Virat Kohli is great and all, but we should learn to leave Sachin Tendulkar alone
Great sportspersons leave a huge void to be filled when they leave. They are made of a different breed, a different mental make-up, that puts them on a different pedestal that ordinary mortals cannot fill.
But in our craving to get the same surreal sporting experience, we choose to anoint a great sportsman a successor. We try to trick our mind into believing that the successor too will be able to replicate the deeds of the departed master.
Sachin Tendulkar retired in the year 2013, and he did so after giving two generations of fans memories that will last a lifetime. For all those who have watched Tendulkar at his thrilling best - moments when he held millions of people captive with his resplendent work with the bat - it is almost impossible to imagine any other batsman who can be put on the same pedestal, or whose name can be taken in the same breath as his.
The greatest disservice that we can do to Tendulkar is to confine him to his numbers. Yes. he created some incredible records, but when we reduce him only to the stats, we take the whole intangible thing out of the equation. We ignore the moments when a nation of a billion believed that the match was on only as long as Tendulkar was at the crease, the moments when millions of us would switch off the TV when he got out.
Do you remember that surge of pride you felt during the Perth Test when a 19-year-old Tendulkar showed maturity way beyond his years and played probably the greatest innings ever seen on Australian soil? Or that sense of ecstasy you experienced during those two nights at Sharjah in 1998 when Tendulkar tore apart the Australian attack and almost single-handedly won the tournament for India?
Or that agony you suffered in the match against Pakistan at Chennai in 1999 when Tendulkar, battling back spasms, dismantled Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis but fell agonizingly short of the finish line?
Or that six off Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup when he rattled the Rawalpindi Express? Or that bullet of a straight drive past Brett Lee in the 2008 CB Series?
And finally when you watched, with your eyes moist and your throat choked, as Tendulkar delivered his farewell address on the 16th of Nov 2013 at the Wankhede?
The sad part in sport is that if you have not seen experienced a moment first-hand, no matter how many times you watch video clips or hear from others, it will not be possible to recreate the same effect.
Now, it has almost been five years since Tendulkar retired and as is customary in sport, an heir apparent responding to the name of Virat Kohli has been anointed. Kohli’s numbers almost range on the verge of absurdity - he has already crossed over 10,000 runs in the ODI format, has already scored 62 international hundreds, and looks all set to go past most of Tendulkar’s big ticket records.
But the most beautiful thing about sport is that it is way beyond just “numbers”. Yes, numbers provide an idea about what a player has achieved, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Kohli is a hugely talented player, a player with an insatiable appetite for runs, a player who is extremely passionate and who wears his heart on his sleeve. But he is not the next Tendulkar.
He will surely score a lot of hundreds and runs, probably even more than Tendulkar, but it is almost impossible for any Indian player to trigger the same emotions as the Little Master did. When Kohli hits a straight drive, do you gaped at him the same way you did at Tendulkar?
“When you watch Tendulkar at his best, the ego dies,” wrote the great Nirmal Shekar.
I do not write all this to say that Kohli should not be glorified. Kohli has been India’s talisman for almost five years now, and will continue to win matches for the country. He will continue to rewrite record books on a regular basis and will surely retire as the highest run getter, at least in the ODI format of the game.
But then, he has not yet reached the stage where the stadium would become empty after he gets out, a stage where fans would switch off the television when he gets out, a stage where a train would stop to watch him score a hundred or a stage when crowds from distant lands would flock to the stadium just to watch him play.
Tendulkar remains at the highest pedestal, and it is only right that we keep him there. Kohli is an extremely talented batsman, a plunderer of bowling attacks, a man who has taken cricket to statistically new peaks, but he is not the next Tendulkar.