Sachin Tendulkar’s place in the galaxy of cricketers — and I must stress that it is not just the limited — over galaxy that we are talking about here — is above everyone else. Let me quickly recall a few of my own favourites. There were the left-handed Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist who used their bats like a sledge-hammer; There was a Brian Lara who used the willow as a scimitar; There was the workmanlike Michael Bevan who set a high standard as a finisher. There have been other like Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis – the best all-rounder to have ever graced the limited-over game – who have played many stunning innings.
Yet, there has been only one man who has always walked in with the burden of expectation of a whole nation on his shoulders. No one batsman has caused as many television and radio sets to be switched off when he has been dismissed in one-day internationals as Tendulkar has. No one cricketer — not even Kallis, I dare say — has had such an effect on an entire population as the proud Indian has. Definitely not for as long as he has.
Come to think of it, no one cricketer (and perhaps no sportsman) has had such a following as he has, what with India being largely a one-sport following nation. And what is more, his arrival on the scene as a superb one-day cricketer coincided with India opening its market and the onset of cable and satellite TV in the early 1990s. He learnt quickly to come to terms with both the positive and negative spin-offs of being a leader in such a climate of change.
Of course, India had won the Prudential Cup — as the World Cup was known — in 1983 and followed it up with a fabulous victory in the World Championship of Cricket two years later but the Indian team did not quite build on the momentum gained from those conquests.
And his presence encouraged so many others to take to the sport with gusto and drove young parents to pressure cricket coaches around the country to help make their teenagers the next Sachin Tendulkar.
There were many times in his career where he was the Holy Trinity — Creator, Perpertrator and Destroyer all rolled in one. Starting the innings and making the most of the first 15 overs — or 10 overs of powerplay in the more contemporary scenario — by hitting through the line or over the top, he would create plarforms for his teammates to build on. Since he would not be satisfied with quick starts that were both creative and destructive at once, he would then aim to bat through the innings and perpetrate what he helped create. Small wonder, he has come to be known as God.
There really is no need to look at either his statistics or the countless records that he owns in limited-over cricket to justify his place above everyone else in the world of limited-over cricket. For someone to remain seemingly unaffected by the adulation and criticism for close to two decades and focus on his performance while raising the bar for his teammates is a super human effort indeed.
He had served only morsels as appetisers during his first 69 innings but he grabbed a chance to open the innings in a game in Auckland and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history. I was among those fortunate to watch him craft his maiden century in one-day internationals against Australia at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. It was not the most explosive knocks — he would reserve those for much later in his career.
Everyone who has followed Tendulkar’s career will tell you that his assault on Australia in Sharjah in 1998 was very special. As was his knock against Pakistan in the ICC World Cup quarterfinal in Durban in 2003. As some of my colleagues have pointed out, it is futile exercise to try and pick one innings as either the finest that he played or the most memorable. We must remember him for what he gave all of India – enormous joy even as he went about playing the game with pride and dignity.
Indeed, there is very good reason — and I promise you, it has little to with numbers like 463, 18426, 200, 49, 96 etc — for the collective outpouring of emotion in the wake of Tendulkar’s decision to retire from one-day international cricket. It is sad that one cannot reach out and feel the electricity in the air in a cricket stadium as the little big man walks in to bat in a one-day international.
Yet, in celebrating Tendulkar’s magnificence, it must not be forgotten that there are other entertainers who cause waves of excitement when they step out to bat. And, who knows, there may well be someone else coming along to make us gasp in collective disbelief. But while we wait for that, we must say “Thank you, Sachin, for the entertainment and for the boundless joy that you sparked not only in India but beyond its boundaries.”