Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tendulkar: The Run Machine, with a dash of humanity

Very seldom will this blog be given over to eulogising about one individual, besides Jesus of course. But today, a feat has been accomplished of such magnificence that I hardly thought I could leave it. Today, one man finally put the icing on the cake of a career which has so perfectly illustrated the beauty of sport; the way in which it can unite and divide people, the way agony and ecstasy can dwell alongside each other in complete harmony, and the capacity it has to create heroes.
That man is Sachin Tendulkar. That feat is scoring his hundredth international hundred.

For those uneducated in such things, cricket has a curious way of valuing milestones and statistical achievements. Scoring 100 runs is seen as immeasurably more valuable than scoring 99 runs, even though it makes only 1 run's difference to the situation of the game. There are batsmen who will score 30, 40, 50 game in, game out, who exasperate us hugely. Then we get a batsmen who will score a hundred every 6 or 7 games, and naff all else. Who is the great player of the two? You guessed it: the second one.

But Tendulkar was not like the second one. He simply scored hundred after hundred after hundred, with some 60s and 70s sprinkled inbetween. There have been more flamboyant batsmen, there have been more flamboyant characters, but never has a cricketer exhibited such astonishing productivity.

For 22 years of international cricket, Tendulkar has produced the most alarmingly high number of runs of any batsman in history. But part of the genius is that he did it carrying the hopes and dreams of 1 billion Indians on his shoulders every single day, and he never cracked, he never stepped back to 'manage his workload', he never went off the rails and was found drunk next to an upside down pedalo in blue Caribbean Seas. No, Tendulkar did the only thing he knows how to do; he scored runs.
This ability to handle pressure was never illustrated better than the world cup quarter final of 1996. India played Pakistan, and Tendulkar was batting with the young Virender Sehwag (to whom I will later return), in front of an adoring Indian crowd. He carried not only the hopes of every Indian in the world, but of every Hindu too. Bowling at him was the best fast bowling partnership in the world, along with the fastest bowler ever recorded. 150 balls later, Tendulkar had compiled an innings of measured, controlled, brutality. Without the expression on his face changing one iota, the Pakistani bowlers had been made to look foolish, and Tendulkar had not shown even the smallest hint of mortality.

And that has more or less been the pattern since. He has smashed record after record, including the magisterial way he became the first man to score 200 in a One Day International against the might of South Africa and Dale Steyn. That record has since been eclipsed by Sehwag, which seemed a travesty to me. It was like replacing the Ferrari F40 with the F50; the greatest car in the history of ever with one not even worthy of comparison, except that it is a bit more muscly.

Sure, there have been wobbles every now and then, and none more so than the year long gap between his 99th international hundred and his 100th international hundred. The stage was set in the 2011 world cup final. Tendulkar back in his home town of Mumbai, against an aging Sri-Lankan attack, and backed by 1 billion Indians, baying for blood. He had missed out on a hundred by 15 runs in the previous game against Pakistan, and this man rarely misses out twice. He made 18 serene, untroubled runs, before a full delivery from Malinga the Slinga bowled a full delivery, which found the edge of Tendulkar's flashing blade. For the split second between the faint nick, and the sound of ball thudding into wicket keeper Sangakkara's gloves, the entire cricketing world held its breath. Surely they can't do this to him. He must drop it; this is wrong. He did not. For what felt like the first time in years, Sachin Tendulkar blew it.

What followed was the Indian Juggernaut thrashing Sri Lanka to lift the world cup, and the great man was spared blushes. But it just didn't feel right. It was the beginning of the worst year of his career; scrabbling around desperate for those magical three figures. Balls he would have smashed for 4 in hears gone by were getting him out, LBW decisions were going against him, stunning catches were being taken whenever he hit a ball slightly off the ground. I remember seeing him smash dreadful balls from some mediocre West Indian spinner directly into fielders' hands. For once, he looked like the rest of us. Sometimes unlucky, sometimes drawing brilliance from opponents, sometimes a little bit rubbish. The little master was no longer a god to Indian supporters, no longer a machine to the rest of us; he became a human being, and a desperate one at that.

