In the recently concluded Twenty20 World Cup, more controversial than India’s heartbreaking ousting has been Sachin Tendulkar’s statement asking the Indian public to be patient and not put so much pressure on the players. While Sachin has the credibility to make such a statement at this stage of his career, as a senior pro taking the side of his juniors who is no longer involved with T20 internationally, the vexing question is this: how can those other players he defends be immune to the pressure which he himself has borne patiently for close to two decades? With performance comes pressure, and in the case of truly elite players, the reverse is also true. One’s ability to perform in trying circumstances is what separates the men from the boys. This Indian team once again showed its weakness against the rising ball, aptly exploited by both the West Indians and the English, and even before their highly anticipated match against favourites South Africa (a tie they also lost), they were unceremoniously eliminated. The expected round of brickbats followed. Though MS Dhoni put up a brave face and fronted to a bloodthirsty media, it was Sachin’s defence of his team mates, asking the public to be patient, which seems to have really caught people’s attention. The Indian public, both domestic and NRI, is crazy when it comes to cricket. Nothing binds us as a country more. In football, one might cheer only for Man U and forsake all others, but when India’s cricket team starts a series, suddenly all Indians gel together. More than Bollywood, cricket today is an ongoing soap opera where one can temporarily forget all problems and take passionate, obsessive pride delight in the team’s victory. But just as victories bring the love and accolades of millions, there is a downside. The public are now also wise to accountability. While they make demi-gods of those chosen few at every success, they equally demand performance. In India, if you perform well in a couple of series, success is bound to go to your head what with the media, sponsors, advertisers and organizations chasing you, all trying to cash in and make a fast buck of your popularity. It may be mentioned that Brian Lara, after his epic 375 against England, was met not with glittering admiration from his coach upon reaching the dressing room, but with the following words: “Son, your next innings starts at zero.” Does this happen in case of our players? Does the BCCI restrict them to just a couple of adverts before telling them to get on with the job? Not a chance. Sachin may no longer be playing in T20 format, but the game is already firmly established. It is a faster, more result-oriented and competitive world. The old timers lambasted Chris Gayle for saying he prefers T20 to test cricket, but one can see the results for oneself. The bottom line is that one must rake in the moolah, and what better way than through T20? And today, Gayle is the toast of the cricket world as he reaches new heights in the shortest format of the game. And where Gayle is on top now, last year nobody could get enough of Dhoni and his men with their series wins over Australia and New Zealand. See how quickly that has been consigned to the past. Pressure and performance always go hand in hand, and in a glittering and controversy free career, Sachin may finally have shot off his mouth unwantedly. In India, cricket can never be a pressure-free game, because of the emotions attached to it. What do you feel?