Autobiographies are supposed to be controversial — for a cricketer who has served his country for more than 20 years, Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘Playing It My Way’ is like batting against the best bowlers of all times. He not only plays safe, he refuses to discuss issues surrounding Indian cricket during his era like match-fixing, sledging (except the Monkey Gate), India’s inability to win abroad for nearly two decades and above all, the magical deliveries that got him dismissed while facing faster (read Pakistani) bowlers!
What he does in his autobiography is open up a little about his personal life, his comments about Umpire Review System and why India opposes it, his centuries and double centuries, his match-winning and near match-winning innings and his relationship with fellow cricketers. Unlike Dennis Lillee’s Menace, this autobiography doesn’t hit you hard, unlike Steve Waugh’s Out of My Comfort Zone, it doesn’t surprise you and unlike Fazal Mahmood’s From Dusk Till Dawn it doesn’t magically transport you from your comfort zone into the stadium where the matches were played. Instead, it just confirms what people already knew about Sachin Tendulkar that he was the nicest guy to don the cricket gear; he always played for his country; never feared any bowler and got injured a lot during his lengthy career.
And yes, that he loves his wife Anjali as well. Combine the mention of all the cricketers’ wives in their autobiographies and it will still fall short of how many times Tendulkar has mentioned his wife in this book. At times, I referred to check the cover whether the book was about Tendulkar’s career or about his life and times, and the co-writer Boria Majumdar must be criticized here for his lack of imagination. Majumdar is a noted cricket writer and historian and he could have used his influence to take more time and come up with an autobiography that was more fun to read.
For a batsman like Tendulkar, one autobiography is not enough. Trust me; there are many books he could have written. In fact, there could have been a separate chapter about his injuries, his centuries, his relationship with fellow cricketers, his trips to around the world and his favourite food. He could also have gone the Michael Bevan way who came up The Best of Bevan were he discussed his best innings in detail, and never bores you because most of the innings saw Australia end up as victors. Instead, Tendulkar discusses his career in chronological order, from his humble beginnings, first rejection to his last day as a cricketer. In between, he mentions how his aunt and uncle helped him during his initial days, what totkays he applied when he went out to bat with an upset stomach, how his elder brother Ajit and coach Achrekar Sir inspired him to become one of the best cricketers of all times and how he felt after India lost matches which could have been won.
My issue with this autobiography is the problem of every other Pakistani – all on this side of Wagah wanted to know how Tendulkar felt when he was clean bowled for a golden duck at Calcutta off Shoaib Akhtar, but the great batsmen conveniently misses that innings. In fact, he talks about the second innings of the same match where he was run out on a direct hit from the boundary by substitute Nadeem Khan (he remembers the fielder, but not the first innings dismissal!), and blames Akhtar for being between him and the crease, and he was eventually run out as Shoaib moved, his bat moved.
Tendulkar, however, forgets that it was a Pakistani fielder who threw the ball from the boundary and the probability of it hitting the stumps was one in a million! He later mentions scoring runs of Akhtar as if it was a big thing, so why ignore the first time he bowled you mate… in front of a crowd that was shouting Sachin at top of their voices, hoping you would wield your magic and score runs, not get bowled to an in swinging beauty … we thought you were braver than that! There is no mention of the ‘other’ time when Tendulkar was dismissed by rookie Mohammad Asif on what was his last tour of Pakistan. Neither did he say anything about the allegations made by Akhtar in his autobiography where he states that Sachin was so scared of pacers on that tour that he went back to the pavilion, even when he knew his bat didn’t touch the ball.
Yes, we all know that Tendulkar has had a brilliant career and that he was never a cheat. In fact many in Pakistan admire him for his sportsman spirit and we were angry when Match Referee Mike Denness in South Africa and Mike Procter in Australia doubted him. The chapters detailing those incidents as well as Tendulkar’s abhorrence for former Indian coach Greg Chappell have been written well and one would have loved the autobiography had it been written in the same vein as these chapters. Learn something from Kevin Pietersen, sir!
While he does mention his double century in ODI cricket, it is the mention of the near miss that interests the readers… and disappoints. Tendulkar was batting on 194 during Multan Test against Pakistan, and the innings was declared by stand in captain Rahul Dravid for no reason. The incident reminded one of Javed Miandad’s 280 not out, something he still doesn’t forget and neither could Tendulkar. But what does the great batsman do; he writes that after speaking to the manager and later the captain, he decided to move on which is as unconvincing as it seems. Sorry my friend, we don’t buy it for a minute!
The crux of Playing It My Way are the last couple of chapters where the former Indian captain talks about his 100th century, his retirement plans, his last Test series and his farewell Test match and even his worst detractors will read these pages with tears in their eyes. The co-writer plays well with the reader’s emotions just as veteran writer Harsha Bhogle did with Azhar — the biography of another Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin in the 90s. It doesn’t make up for the slow start and the boring middle but that’s how cricket is played. You start cautiously; wait patiently for the bad ball and when the going gets tough, the tough gets going!