WHYSACHIN TENDULKAR DOES NOT WANT TO BE GOD
RAJPERSAUD CONSULTANT PSYCHIATRIST
SachinTendulkar has been breaking records almost from the first time he twirled acricket bat; with V.G. Kambli in 1988 he set a record as schoolboys of 664 forany partnership. He had always been mature way beyond his years in handling themental aspect of the game. For over two decades since, Tendulkar has kept thefaith with Indian cricket fans, and this has been key to the nation buildingits belief in cricket as salvation. Tendulkar’s mental stability and fortitudewould be envied by English sports fans, whose inconstant national sportingheroes seem ever more reliant on lawyers and super-injunctions to keep them onthe pitch.
Maybe Indians should be forgiventheir worship of Sachin, after all it was Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden whodeclared after suffering a series defeat in 1998, at the hands of Tendulkar, ‘Ihave seen God,’ the devout Christian remarked, ‘He bats number four forIndia.”
Butare their dangers in this kind of devotion?
Whisper it – the God-likeTendulkar took 33 heart stopping innings to finally move from number 99 to 100centuries. India has had to go and lie down in a darkened room to recover fromthe stress.
Therewere signs, some would say, that it was all getting too much for Sachin. Afterhis milestone achievement, he’s quoted as commenting on the long journey ofmissed opportunities between 99 and 100 hundreds, ‘Remember the second inningsagainst West Indies in New Delhi? I played well, India won, but the only thingthat got highlighted was me not getting the hundred. It’s not easy.”
Another clue that something psychologicallyprofound happened during this pressure period is perhaps betrayed by anothercomment, ‘”I wish there was someone to guide me, about how to deal withthis. I am not complaining but it happened for the first time.” While hewent on to graciously thank the ‘back room boys’ – ‘physios, doctors andmasseurs who helped me out when I was in desperate need,’ most elite athletesnow understand the vital importance of the mental aspect of the game, but thecontinuing stigma means they won’t openly admit to using mental healthprofessionals.
So, to get inside the mind ofTendulkar you need to first put the squabbling passionate couple, India andcricket, on the couch for some marital therapy.
Bill Shankly a famous managerof Liverpool Football Club is quoted as once declaring, ‘Somepeople think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s muchmore serious than that’.For those outside of sport, this kind of sentiment seems nonsensical, but inthe case of India’s obsession with cricket, the game is burrowing its way intothe psyche of the nation, so that it curls around national identity with astranglehold.
During the 1999 Kargil Conflict, former captain Kapil Dev (quoted by writerNalin Mehta) publicly pleaded for the World Cup India–Pakistan cricket matches,being played at the same time, to be cancelled. Injured soldiers he’d visitedon the Kashmir front line begged him ‘Please do not lose a match toPakistan’. Mehta,an award winning social scientist, writer and broadcaster, has subsequentlyclaimed that India’s senior soldiers believed the cricketing victory in thatfamous final, boosted their troops’ morale, as well as sapped Pakistan’sresolve. To the extent of even contributing to the outcome.
Mehtaquotes an Indian TV executive, in an academic paper Mehta published on the linkbetween Indian TV and cricket entitled The great IndianWillow Trick: Cricket, nationalism and India’s TV news revolution, 1998–2005;’Ithink as far as Indian identity is concerned, cricket overtakes even Bollywood…cricket is perhaps consciously the most nationalistic activity that Indiansindulge in… Now in terms of importance, cricket has left Bollywood farbehind. It is next only to big political stories and really big economicstories. . . . And very often it overtakes political and economic stories aswell.’
NishaNair, an academic at the Institute of Management, Indore, is one of many Indianintellectuals assembling evidence that cricket is much more than just a sportto Indians, and wondering if this might not be a cause for concern. Shedeclares that the minimum TV audience for a big one-day cricket internationalis 200 million (now a fifth of the population), on occasions even hitting 400million (the combined population of the USA, UK and France).
