I don’t often do extracts from others on this site, but when I read this story on India and Cricket by Wright Thompson, I just felt the need to show it to you. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever read, on anything.
Since it is about 10,000 words, I won’t put it all here, but if you like this, you should definitely read the rest.
I am Sehwag.
As Sachin grew up watching Sunil, Sehwag grew up watching Sachin. He saw Sachin’s aggressive stance. He took what he saw, internalized it and spat out something new, something dangerous, even. There’s a reason some old-school fans find him vulgar, and Deepak screams his name.
Where does something like that come from?
We leave Deepchand’s house and drive toward the airport, past the endless storefronts featuring posters of bodybuilders. Strength is in. Out on the edges of Delhi, huge apartment buildings stretch to the horizon. Ugly concrete boxes, row after row of them. If Bruce Springsteen were from India, he’d sing about these streets. There are things being built here. There are things being torn down. A shepherd drives a flock of sheep down the road, turning them into a weedy lot, the proposed site of a cultural center. He wears a red turban, carries a staff.
Sehwag grew up in these badlands. He saw Sachin through the prism of the gritty world around him, looking past the grace to the power. Before Sehwag, Indian opening batsmen were supposed to take the shine off the ball. That’s the cricket phrase. Take the shine off. Break it in. Wear down the bowler. Sehwag would take the shine off by going for fours and sixes. He got a reputation for dogging it on singles. And if Sachin gave birth to Sehwag, then a whole group of younger sluggers have taken it a step further. At least Sehwag still plays Test cricket. Some newer stars don’t.
The Indian team is a blunt object, 15 men created not in the image of Tendulkar, exactly, but in the image of the new India that he both inspired and represented. Sachin carried the team alone in the ’90s, but in the past decade a generation of hyperaggressive Indian stars came of age. Former captain Sourav Ganguly ripped off his shirt and twirled it above his head on the balcony of the uptight Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. They are celebrities now. They frighten opposing bowlers. They themselves are not afraid. Two years ago, the team changed its jerseys from powder blue to a deeper color. It seemed less meek.
I am Sehwag.
“The aggression, the brashness,” says Bhattacharya, the cricket writer turned novelist. “It’s now something which Indians see that this is what we have to do to assert our place in the world. We’ve been f—ed over for thousands of years. Everyone has conquered us. Now we’re finding our voice. We’re the fastest-growing economy in the world. We are going to buy your companies. Our cricket team is like going to f—ing abuse you back, and we’re going to win and we’re going to shout in your face after we win. People love that.”
We turn on Najafgarh Road. Shop workers give us directions. Everyone knows The Butcher. In the midst of this urban blight, there is a single planted field. This all used to be farmland. Now there are big piles of sand, the dust of something old waiting to become something new. White smoke rises from burning trash. Mechanics fixing motorcycles on the sidewalk tell us to take a right at the feeble old tree past the shrine to the monkey god.
This is Sehwag’s street.
When his father died, the neighbors tell us, he moved his mother to a nice place in central Delhi. Other family members live in the house now. There, they point. That’s his aunt. The home is down an alley, where Sehwag used to pound cricket balls. “He was always a long hitter,” a man says.
The house has a big black gate and a bamboo fence to offer privacy for the patio. There’s an orange lantern and a rooftop terrace. It’s the middle-class home that Deepchand dreams of for his family. This is the home of a grain merchant who moved to the city from a village, wanting to build a new life.
Sachin is the son of a poet.
Sehwag is the son of man who sold wheat and rice.