributes towards the larger cause. So if Tendulkar is distracted or uncertain when the milestone approaches, that damages the team cause! Not the obsessive pursuit of the follower waiting for him to accomplish it.
In a scathing recent piece eminent historian Mukul Kesavan argued that 100 international hundreds is an 'artificial' category. Invented by buffoons who don't really understand the game. In Mukul's view a one-day century is unworthy of being mentioned in the same breath as one scored in a Test arena. I wondered if that could be applied as a thumb rule and decided I am better off as a buffoon who disagrees! Some of Tendulkar's Test hundreds made against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe or on feather-beds in Sri Lanka pale in front of a his great one-day innings. In Sharjah against Australia in 1998 or some of the knocks he has played in his six World Cup campaigns spring to mind. Mukul believes if hundreds are to be clubbed, first class matches are a more appropriate guideline. Surely, a ton against Gujarat in the Ranji trophy won't demand as much from Tendulkar as one against South Africa in a World Cup encounter against Steyn and Morkel? ((Mukul's piece is here- http://www.telegraphindia.com/1111201/jsp/opinion/story_14819040.jsp ))
An international hundred is NOT a contrived category. The ground rule is simple. A century made while playing FOR India against a team from another country. In Test or one-day cricket. And yes, even in a T20 international. Pundits use a convincing method to explain Don Bradman's elevated pedestal in the game. None of his contemporaries averaged within 30 runs of him. So Bradman is the Numero Uno among batsmen as he averaged 99.94 in Test cricket while the next best in that era, or ever for that matter, averages in the late 60s. Similarly, 99 international hundreds is a staggering summit. The next in line is Ricky Ponting with 70. 29 centuries less than Tendulkar. And unless a boy wonder is now padding up somewhere on the cricketing globe, this mountain will take a long time to conquer. If ever.
I remember interviewing Tendulkar in November 2009 when he completed 20 years in international cricket. I wound up by asking him, "Can we put one last bit of pressure, you have 87 international hundreds. Can we ask you to get a 100?". A smile crept up on his lips and with a twinkle in his eye he delivered the perfect reply, "I will try my best". 12 have come since then and he is still trying for that 13th! One day he will succeed. Till then he will try. Till then we will obsess. Tumultuous journeys can be enriching.
More about Gaurav KalraGaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
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