Even Brian Lara himself, no stranger to troughs of woeful form, has now weighed in on the issue. Three pyjama victories on the trot has dulled the focus somewhat, but the questions around Sachin Tendulkar's future remain. Cricket aficionados far and wide are ruminating over his apparent fall from grace, but while I've asked a lot of questions, there can really never be any doubt as to the impact he has had on India and Indian cricket.
Things came to a head in Mumbai, when the members pavilion at his home ground booed him off the field following yet another low score. Not a pleasant sight at all. As Richard Hobson wrote in the Times, it was as if "Zeus was being heckled from the foot of Mount Olympus, except Tendulkar did not have the bolts of lightning to fire back. And if the god Tendulkar is fallible, ... what hope can there be for mere mortals ... ?" Hobson contends that after two operations in a year, and 17 years on the circuit, Tendulkar's body is "telling him to stop." Lara, undoubtedly speaking from experience, assures us that Tendulkar will be back. We'll ignore for now the fact that he said this while in India doing publicity work on behalf of MRF.
There's little I can say about Tendulkar and his cricket that someone else hasn't already said, and I'm certainly nobody to pass judgement. What's more interesting to me is the shift in attitudes towards cricketers that is going on in India. Hobson alludes to Tendulkars god-like status with his Zeus analogy; Nirmal Shekar and others have suggested that the unprecedented booing is no more than reflective of a continued dumbing-down of the Indian cricket spectator. Whether Mandira Bedi and others bear responsibility for that is again a separate question.
The conjunction of the two comments makes for some interesting thinking. It's hard to disagree with Shekar. Today's cricket watcher has been weaned on slap-bang batsmanship, and is less interested in a pure cricketing contest than in a thrill-a-minute instant gratification spectacle. That is the cultural whim of the dot com era. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the icon for cricketing quality, and that about sums it up. Cricket certainly needs it characters, but there is no substitute for class, alas.
Yet while we purists bemoan this change in attitudes, I think we must concede that there is a bit of a silver lining in all of this. As cricket culture evolves (or perhaps devolves), it may leave in it's wake the demi-god worship that has troubled at least this writer for many years. With a burgeoning middle-class, the needs of the masses in India have changed. Cricket is less and less an inspirational escape from the drudgery of everyday life, and more and more an entertainment channel.
The hope is that this shift leads to less pronounced elevations of human beings to exalted status, and therefore fewer eruptions of mass depression when things don't quite go to plan. Cricket may well be on the path to reclaiming it's status as a game, no more and no less. On the flip side, ignorance could lead to the exact opposite, but I prefer to retain an optimistic outlook in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
Back to Tendulkar himself, and the bottom line is that the boos of a small minority will not in anyway tarnish the man's achievements. Many years ago, The Don was a unifying figure in Australian culture. he transcended the then contemporary socio-political climate, and brought together a nation struggling to assert it's own identity. He lives on today as not just the greatest cricketer in Australia's history, but the most revered Australian ever.
The Caribbean had it's Sobers and Richards, and in a similar vein, India has had it's Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, and now Tendulkar. Whatever cricketing heights others may scale, these men have meant something a whole lot greater to their nation, and there is nothing that will ever detract from that.