You've read reams on that cherubic 16-year-old, sporting John McEnroe-like curls and all that, taking on the might of Imran, Wasim and Waqar without battling an eyelid. As the years went passing by, the funky locks made way for a short crop, the boy turned into a statesman and his hunger for excellence assumed insatiable proportions. Naturally, the mountain of runs he scored, the centuries he raked up, the comparisons he prompted and the larger-than-life status he garnered received more prominence than his achievements as a teenager. Call it perspective, or the lack of it.
And life member of 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' Rahul Dravid took just seconds to sum up the genius of Sachin Tendulkar. At the gala ESPNcricinfoAwards ceremony on Friday, Dravid paid the ultimate tribute to his long-time teammate who was named 'Cricketer of the Generation'. "I am sure Sachin always knew how good he was, but he will know it better now. His son, Arjun, is 14 and plays a bit of cricket. Watching his son grow up, I wonder if he would let him face Mitchell Johnson at this age. Anjali (Tendulkar's wife) won't let him do it," Dravid said with a hearty laugh. That's what you call perspective. It makes you think and leaves you awe-struck. That's how special that 16-year-old was.
Dravid, who was no less special than Tendulkar, also shared an interesting anecdote dating back to 1996, the year he made his Test debut at Lord's. After breaking into a team occupied by a superstar who was a few months younger but seven years 'older' experience-wise, Dravid was inspired and intimidated in equal measure. "You wanted to earn his respect. In those days, the Sportstar magazine had a section called 'Cricketers for the Future'. In an interview, Sachin told the publication that I was one for the future. Somebody actually brought that copy all the way to London. But I must say Sachin made me earn his respect. I had to score a 95 on debut!" Dravid said. Another round of laughter.
Pipping Shane Warne and Jacques Kallis to the post for the big prize of the evening, Tendulkar complimented Dravid by saying he had performed "way past everybody's expectations". He also left Martin Crowe, the great New Zealand batsman of the 1980s, blushing. "Martin, when you played in India during the 1987 World Cup, I was a ball boy. We used to look at the way you walked out to bat. Occasionally, I also imitated you," Tendulkar said.
After regaling the gathering with anecdotes about Kallis and Warne, Tendulkar also spoke about the current state of the game. In a straight-batted suggestion to the ICC, he said, "They should organise more Test matches if they want Test cricket to survive. But I still believe Test cricket is in good hands, players are producing unbelievable cricket. If you see around the world, most matches have results, very few are drawn, which is probably due to T20s, so the formats are complementing each other. If you want more guys to follow cricket, T20 is an ideal format to introduce people to cricket. Gradually they can progress to one-day cricket and Test cricket."
He also made it abundantly clear that there is no need to force someone to play Test cricket. "You cannot force someone to like Test cricket. If you are passionate about Test cricket, it has to be from within. And if it doesn't exist in some cases, don't force him, leave him, let him play one-day and T20 cricket. Test cricket is the ultimate format and it's one format where the bowlers are always going to get you out. In Tests, you require planning, vision and execution. It doesn't happen that much in T20 cricket, where you can be a hero in three balls."
Tendulkar graced the international arena for so long that it's hard to list out the changes the game has seen. But in the midst of all this madness of powerplays and what not, he quietly tweaked his game to stay ahead of the pack. "The field settings were different. Later on in my career when I walked in to bat and I looked towards point, I thought, 'Point is catching so there's a gap.' But later I realised, 'No, no there's deep point already too'. With time, your style of play too changes. Today the kinds of shots played by batsmen are incredible. I saw Andy Flower play the reverse sweep consistently in a Test in 2000-01. He was 10-12 years ahead of his time. Twelve years down the line, it has become quite a common shot: Alastair Cook made 294 at Birmingham, and he, of all people, reverse-swept Amit Mishra. The game has changed."