Playing It My Way

Published: 2014
Pages: 486
Author: Tendulkar, Sachin
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Rating: 3 stars

While delivering the concluding speech at the Wankhede Stadium, Sachin Tendulkar encountered a buzz around him that he had grown used to in the 24 years he played for India, but the roar was deafening this time. The unceasing chants of his name, ubiquitous in any home game, was going to remain with him ‘till I stop breathing’, he had said, which prompted fans to empty their lungs out despite the draining Mumbai heat. Some of the excesses could be explained by a habit and willingness of Indians of hero-worshipping in general, but his life had been a fairytale, impressively manufactured by his own self, and this resonated among the people of his country. A peek at the key people in this fairytale had been provided by the speech; his autobiography, Playing It My Way, provides a comprehensive account of it.

The book has Sachin’s imprint from start to finish: a lack of complex style or decoration, chronological, straightforward, and interspersed with cutely recounted anecdotes. Eventually, it reinforces the strength in mind simplicity and a strong support group gives him, as it reveals the tenacity in fighting challenges at various junctures in his career. There aren’t any shocking revelations, and no deviance from whatever has been seen, believed and embraced, in Sachin so far.

He worked out methods to prepare for battle. When Makhaya Ntini got the ball to rise from a difficult angle, he invented the upper cut. He used his height to go under the short ball, by spreading his legs further apart and thereby shortening his height, against Allan Donald, and succeeded to an extent. He prepared to face Shane Warne in 1998 by practicing attacking balls pitched outside leg stump, and dominated the legspinner in the series. An interesting snippet had mind games between West Indies’ left-arm fast bowler Pedro Collins and himself, following a turnaround from a failure to negotiate his bowling. Sachin had by this time ‘fully worked him out’; he wanted to see the shine of the ball from the hand of the bowler, who tried his best to prevent that, but Sachin won the contest when he decided to move to the offside when Collins was at the top of his mark – to figure which side of his hand the shiny side of the ball was located, and play the ball accordingly – and move back into his original stance once he started running in. Against Chris Cairns on another occasion, he asked non-striker Rahul Dravid to notice the location of the shiny side of the ball on the bowler’s hand, and hold the bat to his left or right accordingly.

He’s thrown some light on some of the moments in his career when preparations haven’t yielded results, or when he’s felt slighted. Besides listening to music and working, he would seek comfort in food, to help him recover from hurt. When he wasn’t allowed to get to a double century after being six runs away from it, against Pakistan in 2004, he opted for silence and privacy to deal with it, flushing the angst by working out for hours in the gym, and listening to music. He gobbled two portions of a full meal to feel better after missing out on a hundred in the first Test of India’s demoralising tour of Australia in 2011-12.

Brief glimpses of his off-field life are made interesting by some anecdotes he’s chosen to share away from the pitch. He was stopped by his brother, Ajit, from eating crispy aromatic duck owing to concerns about scoring a duck. Courting Anjali, his wife, before they got married, took some risk-taking that involved dressing up as an imposter and Anjali arriving at his house posing as a reporter. During their honeymoon in 1995, Sachin’s ‘marital bliss’, in his words, resulted in weight gain as he wasn’t able to fit into his clothes when he came back home. Typically, he pushed himself to get in shape quite quickly.

Despite the exhausting nature of the book, and the inclusion of relevant details of the highlights of his career, Sachin has missed out on a few key matches and tournaments of his time. There isn’t any mention of the Champions Trophy, jointly won by India and Sri Lanka, held in 2002, but even more remarkable is his omission of an innings he had declared at the time as ‘one of my best’; his 175 against Australia in 2009 took his team to within three runs of the opposition’s 350, and observed as one of his most commanding knocks.

A recurring theme in his story has been that of injuries and recovery from them. The physical condition that had taken from him the most number of playing days has been the tennis elbow pain. Despite treating it with a shock-wave therapy via a machine that looked like a hairdryer, he couldn’t recover well and had to undergo surgery. Among his long-term ailments was his back, that had troubled him immensely, costing India a Test against Pakistan in 1999, as Sachin, after scoring a century to bring his side to within 17 runs of victory, perished trying to attack to speed up the win and rest his crumbling back. His shoulder, toes, and fingers have given him grief, too, but good doctors, physiotherapists, strong support from his family and friends, and most importantly, his will, helped him through these.

Despite indicating by his injuries the need for care for a physical routine and precautions for a sportsman, Sachin refuses to blame the IPL for creating a disruption in that process, or catalysing a burn-out. There have been instances of Indian players getting injured or exacerbating their physical pain by playing in the IPL, to hinder their availability in the more important requirement of performing for their country. But Sachin bats for the freedom for players to decide whether they would be in no longer-term physical disadvantage in playing the IPL. He speaks of the IPL with warmth, and its ill-effects, in his views, aren’t alarming enough to cancel out the obvious gains that the tournament brings.

He has reserved harsh judgments, however, for Greg Chappell’s apparent high-handedness in his tenure as India’s coach. ‘I don’t think I would be far off the mark if I said that most of us felt that Indian cricket was going nowhere under Chappell,’ he states with conviction. He writes of the seemingly unfair treatment meted out to the senior players, and an ‘astonishing’ attitude towards Sourav Ganguly.

Sachin also speaks about what he observed in the inflammatory Sydney Test in 2008. The incessant abuse by Andrew Symonds towards Harbhajan Singh had the latter retaliating with an abuse by the local language, which was picked up as a racial abuse. For once, he crisply lays bare his thoughts on the goings-on on the final day of that Test: ‘we would have drawn it had it not been for what seemed to us to be mistakes by the umpires and some rather unsportsmanlike conduct by a few of the Australian players.’ But this forthrightness is an exception in his book; it seems he had chosen to stay away from it unless the gravity of the events forced him to write in that manner.

There are lots of tears, apprehensions, joy and laughter shared from his personal life that provides for humane yet mundane glimpses of his life that his fans will be pleased at. Although he hasn’t utilised this book as a platform to put forth any unhindered analysis around anything related to the sport, and that does serve as a drawback to the overall experience, he shares the story of his life generously.

Tendulkar’s life has been remarkable. In a country with arguably the toughest fight, in terms of the playing population, for a spot in the national side, he did what he enjoyed, achieved his dream, stayed dedicated, and allowed nothing to rock his boat. It was simple. ‘All I knew was that I wanted to play the game well, and enjoy every moment. I stayed in the moment and lived each situation as they came to me,’ he writes.

Playing It My Way sheds some light on how this was done. It is not meant to satisfy the intellectual cravings of the critics, but to relate to the uncomplicated masses, who form a very important part of the whole phenomenon of Sachin Tendulkar. On that basis alone, this book is significant.

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