A religion called Tendulkar

Jayatsen Bhattacharya

India, Dec. 2 -- Even though England thrashed India soundly by 10 wickets in the second Test in Mumbai last week, the discussion among cricket fans was not so much about the resounding defeat but how national selectors were being cajoled into have tea with Sachin Tendulkar to broach the subject of his retirement.

I think too much cocktail, roadside and canteen gossip is invested on this little chap, who in one interview in the mid-1990s had said that he was yet to "start reading" when he was asked about his favourite book.

But Tendulkar and everything he does remains a favourite topic of conversation: the excessively heavy bats he once used, his impeccable eye-hand coordination, and his sudden, adjusted pull shots.

Tendulkar plays all shots with the skill of a gifted batsman. But he exhibits a lot more: an infallible, some say schooled, humility. Each single is -then a lot less and now a lot more - for India; no flamboyance, just aggressive accrual not for himself but for something or someone; a sixer - then almost by request and now, almost by surprise - is immediately dedicated to some higher power.

To date, his humility remains his trump card. But the current controversy over whether "the world's greatest batsman" should continue or call it a day gracefully misses the wood for the trees. His hundred three-figure score makes him exempt from all kinds of scathing analysis, his near silver anniversary as an international stalwart grants him immunity from the whisky-laced anger with which we interred Sunil Gavaskar when he took his own sweet time to score his 29th century.

The truth is, Tendulkar, unlike any other, has become too much of a habit for us to either give up or mothball.

Tendulkar is not just a cricketer; he is a metaphor. He is a part and parcel of our everyday-speak for one reason: he has been around, profitably and pleasurably, for too long. He came at a time when a draw was seen as a victory; his succession of sixes against Pakistani spin wizard Abdul Qadir was an affirmation of the emergence of a bold and brave new India.

He was fresh breath of air in an old India and remarkably symbolic of the new one. This longevity means that he has fans across generations.

Sachin Tendulkar is a religion. We don't just discuss him. We need to discuss him. If the Indian team scores 400-plus in the first innings of a Test match, we celebrate but we also bemoan the fact that Tendulkar did not score enough for the team. Worse, even if we win a cliffhanger, we say that the team could have had it easier had Tendulkar taken "that catch".

When we discuss Tendulkar, we discuss ourselves. A lot happens in our country, each issue affecting a certain segment of society. But Tendulkar affects us all, no matter where you belong in the pecking order. He unites us in ecstasy - and in agony. When he misses a catch, we miss it too. When he lets an elephant pass between his bat and pad, we often, kick ourselves for the error he has committed on the field.

So when the selectors meet him, their question in all likelihood is going to be: "Will you continue even after we retire?"

Jayatsen Bhattacharya is a Kolkata-based advertising professional

The views expressed by the author are personal

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.