In a TV show titled 'Match ka Mujrim' a couple of years back I was surprised to see Sachin Tendulkar featured as the villain of the piece based on viewer feedback. It was the start of a diminishing of idolatry. This went a significant step further last week when the disfiguring of Indian cricketers' posters did not spare Sachin, that too in his own Mumbai suburb of Bandra. And now one opinion poll after another brings the refrain 'Sachin should retire' in chorus with Ian Chappell who suggests that Tendulkar these days plays more for stats than to win games for his team... Look into that mirror, Sachin.
For Ian, the turning point was the slow, painstaking double century in the final, drawn Test at Sydney in 2004. For me, it took a little longer, until the first Test at Mohali during Pakistan's tour. India got a big first innings lead, and Tendulkar came out to bat in the second innings just after lunch on the third day. He started cautiously and you could sense he was getting set for a hundred on an easy track. But as the day wore on, I lost interest in whether the 'great man' got his century or not. What was more important was that it was the first time I was seeing him play an obviously selfish game.
Everyone knows the Mohali pitch slows down with each passing day and it gets harder and harder to take wickets. So India had to capitalise on its huge lead by scoring quickly in the second innings. Instead, in four hours of batting that afternoon, India went at 2 runs per over with Sachin at the crease, and it was perhaps fitting that he fell in the closing moments of play nowhere near his hundred. Ultimately, India ran out of time on the fifth day as Pakistan escaped with a draw in a match that India had all but sewn up on the third day itself.
After that I would notice from time to time how Sachin would appear to put his self-interest above that of his team in one-day matches too, where he chose the sheet anchor's role even when there was no need for it. Some of these games India lost in spite of high scores from Sachin, a syndrome that had afflicted Rahul Dravid in the middle of his one-day career until he was dropped from the team.
I'm no longer surprised therefore by the TV vox pops and opinion polls that show little sympathy for the fallen idol. The only incongruity is the steadfast defence of Tendulkar by former Indian cricketers, but that has more to do with the intricate web of advertisers, officials, players, and commentators that characterises Indian cricket.