I remember the excitement of waiting for Sunil Gavaskar to sign his bestselling autobiography, Sunny Days . To get hold of a copy on the day of its release was like grabbing a first-day-first-show ticket to a Clint Eastwood movie in the days when English films were few and far between in the Capital. It took me less time to finish reading the book than to get Gavaskar’s signature.
Sports autobiographies by Indians have been rather scant. The few well-received books include — Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi’s Tiger’s Tale , EAS Prasanna’s One More Over , Vijay Hazare’s A Long Innings , Nirupama Vaidyanathan’s The Moonballer , Ajit Wadekar’s My Cricketing Years , Balbir Singh Sr’s The Golden Hat-trick , Aslam Sher Khan’s To Hell with Hockey , Dilip Doshi’s Spin Punch , Abhinav Bindra’s A Shot At History , Kapil Dev’s Cricket My Style and Yuvraj Singh’s The Test Of My Life . It would be fun to also have Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly narrate their life story.
Barring Yuvraj Singh, no cricketer after Gavaskar and Kapil Dev chose to share his experience with fans until Tendulkar came out with his tale within a year of quitting the game. It was obviously a much-awaited book and the hype that preceded its launch in Mumbai was excessive. It was a well-crafted, market-driven exercise with active participation from the protagonist himself.
The tome, as Boria Majumdar, the co-author of the book termed the effort, is a mixed bag. The narrative is too guarded when it comes to revelations and repetitive in descriptions of the game. I expected more from the man who handled pressure with incredible composure right until he faced the last ball at the Wankhede Stadium, where he had begun his first-class career in 1988 with a Ranji Trophy century against Gujarat.
Playing It My Way falls short of doing justice to Sachin Tendulkar, the man and the batsman. “It seems to me that no autobiography can claim to document every detail of the author’s life. That’s impossible. There are bound to be issues that can’t be written about for one reason or another, events that are too personal or perhaps too sensitive. I am not in the habit of being sensational for the sake of it or saying things to ruffle feathers. That’s just not me,” Tendulkar says in his introduction.
I wish he’d read Andre Agassi’s Open , an honest and self-critical analysis of a glorious sporting career. But then, as Tendulkar admits, he never read too many books. He mentions perusing Muhammad Ali’s biography, which comes as a surprise. His love for F1, badminton and tennis are known, but he hasn’t ever discussed boxing.
Gavaskar, a voracious reader, wrote his memoirs when he was 26 and had been in international cricket for just five years. It had many fascinating nuggets about his life beyond cricket and wonderful descriptions about the game itself. Playing It My Way falls short of capturing the imagination of the reader on many fronts and not necessarily because of Tendulkar. Memory and his co-author let him down in quite a few instances.
It would be naive to expect Tendulkar to talk about match-fixing. His views could not have been any different from what he told the CBI in 2000, when the scandal broke. It comes as late as page 186, when he says he finds match-fixing and the sordid tales of corruption “repulsive, distasteful and disgusting”. He has however said much more in an interview with Dr Ali Bacher on SuperSport Channel in 2011.
There is plenty about his family, friends and anecdotes from his early years. The pressure that he faced on and off the field also comes to the fore in the few instances that refer to his breakdowns in solitude. The pressure to not offend or humiliate others also weighs heavily on him through the book.
But sadly, the co-author fails to get cricket insights out of Tendulkar. The match reports do have the Tendulkar stamp — he can relive his dismissals, his century-achieving shots and even the bowler concerned. But I wish Tendulkar had discussed the evolution of domestic cricket — from the first game he watched to the last game he played.
There are other chapters which I wish he had included: for example the grooming of a modern cricketer, from selection of equipment to the honing of talent. A chapter on his 10 best innings and the World XI of his dream would have been welcome as well.
He is scathing, and rightly so, when it comes to Greg Chappell. “Greg’s tenure as coach was the worst of my career. His high-handed manner added to our disappointment, and in the immediate aftermath of defeat (World Cup 2007), had a harmful impact on Indian cricket,” he writes. The maestro also reveals that Chappell suggested he take over the captaincy from Rahul Dravid. The Australian denies these allegations. But there is no reason to disbelieve Tendulkar. His relationship with Chappell was hardly cordial and Chappell’s dismissal was welcomed by the senior players.
Tendulkar also deals with Monkeygate and the Multan declaration in different chapters. He was at the centre of the storm involving Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds, and his word saved the day for Singh. He does take on skipper Dravid for his momentous declaration that left Tendulkar stranded at 194. At the book launch, Dravid said the decision was taken in the team’s best interest, but it did lead to a misunderstanding between them at the time. Tendulkar tries to clear the air in a chapter and convince the world that the two continue to be “good friends”. Surprisingly, Tendulkar has no views on Dravid’s three Test centuries, two of them as opener, during the 2011 England tour. Majumdar ought to have extracted his opinion on it.
For me, the book’s best part is Tendulkar evaluation of the Indian Premier League. “While I agree that IPL performances are important enough to open doors to the national team, I am sure that IPL performances should not be used as a reason to pick players for the Twenty20 format, or, in exceptional cases, for ODI cricket. Playing well in the IPL does not make a player good enough for Test cricket. A major apprehension concerning the IPL is that its riches will make playing for India somewhat less significant and correspondingly less appealing.” This remains the most profound statement in the book for me.
Playing It My Way is an autobiography that reaffirms Tendulkar’s gracious personality, which prefers politeness over all else, even candour. Sunny Days was a different reading experience, for Gavaskar came out all guns blazing. I wish Tendulkar had done that too, as he has in numerous unforgettable knocks on the cricket field.
(Vijay Lokapally is Deputy Editor, Sports, The Hindu)