THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING SACHIN'S 200th TEST
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar - arguably the greatest Indian to be born in the post independence period is approaching yet another milestone. After having dominated world cricket for around twenty-five years, having claimed all the top records and more importantly, having carried the hopes of over a billion people in a cricket crazy country, the Little Master is today, the top most sporting icon in our nation's history and is counted amongst the best sports persons in the world. For the boy from Mumbai who first burst into the international scene at the tender age of 16 against arch rivals Pakistan in 1989, Sachin has indeed come a long away. Today, at the twilight of his glorious career, he has left behind his other illustrious contemporaries - stylish south paw Brian Lara, three time World Cup champion Ricky Ponting and the classy Jacques Kallis and is undoubtedly, the greatest man ever to wield the willow since Sir Don Bradman. Apart from scaling new heights on the pitch, the respect that he commands among his rivals, the cricketing fraternity and the people all over the world only adds to the aura around him.
However, Indian cricket has always found itself at the center of one controversy or another and at times, even Sachin's name has been unnecessarily dragged into it. Take this for example. With Tendlya all set to play his 200th Test match in the upcoming home series against the West Indies in November, a war of sorts has broken amongst cricket associations as to which stadium in the country will get this ultimate honour of hosting the God of Indian Cricket as he achieves yet another milestone. The Wankhede stadium in Mumbai where Tendulkar played in his youth, the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata, the Chepauk in Chennai where Sachin averages in the nineties and finally the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad and the Chinnaswamy ground in Bengaluru which are next in line to host a five day match according to BCCI's rotation policy are said to be the possible venues for the second match of the series wherein the batting wizard will become the first and possibly the last person (considering the lack of interest in this format today) to complete this unique feat.
It is easy to understand why such a fuss is being made about a trivial issue. While we have produced some remarkable cricketers like the legendary Maharaja Ranjit Singhji who captivated the minds of the English audience in the early twentieth century, 1983 World Cup winning captain Kapil Dev, batting maestro Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid who personified perfection, Sachin occupies the highest position in the pantheon of Indian cricket. His records are unparalleled, his popularity cuts across all differences - caste, creed, region and religion and most importantly, the manner in which he carries himself on and off the field has made him an ambassador of both, the country and cricket. No wonder, it will be a matter of great pride for any city to host the second match as India's favourite cricketing son scores a double ton of another kind. Besides pride, one also has to remember the financial aspect involved. After all, the BCCI and the state associations can go to any extent to rake in the moolah. The excitement amongst the public ahead of the series is high and the revenues generated during the match, in terms of ticket sales as well as advertisements will be huge. It should not be a surprise then that different stadiums are battling it out for the right to host this historic test.
Now coming to the likely contenders, it seems like Sachin's home ground - the Wankhede is leading the race. Those in favour of Mumbai are playing the regional card for their advantage. They say that it is only logical that Sachin completes his feat in front of his 'home crowd', at the very place where about 27 years ago, he served as a ball boy. To be frank, I do not buy this argument at all. On numerous occasions, Tendulkar has made it clear that he is an Indian first and then a Maharashtrian. When he scores run, the whole of India and not only the Mumbaikars, cheer for him. He is a national hero and I think, all cricket lovers in different parts of the country, who have loved and adored him for all these years have an equal right to witness their icon reach this landmark. Another strong contender is said to be the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. The third largest cricket stadium in the world with respect to seating capacity is said to have the backing of the BCCI Interim President Jagmohan Dalmia. The point being made is that the large crowds - approximately 66,000 and the illustrious history will provide the perfect setting for the match. Again, if this argument is taken into account, then every important cricket match held in the country should be played only in Kolkata. This is unfair to other stadiums who themselves have a rich cricketing legacy in their own right. On similar lines, the Chepauk is said to be making its case considering that the Master has a fairy tale record here. He has scored five centuries on this ground Chennai with the highest being 155 no against England in 1993. While it is true that players tend to have their favourite hunting grounds, the records cannot be the criteria for selecting venues.
In my opinion, it is only fair that the rotation policy that has been in place for several years now is followed and Ahmedabad or Bengaluru get the right to host the game. The policy, one of the few good things that the Board has ever done, makes sure that all eligible grounds in the country get equal opportunity to host matches and the local fans do not have to wait for long periods to see their sporting stars in action. In case, the rule is broken then a wrong precedent will be set and similar requests can be made in the future, leading to more chaos and finally, dirty linen being washed in public. However, past experience only tells us that the matter is only going to get uglier by the day. Soon, our politicians will join in. Self appointed upholders of the Marathi cause - Raj Thackeray of the MNS and Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena will soon make some nasty comments. Not to be left behind, the NCP will also issue a press release to prevent their opponents from gaining any political mileage out of the situation. Fiery Mamta will vouch for Kolkata whereas Amma may well bat for the southern metropolis. It looks like the wicket is only going to get more difficult to bat on even before the first ball of the second test match is bowled.