In a recent polemic published inthe academic journal ‘Sport in Society’, she points out the Indian Cricket team’scoach from 2000 to 2005, expresses awe for the particular reverence the nationholds for Sachin Tendulkar, declaring in his book ‘John Wright’s Indian Summers’,’. . . whenever hehad a niggle, the media would run graphics of the affected body part, with adetailed diagnosis and prognosis, sometimes on the front page. When he washaving toe trouble, the BCCI doctor appeared on the national news with amedical model of the foot’s skeletal structure to explain the problem andsoothe public anxiety’.
Forget Rooney and the headlines over footballers pay, or Tiger Woodsor US Football stars, the Indian cricket team is now, according to Nair,reported to be currently the highest paid sports team in the world. This is no accident because of the powerfulpsychological role cricket plays in an emerging economy like India’s. Cricket,argues Nisha Nair, is the only realm today where Indians can have a shot atworld supremacy. In a society hamstrungby poor government, corruption and manifold divisions such as religions,ethnicities and 22 official languages, Nair argues that so many differingcustoms and traditions means cricket has become the one sentiment, the nationcan unite over.
Cricket is therefore fundamental to the psychology of India, Naircontends in her academic paper entitled ‘Cricketobsession in India: through the lens of identity theory’, because India has been devoid of any cohesiveunifying force ever since the days of the freedom struggle, when the countryunited to kick the British out (yes even Pakistan and India united on that one).Nair believes that India in the twenty first century is desperately searchingfor a similar unifying flag to rally around, given practically everything else(religion, politics, language) serves to fracture the country. Cricket is the only feature of national life whichplays a unifying role, and ensures Indians can discover who they are, hence the religious or hysterical fervourwith which it is followed.
But the danger is, if modern India is looking for an identity andfocuses only on cricket, can the pressure on this one sport, this one hero, betoo great? Gandhi became a kind of messianic figure whom Indians turned to,believing only he could lead them out of bondage from Britain.
And look what happened to Gandhi in the end.
There is no doubt that India is not alone in pursuing sport toestablish national identity. The particularzeal and aggression which accompanies Australia versus England Test matches, arethe ex-colonists’ way of vigorously establishing self-esteem, following thehumiliations bestowed by the mother country.
Nelson Mandela believed that uniting to follow their Rugby Teamplayed a crucial role in helping heal South Africa’s divisions in the immediatepost-apartheid era. He positively encouraged the country to identify with theteam, a gambled which paid off when they won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. And ofcourse, it’s a great metaphor, the whole nation coming together as one bigteam, pulling collectively for victory. The movie of the true story ends withMorgan Freeman reciting the lines of the poem Invictus, ‘I am themaster of my fate: I am the captain of my soul’.
But what if the rugby team had lost? Would the story then have founda Hollywood producer?
Is it psychologically healthy for players or fans that the burden ofnational honour falls entirely on the shoulders of Indian cricket and SachinTendulkar? A victorious cricket team is a convenient remedy for India’s manyfailures, but, does it let the rest of the country off the hook?
The media seems to have missed the possible lurking resentmentbehind Tendulkar’s words when he chose to discuss his son, following themaster’s one hundred hundreds. “You know, Arjun is badly in love withcricket, but he should play just for the love of it. I want him to grow up as anormal human being, I really don’t want him to be surrounded by the media.There’s a time for everything, otherwise so he may end up hatingeverything.” Reading between the lines, was this the closest the dutifulTendulkar has come to gripe about the burden India places on its starcricketers?
I wish Indians could feel proud of their entrepreneurs, authors,artists, actors, scientists and, yes, others sports besides justcricket. I think this is what Sachin wants for his son.
Taking the pressure off cricket might even be good for the Indiangame. It might allow Sachin to score more freely.
RAJ PERSAUD IS A PSYCHIATRIST AND AUTHOR OF’THE MIND: A USER’S GUIDE’ PUBLISHED BY BANTAM PRESS. HIS SON IS NAMED SACHIN.
Nisha Nair (2011): Cricket obsession in India: through the lens ofidentity theory. Sportin Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, 14:5, 569-580
Nalin Mehta (2007): The great Indian Willow Trick: Cricket,nationalism and India’s TV news revolution, 1998–2005, TheInternational Journal of the History of Sport, 24:9, 1187-1199