Watching Tendulkar when he is in full flow is a joyful experience, but I have found his continued success in the last few years quite annoying. After some analysis, I have concluded that my irrational reaction is mainly due to a) the dread of the sugary, syrupy statements that he insists on making after breaking some record or other and b) the thought that, for the next few days/weeks, the media will resort to painful hyperbole, such as “ He is the greatest living Indian”, etc. Both get to my nerves. I am more than willing to concede that he is an excellent batsman, but I am not going to raise him to the level of a demigod or collude in such efforts.
In contrast, I am far more relaxed while watching Dravid bat. I know that if he scores a century, he will come up with an honest statement, without any added sugar or preservatives. Moreover, the media chooses to leave him severely alone and doesn’t make him out to be a cult figure. So, I don’t have to worry about an imminent onslaught of screaming,bold-fonted headlines.
But, even a diehard Dravid fan has to admit that the 'law of diminishing returns' caught up with him long back, even while Tendulkar, who is of the same age, has been going from strength to strength.
Many theories have been put forward to explain Tendulkar’s sustained age-defying brilliance. His poise, his balance, the way he understands his body’s limitations and stays within that, his child-like enthusiasm, his commitment, etc. But are these qualities good enough to keep him going?
In the book, “The upside of irrationality”, the author Dan Ariely while arguing that too much stress or motivation can be counter-productive, cites an example from the movie “First Knight” starring Richard Gere and Sean Connery. In it, Sir Lancelot is a vagabond expert swordsman who duels to pay his bills. Seeing him win consistently, a person named Mark asks him how he managed to do that. Lancelot offers Mark three tips: first to observe the man he’s fighting and learn how he thinks; second, to await the make-or-break moment in the match and go for it then. Up to that point Mark nods happily, sure he can learn to do those things. Lancelot’s final tip however is a little more difficult to follow. He tells his eager student that he can’t care about living or dying. In other words, Lancelot fought better than anyone else because he had found a way to bring his stress level to zero. If he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, nothing rides on his performance. He doesn’t worry about living past the end of the fight, so nothing clouds his mind and affects his abilities- he is pure concentration and skill.
I thought of Tendulkar when I read that. His power of concentration or his technical wizardry or his commitment, by themselves, could not have enabled him to excel this long. If so, Dravid too has these qualities in abundant measure. So, taking a cue from Lancelot, I would like to submit that what sets them apart is this. Dravid takes his sobriquet of “The Wall’ too seriously. Consumed by the sole objective of holding on to his wicket, even as his reflexes get slower, he stresses himself out completely. Tendulkar is unburdened by such thoughts. He bats as if there is no tomorrow. So nothing clouds his mind and the resulting serenity more than makes up for any age-related drop in his levels of concentration and skill.