No one I know is universally loved. Give me a person, and i will show you someone who cant bear the sight of his face, the sound of his voice, his batting stance, his fielding gaffes, his wasteful bowling or whatever is anatomically or otherwise disturbing.
Watch cricket audiences. In the living room, public halls, roadsides, and stadiums.
The Indian people have amazingly unexplainably strong opinions about the team. Fairly strong and postive, and sometimes equally strong and negative. A hand banged on the head seeing someone brought in to bowl; a refusal to sit and watch thoughtlessly aggressive bowling, lacking finesse and cunning, advice to the captain playing 1000 miles away, reserved opinions about some controversial players, however great...
And in all this, there is one person, who, if you think about it, is , to put it simply, universally loved.
And it is very very clear that this guy is unique.
Idle chatter in the dressing room dies out as he takes his stance. People doing multitasking in front of the TV, go into single task/watching mode as if not to distract the batsmen. Mothers in kitchens, about to roll the 15th phulka, turn down the flame, and appear in the doorway, wiping hands on their palloos, sure that they are going to want to applaud; little folks, pretending to do homework in the next room, defiantly suddenly appear in the living room for undefined reasons, and their father pretends not to notice. Bus conductors delay giving change as some guy in a heavily packed bus, gives the general public an update, and even those, with partial hearing thanks to aging, make the great effort to turn a shaking neck, sometimes in a collar, a toothless indulgent smile indicating their great interest in hearing the latest about the exploits of this wonderful"boy"....
Several hearts miss beats as he , with middle age on the horizon, takes his time deciding how to despatch which ball.
He misses something, and the collective tsk-tsk implies that they understand, and the nation is convinced it is a wide or a no ball.
A matter-of-fact lbw appeal against him, irrespective of the decibel level, has in recent times, probably made some umpires marked men in the eyes of the nation. Big grown men talk about "Khota out" , and shake their heads in the same way they would when they hear of some massive crime being committed somewhere.
An entire country telepathically makes an effort willing a third umpire to declare him not-out.
An angry nation focussing its eyeballs on the errant bowler.
Statisticians get busy trying to figure out which new record he is about to break.
Every single time the man has gone out to bat, everyone expects him to reach 3 digits and then some. Every time he strikes, despatching balls to the ropes with a flourish, the stadium goes into brownian motion , as if jumping up and down saying "we told you so!"; and every single time he has missed that by a whisper, no matter how thick, the audience goes ominiously silent. 50,000 people, feeling for him, wishing things were'nt so, standing forelornly in support of the amazing talent of one man.
Entire stadiums asymptotically quieten down to a whisper , as he looks at the umpire, glances at his partner at the other end, and starts the trudge back to the stadium.
Not just talent, but his entire way of conducting himself.
He lives in the thick of Bollywood, In the same building as Aishwarya Rai did . She probably considered herself lucky.
One never heard of him, even when he was younger, performing at discos and stuff in the company of the opposite sex, or traipsing in and out of fancy places at unearthly hours, with haircuts and companions that changed monthly in length and colour. Which is not to say that he never had his wild days. He probably did. We just never heard.
Older and bigger masters, still call him Little master, only the operative word is now "master". When unduly and greatly incised about a decision, he will simply look at the umpire, never glare in defiance, and then he will walk back , determinedly to the pavillion, trying to think what he needs to do to avoid such a situation again.
Give him the ball, and you can actually see the twinkle in his eye, and something ticking in his brain, as he thinks about how to fool the batsmen into thinking that the ball is something its not going to be.
A wicket is rewarded with a face crinkled with child like glee, and a pumping of fists, which every small child of India interprets a way of saying "pakad liya !" No running around with bird like postures, or walking down the pitch with threatening faces saying "nikal ja" ....its plain and simple.
In a world where folks in the slips allow their reaction times to slip, by virtue of their reputations with the bat, he fields and runs deep, and when he has participated in catching out a legend who is in his last match, the little master runs in all the way to the pitch to shake his hand, one great man applauding another. Steve Waugh would know about that.
And he has been missing centuries lately.
He moves on. Thats life.
And while folks in Australia who should know better, start all this talk about footwork , and preparing game plans for him, he will probably do what is little son advised him.
Hit a massive six when on 94.....