Mohinder Amarnath, now on a revenge comeback tour, says:
“Indians are very emotional and we hang on to our past,” he said. “Sachin is a great player, but one can’t play for forever. He’s not the same anymore.”
I’ve heard this argument fairly often in the past decade, and it usually comes from Indians in powerful positions. They say things like, “Indians have a hero worship problem,” or “Indians can’t think strategically about X issue because they just can’t calm down.” The subtext is the same one peddled by British colonialists: The natives aren’t really rational.
Now, yes, it’s true many Indian cricket fans are, er, passionate about the game. Western commentators often seem bemused at the open expression of ecstasy in Indian crowds when the national team does well, and the sharp silences that follow when the team does badly. I think the outpouring has more to do with the different social conventions of showing joy — or, really, any emotion in a public space — in India and the West, and shouldn’t be used as evidence for the statement, “Cricket is religion in India,” often trotted out lazily by Indian and white man alike.
At any rate, there are both good and bad reasons to keep Tendulkar. Even if you approached the problem sans emotion, it’s not clear you’ll get to the conclusion that I reached last week (i.e., sack Tendulkar). But the larger question is, Why shouldn’t we think emotionally about Tendulkar — or Dravid or Laxman? In the last fifteen years, we have seen the development of two — possibly three — of the greatest batsmen ever produced by India, and possibly the world. Isn’t it entirely natural and human — not specifically “Indian” — to have some difficulty contemplating the end of such careers? Imagine Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, and Michael Schumacher all contemplating retirement from the same team in the same year — what, are you really not going to be “emotional” about it? These are special people, and these are special times.
Keep in mind that Ricky Ponting, clearly past his prime for about a year, wasn’t shoved; before he announced his retirement, the selectors of a supposedly ruthless and hyper-rational cricket board publicly sounded their confidence in him. And when he did retire, Michael Clarke started to tear up next to him. My point is that a) It’s not necessarily emotion that’s clouding the Tendulkar retirement issue; and b) Even if emotion were involved, there’s nothing deviant about the “Indian mind” complicating the matter.
That’s what I meant when I said we can’t get over Tendulkar. To contemplate his retirement is, really, to contemplate mortality — it’s a terror for the human mind.