Sachin Tendulkar stands on the brink of signing off his domestic career with yet another single-handed effort, taking his team to yet another victory against challenging odds. Arunabha Sengupta tries to find out what has made him carry on in the same vein for all these years.
The village is sleepy, perhaps the smallest among the hundreds of venues that has seen you play. Yet there is a stadium here, along with a cricket pitch. That is all that matters.
The track is green. The ball will move about. Age has left some mark on the once lightning reactions. They are frayed if only by a fraction. That very fraction that made all the difference between the ordinary and the immortal. Will the battle scarred willow be able to deal with the vagaries of the wicket at this advanced age? With you be able to tackle the balls, sent down by men who had not been born when you made your First-Class debut?
But then, it is this thrill of the challenge that has made you carry on — long after every battle had been won, every summit conquered.
You have stood alone against Allan Donald in 1992, Glenn McGrath in 1999, Brett Lee in 2008 and Dale Steyn in 2011. You have overcome them in their own backyard. No Indian batsman has been remotely as successful in the foreign dens against vicious attacks. Ignorance and cognitive fallacies may lead some to say you have failed in crisis, but you do well to ignore them — it is useless to tell them to check the records, for them evidence is an overhead and life is short.
Your craft is on a sublime plane. You know what you have achieved. You have been the only Indian batsman ever to get runs without difficulty in every challenging condition against all kinds of bowling. No one, I repeat, no one holds a candle to that. And yet you find new foes to overcome after a quarter of a century at the top, after a journey from Perth 1992 to Cape Town 2011 you stand in this one horse town called Lahli at the age of 40. Why? Because the wear and tear of that elapsed era now stands up against you, an extra challenge has been handed down to you, that of advancing years, of slower reflexes — and it is this that makes all this worthwhile.
The bowlers are good, the wicket seaming — but the real battle is fought against the cruel hands of the celestial clock. You have to turn it back. Past days, years and a decade. The small ground of Lahli transforms itself into the battlegrounds across time. The same crisis, the match hanging on knife’s edge, the batsmen at the other end keep departing for the safety of the pavilion. You have seen it all your life, and now it is played out all over again — as if at the end of this great career your cricketing days are flashing past your eyes. It is easy to say that you have done it for so many years, now someone else should step up and hold the fort. That you want to enjoy your last game, not fight the battles that others have quit. Yet, you won’t. You will wage war till the very end. Because, that is what makes you Sachin Tendulkar.
Shadows lengthen, the game oscillates, thousands cheer on, the cricket web sites have never experienced such pressures during a domestic match. And amidst all that, you hang on — years of experience wage battle against the arrow of time, and what wins through is your unconquered zest for the game.
Twenty-two years ago, as an 18-year-.old stripling with hopeful heart borne on quickest of feet, you had plundered a 75-ball 96 against these same opponents before you hit a full toss down the throat of cover. Now the feet may be a bit slower, your braveheart has achieved all the dreams ever dreamt, and some that never registered in wildest fantasies. It is as a wiser man that you stand at the wicket, knowing well that you have to finish the job. In spite of all the glories achieved through the many many intervening years, those two runs still hurt — the margin that stood between Haryana and Bombay that day in 1991. Because you are not an ordinary soul easily satisfied — you are Sachin Tendulkar. And so, you would like to finish this match. Hence you continue to fight, single-handedly. Because you love the game. You love the challenges it keeps throwing in front of you. You like to win. That makes you Sachin Tendulkar.
A mere 39 runs are required to be scored on Wednesday morning. Four wickets, tailenders most, remain in the kitty. You stand on 55, impeccable runs scored yet again in the face of crisis. That is nothing new. For most of you career you have walked in at 27 for two. It has become a habit. And you know that even after all these years, it is your wicket that is pivotal.
If the victory is not achieved, will your glory be any less? Will your legacy be tainted? No, there is far too much sparkle and glitter in the treasures you have toted up with your bat.
Yet, you will come back to fight another day, savouring the thrill of the battle, revelling in the challenge. Because, that is what you know to do. That is your identity. That is what makes you Sachin Tendulkar.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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