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'For Dhoni, Sachin is God'
Cliches are clichés, but at best of times, they convey the message far more tellingly as in the case of Sachin: form is temporary, class is permanent.

Watching the little big man wading into an admittedly mediocre New Zealand attack at the tiny Christchurch ground, it evoked nostalgia. I distinctly remember the first time he opened in an ODI, back in 1994, also in New Zealand, when he “put his hand up” after regular Sidhu opted out due to an injury. Partnering Ajay Jadeja, Sachin blasted a 69-ball 82 with 15 boundaries and two sixes as India won by seven wickets. He was adjudged Man of the Match.

I saw the highlights of that game the same evening, almost 15 years to the day, and we wondered again at the sheer talent. It was much the same on Sunday when Sachin dismantled the Kiwi bowling en route to his first ODI century in New Zealand.

A lot has happened since March 27, 1994 and today, we even question his presence in the ODI squad given the fact that he is 35 and obviously slowed down, if only a wee bit.

Although being one of the biggest fans of Sachin, I did think that he would be better off batting lower down the order so as to keep the Sehwag-Gambhir partnership going and also in view of the string of low scores in the recent past. But then, Sachin, as he has done over the past two decades, silenced his critics with yet another century! Perhaps, it is time then we all clam up and let the great man alone.

The other day, during an informal chat with former India opener and National selector VB Chandrasekar, I asked him about Sachin’s role in the ODI team. “You think, he should bat at No.3 or 4?” I asked. With the least hesitation, VB said: “Come on, don’t even ask such a question. Sachin’s position is either No.1 or 2. I think, given his stature, we should let him decide.”

Off and on, I have been in touch with persons who have moved closely with Dhoni and all of them were unanimous in their observation that the Indian captain thinks the world of Sachin. “For MS, Sachin is God,” said a former India player. “If Sachin wants to open, he will. Nobody can question his decision, leave alone stop him.”

That being the case, it is more than likely that Sachin is under lesser pressure than at any time in his illustrious career. He has been given the freedom of choice and I am sure that Sachin appreciates this gesture.

His recent statements to the effect that he is enjoying his cricket now more than ever vindicates this belief and may be, this is the best way to salute a man who has been living our dreams since 1989.

Dhoni apart, the likes of Sehwag and Yuvraj, in particular, the other key members of the squad, have never hesitated to acknowledge Sachin’s contributions to their own batting. Under the circumstances, it is best that we let matters rest rather than speculate Sachin’s utility or his future. As Sachin’s close friend Ravi Shastri said recently (and repeatedly), there is still plenty left in the tank.

The fact is that we have been so spoilt by his amazing craftsmanship and flow of runs in the past, that we unfairly refuse to believe that Sachin at 35 can bat like Sachin of 25. Such a massive expectation with utter disregard to other critical factors like age, wear and tear of the body and the fatigue, tends to distort our perspective of a player who has given his all to cricket for 20 seasons on the trot without a drop in the motivation levels.

I suppose, it is then more out of frustration that we spew venom at Sachin each time he fails and begin questioning his role as a “match winner” for Team India. In January, I watched him closely during a Ranji game at Chepauk when he scored a century in the course of which he toyed with the bowling before walking off as if in sheer boredom.

But while fielding, he was all the time involved in the proceedings, talking to bowlers and plotting a wicket with his captain, Jaffer. It was a game he could have skipped, but he made it a point to sweat it out to ensure that Mumbai made it to the final and eventually regain the Trophy.

My only reservation about Sachin is his reluctance to air his views on various cricketing issues. After all, given his stature, his words carry far more weight than those of ordinary mortals like most of us. Only of late that he has begun to speak out, but I feel he should be far more forthcoming. I think, he has a huge role to play in cricket even after retirement (whenever that happens); so, all the more reason why he should progress to being the elder player-statesman.

Getting back to the ongoing ODI series, India with a 2-0 lead should go on to clinch the rubber. The Kiwis are under pressure with just two more games to go and Dhoni’s men should ruthlessly move in for the kill, much like the Aussies in South Africa.

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