The other day my cricket team was discussing whether there was any one person who had definitively influenced the game of cricket. If you have ever met me or have read this blog, you already know my answer. It was Sachin Tendulkar. Why, they asked? “Sachin Tendulkar made cricket what it is today”, I answered.
The answer got me thinking. Sachin Tendulkar was a fantastic batsman but did he really change cricket? Or was I simply being a nostalgic fan boy? Were there others who influenced it more? W.G. Grace? Bradman? Jardine? Sobers? Lillee? Thomson? Imran Khan? Kerry Packer perhaps?
Now, there is plenty of literature on how Sachin’s meteroic rise coincided with India’s economic resurgence. Shashi Tharoor has written about the “Age of Tendulkar” in Wisden. Ed Smith (who, incidentally, got himself out to me last year for 75 to give me my first and only international calibre wicket) has written about “The Indian Master who symbolised the country’s rise”.
But did Tendulkar change cricket? I think he did. Not in terms of changing the game itself (Tendulkar was relatively orthodox). But the advent of Tendulkar changed how the game within the game was played.
Early 90s – India begins to believe
While India may have won the 1983 World Cup, cricket was still competing with field hockey for primacy in the 1980s. There was also a divide between Indian cricket fans. Much like the street-fighter Javed Miandad and the Oxford-educated Imran Khan divided Pakistanis, the loyalty of Indian fan was owed either to the stoic, dependable Gavasakar or the unpredictably brilliant Haryana hurricane, Kapil Dev.
All that changed with the arrival of the fresh-faced Sachin Tendulkar.
Indian fans were united in their admiration for Tendulkar. He was soft-spoken and middle-class. He could attack like Dev and could defend like Gavaskar. He had his nose smashed in by the Pakistani quicks on his first tour but stood up and carried on. He scored a hundred at the WACA, the quickest pitch in the world. His first test hundred was in England. He was the first overseas player to play for Yorkshire.
Sachin Tendulkar was suddenly India’s largest publicly held entity and every Indian was a shareholder.
Everyone wanted a piece of him and until Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman arrived, he was Indian cricket’s sole superstar.