I’m in the middle of a quick read of C.L.R. James’ fantastic Beyond the Boundary, a part-memoir, part-post-colonial analysis and history of cricket. Even though I’ve owned the book for more than four years now, I confess this evening was the first instance I sat down to give it a good go — and I’m so impressed I promise to go back to it for more. For starters, take this excerpt about W.G. Grace on the eve of scoring 100 centuries in 1895, at the age of 47:
“Burly as [his] figure was, [Grace] was sustained and lifted higher than ever before by what has been and always will be the most potent of all forces in our universe — the spontaneous, unqualified, disinterested enthusiasm and goodwill of a whole community….Never since the days of the Olympic champions of Greece has the sporting world known such enthusiasm and never since. This is accepted and it is true and it is important — I am the last to question that. What I take leave to ask even at such a moment is this: On what other occasion, sporting or non-sporting, was there ever such enthusiasm, such an unforced sense of community, of the universal merged in an individual? At the end of a war? A victorious election? With its fears, its hatreds, its violent passions? I have heard of no other that approached this celebration of W.G.’s hundredth century.”
The universal merged in an individual. Wonderful, no? I imagine it’s difficult in our globalized and large world for people to feel the same way about sportsmen. Tendulkar’s superstar status makes him seem both near and distant; 21st-century celebrity can do that. But I hear echoes of Grace circa 1895 when little stadiums in England — if I can call Lord’s that — stand up for a stranger from a distant land with almost affectionate applause. The din is different from the one you hear in Indian stadiums — it’s not ecstasy or fervor, but a mark of recognition, praise, and intimacy. Tendulkar, so great, so brilliant, and yet somehow of us. We’ve known him since he was 16, don’t you know.