Belatedly appreciating Sachin’s greatness

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James Pattinson showcased why he represented Australia’s great hope for Test redemption with an awe-inspiring aggressive opening spell early on day two of the first Test against India.

His fury scythed India’s openers and Australia’s new intimidating spearhead appeared to propel his team to an insurmountable advantage in the crucial opening Test match.

With his side mired at 2-12 in reply to 380, Sachin Tendulkar strutted to the crease, amid the expected adulation from the throng in the stands, hoping to stem the tide as he had so often done during his indefatigable career.

The near 40-year-old would be attempting to blunt the brimstone of Pattinson, who was born one year after Tendulkar made his international debut in 1989.

The odds of Tendulkar resisting and then counterattacking India back into the contest appeared slim. After all, the great man had not scored a Test ton for two years and had spent more time batting away criticisms of his cricket mortality.

By the end of the day, Tendulkar had resuscitated India, playing with aplomb, as his nimble footwork, alluring groundstrokes and unflappable temperament were a throwback to his halcyon days as cricket’s finest.

A deserved Test century eluded Tendulkar early on day three but he had laid the platform for Kohli and ultimately MS Dhoni to decisively swing the Test match in the home side’s favour.

What surprised me wasn’t that Tendulkar had tapped into his inner greatness right at the opportune moment when his team needed it the most. Great players perform such deeds.

What astonished me was that I found myself willing Tendulkar to succeed.

It’s time to debunk an urban legend. Tendulkar is lauded and respected in Australia, yes. But, do the majority of Australian cricket fans want him to succeed when pitted against the Baggygreen?

No. It’s mythicised that Australian supporters want only two things during clashes against India – a Sachin ton amid an Aussie victory.

Sure, it sounds rational in theory. But amid the emotional backdrop of a sporting hotbed, a fan transforms into an irrational lunatic. And the opponent’s best player is enemy number one during the contest.

Of course, Sachin has been the prized scalp for the past two decades. Dismiss the Little Master cheaply and Australia‘s path to victory would be easier. I, along with any other Australian cricket supporter I knew, did not want Tendulkar to linger at the crease for fear he would perform miracles at the detriment of my team.

We (Aussie fans) didn’t want to witness his majestic batsmanship and his ability to succeed with audacity. The dirty little secret is we wanted him to fail. The fact is we wanted our team to win at all cost, even if that meant cutting short a sublime Sachin epic.

As I’ve matured past my adolescence, I’ve began to appreciate sports in a new context. Earlier, fandom meant purely winning. It did not matter how we won, just that my team emerged victorious.

I didn’t even want to endure a close contest, because that would entail a few heart attacks. Now, not only do I long for a gripping spectacle, I marvel at the great players’ feats.

Sport is perhaps the sole aspect in life where one does not ever need to ‘grow up’. Adults act juvenile and embarrass themselves as fans. As fans, we are biased, delusional, irrational, and have crazy bouts of hatred and jealousy – traits that one would hope to not showcase during day-to-day living.

But, I never wanted to be the old one-eyed grump who missed out on a lifetime of greatness. Unfortunately, it has happened already. Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose, Murali are the names that come immediately to my bleary head.

In other sports, I loathed Andre Agassi because I was enamoured with his arch nemesis Pete Sampras.

I used to dislike Kobe Bryant, partly because I sided with Shaq during their feud, partly because I thought he was a spoilt brat and partly because I did not want him to emulate my sporting idol Michael Jordan.

But as Bryant enters the twilight of his stellar career, I have put my prejudices aside and diverted my attention to the only thing that should matter – appreciating his marvellous moves on the basketball court.

Back to Sachin. He is the greatest cricketer I’ve seen and, who knows, may ever witness. In my opinion, he is ODIs greatest batsman and Test’s best post the Second World War.

The totality of his career is astonishing. He is in year twenty-four of his international career. I’m positive, that will never happen again. It dawned on me during this Test that Tendulkar has batted against three generations of Aussie attacks – Merv/McDermott/Reid – McGrath/Lee/Gillespie/Warne – Siddle/Pattinson/Starc/Lyon.

That is unfathomable. Sachin will always be indelibly linked with Lara and Warne, yet he has continued to play international cricket for another six years since his mates retired.

As he approaches 40, Tendulkar’s cricketing day of reckoning will eventually arrive.

I hope it is sooner rather than later. Personally, I think it would be fitting if he retired against his old foe, the team he has had his greatest challenges against. That may or may not happen. He may bat on.

But, this will almost certainly be his finale against Australia. Thus this is my last cricket consumption of Tendulkar versus Australia.

I hope Australia fights back in Hyderabad. I hope Australia causes an upset and wins the series in India. I hope Tendulkar dominates his Australian swansong.

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