Sachin Tendulkar to MS Dhoni: From God to Religion
Cricket is not just any sport in India. With a population of over 1.3 billion, Cricket is easily the heart and soul of the country. The popularity of the sport has scaled new heights with media bringing the fans in virtual proximity of their favourite players.
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, although Cricket was avidly followed, there weren't many sources of connecting to the cricketers. As a result, players in 80s or early 90s were just players and not Gods.
India has seen a lot of great cricketers in the past. From Gundappa Viswanath, Mohinder Amarnath, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar to Anil Kumble, Mohammad Azharuddin, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly.
But one name always stood apart, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
In the late 90s, Sachin had become a household name in India. By the early 2000s, he was the backbone of the team and on numerous occasions, the whole squad depended on Sachin for a favourable result.
In a country of diverse culture, multiple religions, dividing opinions and often opposing ideologies, Sachin was the unifying force. Hence, calling him the God of cricket in India isn't a hyperbole. No matter how divided India remained on various issues, Sachin brought the whole nation together, and on multiple occasions.
Be it Gwalior or Melbourne or various World Cups, Sachin gave India a lot of reasons to smile. No Indian fan can ever forget the demolition of the mighty Aussies in the Desert Storm.
Then came the era of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man who changed the picture of Indian cricket. A T20 World Cup, No.1 in Tests, a World Cup after 28 years, a Champions Trophy, two IPL trophies and a Champions League T20 trophy, Dhoni has achieved everything in his career.
Although Dhoni and Sachin have both been legends, their journeys are in complete contrast. While one came from a city known to produce a plethora of cricketers, the other came from a city hardly ever heard of. While one was destined to be a great from the very beginning, the other started playing professional cricket in his 20s.
One followed the textbook technique, the other played street-smart and unorthodox cricket.
Sachin is the God of cricket in India whereas Dhoni's stature is often debatable. Even after bringing every possible laurel for the country, the wicketkeeper-batsman has had his fair share of critics. Dhoni, without any doubt, has one of the largest fan bases in the country. But, at the same time, there are people who seem to question his impact on Indian cricket.
When India reached the final of 2003 World Cup, everyone praised Ganguly for being a great captain. But when India won the 2011 version of it, it was because Dhoni was lucky to have a great team.
When India won Tests in England and Australia in early 2000s, Ganguly's attacking leadership was highly praised. But when India became no.1 in Tests, it was because Dhoni had legends in his team.
Both Dhoni and Ganguly have been two of the most influential captains India has ever seen. Both have created their own legacies but there has been so much blind criticism of Dhoni that every time India fail, the responsibility falls on his shoulders.
Dhoni has never been vocal about things. He is never intimidated by the press or the social media. This man has always been selfless, putting the team before himself.
A person who has batted at no. 7 for the majority of his career is within touching distance of 10,000 ODI runs. He boasts an average of 50 in ODI cricket. Isn't that some feat? Dhoni could easily have played at No. 3 his whole career but he always put himself in much testing situations.
From commentators to ex-cricketers, everyone has praised his nerves of steel. Ex-cricketers like Rameez Raja and Shoaib Akhtar have often wished they had Dhoni in Pakistan.
Dhoni's admiration and criticism have gone hand in hand in India, so much so that he has truly become synonymous with religion. He has followers as well as people who ridicule him. Like every other religion, millions follow and love Dhoni while many others criticize him blindly.
While Sachin is the God of cricket in India, Dhoni is certainly a religion.