When it came, it came against Bangladesh- the whipping boys of test cricket. I expected it to feel wrong, like it shouldn't really count. That a man who had put Akram, Younis, Akhtar, Warne, McGrath, Lee, Pollock, Steyn, Walsh, Ambrose, Bond, Vettori, Muralitharan, Vaas and Flintoff to the sword, would collect his crowning run against a lowly Bangladeshi left armer seemed like it would be a travesty. But it didn't. It felt like it was simply another string to Tendulkar's considerable bow: that he could not only operate as the greatest batsman in the world, whom everyone expected to score runs without even thinking about it, but that he could also cope with disappointment, failure, struggles, desperation, and come out the other side of it by (what else?) scoring a hundred.

He completed that historical single, lifted of his helmet, and the sweat on his brow seemed all the more genuine. He did not charge round the ground, Brian Lara style, milking the adulation, he simply looked heavenwards, smiled meekly, put his helmet back on, and carried on batting. The final frontier, that of his own weakness and fallibility, has been conquered.

So what now for Sachin Tendulkar? It's obvious isn't it?
He'll put his helmet back on, carry on batting, and score some more hundreds!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Stairs: The Eternal Conundrum

Before you start reading this post, may I offer a small defence. I have not blogged for a while, this one is the by product of me getting back in the saddle. Consequently, it's not my best work, but if you want a small titter, it should suffice. Otherwise, read Oh, there's a bird perched on the shower curtain rail, Maybe next year, or Funny Thing, Infinity. They're much better.


Necessary, functional, ergonomic, simple. But hopelessly flawed. Theoretically, they are fine, I have no problem with them whatsoever. One platform is raised slightly higher and further on than the previous, allowing the user to gain height and distance with every step. Fine.

And yet stairs cause me greater anxiety than any other structure I use (except for mug trees. Mug trees are just silly). The reason for this is simple: steps are never ever ever the right distance apart. Think about it, you know what I'm talking about. They're either too close together, or too far apart, either in terms of height difference or the distance forwards, (which I have decided we shall call progressional distance).

Very often, it is the former. I was at school today, and there is one such staircase. So one finds oneself caught in a quandary. One can either take the conventional method, and go one step at a time. The problem with this is twofold; the next step up is always a bit lower than you expect, and your foot hovers briefly above the step, before plunging down to the level of the actual step, as gravity seizes control of your horribly un-positioned leg. This results in a painful jarring of the knee and spine, and potentially whiplash. Be careful, citizen! (Elf and safety advice; it's a service I provide). The other ill effect is that your ascent is painfully slow using this method. I opted for it earlier today, and found a small child going past me (taking two at a time, of course), releasing an almost undetectable sigh of impatience at me for having held him up. This bruised my pride, given my superior status, but there was nothing I could do. I was in the wrong. I had opted for the wrong stair cllimbing technique, and this was my punishment.

'Well why didn't you just take two at a time?', I hear you cry. And I take your point, I really do. But the reasons why I did not are as follows:
1) A matter of principle. Whoever built and designed this staircase did so in such a way for me to take 1 step at a time. Stair building is not all that well paid, so I should at least pay him the courtesy of climbing them as he intended.
2) It can be difficult to tell whether the stairs are sufficiently close together to opt for the '2 at a time method'. If they are too far apart, you end up having to take enormous steps to cope with the distance. This means your trousers end up half way up your shins, great exertion is required, with you driving fiercely onwards with your thighs, and you end up leaning forwards, doughtily ploughing on like an under-dressed Ranulph Fiennes. It's a risk.
3) You would not take 2 steps at a time when going down so it seems unfair doing it on the way up.

So you see, there really is no way to deal with stairs efficiently, unless the stairs in question are the perfect distance apart. But these stairs, I have come to conclude, can exist only in the garden of Eden, and our fallen humanity makes them impossible.
So until we reach Heaven, the Good Lord has given us one small solace to keep us going.
Stana Stairlifts. The future.