Bradman Fails Again. Hobbs Fails Again. The 2011 version: Sachin Fails Again.
The Little Master failed – again – to reach that hundredth-hundred milestone, falling just 6 short in India’s first innings at Mumbai. Upon his dismissal, more mundane matters came to the fore, such as India avoiding the follow-on. In the event, the match transformed into a last-day thriller that saw a draw with scores level. But when India’s series against Australia starts at the MCG on Boxing Day, the hype will pick up where it left off, all over again.
Of course the hype is deserved. But at the moment it is a false reality, and it is obscuring everything else.
In the iconic mind-bender The Matrix, Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, sees a black cat walk past a doorway. A second later he sees another – exactly the same animal. It is not a case of deja vu as he (erroneously) supposes; it is the machines that control the world making a subtle change to the artificial reality they impose on mankind.
The only machine at work behind Sachin’s glitch of getting out 28 times in the nineties is a fear of failure precipitated by the pressure of expectation and the importance we give to statistics in a number-obsessed sport. But the reality is that while the hype around Sachin’s next century continues, the Indian team are Tendulkar plus 10 men. The spectacle of people leaving the grounds when Sachin gets out, or the next man in walking to the middle in complete silence – even when this man is the captain – cannot long continue. Indian cricket grounds are where spectators go to watch Sachin, not necessarily the Indian team, or even Test cricket.
I am sure Tendulkar realises this, and it’s probably not making his quest for that elusive ton any easier. In a sport where only 6 runs short of a hundred is regarded as a failure, it would be churlish to call this a slump, or the beginning of the end of an extraordinary career.
But at some point the handover to the new galacticos will have to occur, and while Indian cricket is stuck in the never-ending loop of waiting for that hundred, it’s unfairly obscuring the achievement of the side’s young talent and relegating the team’s future to that of secondary importance, a mere side-show to the all-singing, all-dancing main event.
Ravichandran Ashwin has been blamed for not securing victory for India in Mumbai in his failure to attempt a second run, but 103 and 9 wickets have ensured Harbhajan Singh isn’t going to be recalled in a hurry.
Varun Aaron, whose feet probably haven’t touched the ground since receiving his Test cap, could turn out to be India’s Glenn McGrath. Already he has shown refreshing maturity in recognising that speed isn’t everything.
Virat Kohli, under pressure to protect his place from Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, showed toughness to go along with that undoubted talent with his second-innings 63. Kohli, unlike Neo, might not know kung-fu – and he might not be The One – but he is starting to believe.
It would be wonderful if Sachin raises his bat at the MCG. That hundredth hundred we are all waiting for will be worth celebrating when it comes, but in and of itself the figure is an artificial construct and the waiting has imposed on us an artificial reality. We are in limbo, and cannot move forward. Kohli, Aaron, Ashwin: these guys are the future.
Rahul Dravid accepts he has always laboured in Sachin’s shadow. Once Tendulkar gets past his glitch – and fans come to an acceptance that he won’t be around forever – the next generation of Indian stars will hopefully be free to begin constructing their own reality.