A different innings for Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar Image copyright AP
Image caption Tendulkar is India's biggest sporting idol

Sachin Tendulkar is India's most-loved icon, and is worshipped by millions for his amazing cricketing feats. His fans think he's a god who can do no wrong on field and off it.

Yet, the world's most feted cricketer is also somewhat of an enigma - he is an inscrutable man, and has publicly stated that he is not entirely comfortable with manic fan worship.

For all his outstanding records, Tendulkar has been a less than inspiring leader on field, as his spotty record during a brief tenure as the India captain showed. He also hardly speaks his mind on issues.

Seven years ago Sambit Bal, editor of ESPN Cricinfo, asked Tendulkar why people felt he didn't take a stand on issues. "I have taken stands before, but often whatever I say gets misinterpreted and meanings are attached to it," the star replied. He didn't mention what issue or stand he had taken up and continued: "I don't want to go into specifics now, but I felt this is going to happen, so why get into it?"

Mr Bal pressed on: But your voice carries a lot of weight. By speaking out, you could make a difference? "If you know that whatever you say will become a controversy, why get into it unnecessarily?" Tendulkar replied. "At least I feel, okay, there are people who are managing those issues and my job, at least for the time being, is to play cricket, so let me focus on that."


So when news arrived last week that he had accepted a nomination to the upper house of India's parliament by what many believe is a discredited and struggling ruling Congress party, many were incredulous. Sanjay Manjrekar, a former team mate and one of the wiser cricket commentators, said he was shocked. "I never realised these sort of things interested him. He is not one to express his views publicly and this would be a real test for him. I hope he can make a difference in the parliament."

Others have been harsher, blaming the Congress party for cynically exploiting the icon to provide the nation with a pseudo feel-good moment at a time when its fortunes have touched rock bottom and people are feeling low.

It's entirely possible that Tendulkar has changed his views ever since the interview seven years ago. It's also possible that he is ready to step out of his comfort zone and face up to newer challenges and wants to make his voice heard and count.

But he has squelched rumours about retirement and zealously told the world recently that he plans to continue playing for a while - after all, he is India's biggest brand, and with millions of advertising dollars riding on him, he cannot be allowed to fade away with, say, the quiet dignity of Rahul Dravid. Yet Tendulkar has not spoken on how he plans to serve the parliament while remaining one of India's busiest cricketers.

The history of such reputed nominated dignitaries to India's parliament is largely uninspiring. At best, Tendulkar can make a difference by finally speaking out on issues - the utter neglect of other sports outside cricket and the thoughtlessly unrelenting calendar for India's cricketers, which leads to early burn out of talent. It is not going to be easy: cronyism dominates cricket, like most things in India, and nobody, including TV commentators, dares question the officialdom on anything.

At its worst, the god will become a mere mortal in a noisy, partisan, squabbling parliament whose own reputation, many believe, is at a low ebb. So has Tendulkar got his timing awfully wrong this time? Or as analysts such as Jayaditya Gupta say, does he deserve the benefit of doubt?

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