Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tendulkar a comic hero: Atherton

By Mike Atherton in Sunday Telegraph
For many, one of the sub-themes of this year's World Cup was to be the farewell of a so-called golden generation. Some of the greatest players of the modern era came to the Caribbean in the knowledge that this would be their last hurrah - in the short form of the game at least.
Already we have seen a tearful farewell from Inzamam-ul-Haq, and a stately, restrained retirement from one of the most under-rated players of that golden crop, Anil Kumble.
Brian Lara has already announced that he will concentrate on Test cricket after the West Indies commitments in this tournament are over, and given the way they are playing, and the in-fighting that followed their latest defeat, that will not be long in coming. Glenn McGrath will head off to less demanding pastures when his tournament is done, and it is unlikely that we will see another World Cup featuring Adam Gilchrist, Shaun Pollock, Matthew Hayden and Muttiah Muralitharan. There are a few runs and wickets to keep the notchers busy there.
But one name, possibly greater than all those mentioned, has kept his counsel. According to dressing-room reports, Sachin Tendulkar, not normally a man to open his heart too readily, shed tears in the aftermath of India's early departure, but nothing has come from the little master's mouth.
Given the almost obscene attention that he attracts, that has been his way throughout most of his career. Say little, score runs and if things don't go well beef up security at the family home in Bandra, as was done this week.
But the runs have dried up. The man with more one-day international runs than any other - a staggering 14,847 with 41 centuries - found himself impotent to prevent his team's demise. He seemed a peripheral figure, scoring seven and nought in the two defeats that condemned his team to early departure.
In truth, Tendulkar's decline has been in evidence for a while, even to his normally adoring public. His dismissal in his last Test match in Mumbai against England provoked a round of boos, and recently in a Times of India poll 92 per cent of respondents felt Tendulkar should quit.
Most pundits have remained silent - it doesn't do India's pundits much commercial good to be seen criticising Tendulkar - but one has been conspicuously tough. Ian Chappell writes regular columns in Indian newspapers and this week he cut to the quick. He challenged Tendulkar to ask himself why he was still playing the game, and that if he wasn't playing to help India win as many matches as he could, if he was only playing to improve his statistics, then he would be well advised to quit now.
For whatever reason - fatigue, injuries, the goldfish bowl that is Indian cricket - the joy of playing has not been in evidence in Tendulkar's batting for some time. He is careworn, not carefree.
But in the same week that Chappell questioned Tendulkar's future, another interesting press release came out of India.
This time it was from Virgin Comics, who announced a tie-up with Tendulkar to create new super-hero, called Master Blaster, for comics, animation and games. Gotham Chopra, the chief creative officer of Virgin Comics, had this to say: "When two powerful brands like Virgin and Tendulkar collide, an iconic hero like Master Blaster is the result."
Quite apart from the brazen hijacking of a sobriquet that has always been associated with Viv Richards, it gives a clue as to why Tendulkar might be around for a short time yet. The truth is that Tendulkar has been marketed as a brand for some time, advertising many of the biggest commercial names in India. There are many interested parties who are keen to see Tendulkar wearing India's colours for a while yet.
I hope, like Ian Chappell, that he is strong enough, and independent enough, to make up his own mind. There are only two proper reasons to carry on playing: if you are good enough, and if you still love the game. Only Tendulkar knows whether that love is alive. Everyone else is painfully aware that, despite his new super-hero status, his powers are very much on the wane.

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