When the greatest of men depart from the scene after his deeds are done, he leaves behind a trail of magnificent footprints across frontiers that had been unknown before he began his journey. These can be marvelled at, analysed with awe … retrofitted into routes often attempted but seldom completed.
As we reflect about Sachin Tendulkar on the occasion of his 41st birthday, the incredible numbers left in the wake of his 24-year career are like the footprints showcasing the new terrains he discovered and traversed. However, while the figures underline his greatness, they don’t tell us about the aesthetic delight with which he accumulated the colossal amount of runs. The footprints show the stupendous distance covered, but not the sparkling twists, turns, swivels and pirouettes along the way.
This is where memory takes over. The innumerable moments of brilliance are relived, along with the thrill that his magic sparked off.
Like any great performer, his feats have touched men in different ways. Each cricket adherent who watched him through the years has his own special Tendulkar moments.
Here is a collection of some of the gilt edged memories of this writer across his years at the top, moments off the beaten track of the oft recounted Tendulkar stories, incidents that may not be so commonly recounted, but which nevertheless tell of his continuing magical flame that kindled excitement and blazed away till the day of his emotional farewell.
1. October 1990, Bombay - A crop of modern giants met for the Pepsi double wicket tournament. The field included, among others, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Malcolm Marshall, Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva, Mohammad Azharuddin and Richard Hadlee. The 17-year-old Tendulkar was partnered by the veteran Kapil Dev
That tournament saw the genius of Tendulkar unfurl in a flourish of extraordinary colours. Kapil and he emerged the winners, beating Ravi Shastri and Azhar in the final. However, it was one of the group matches on the first day that saw greatness ignited, with a couple of strokes of incredible talent and almost divine inspiration.
Richard Hadlee, premier swing bowler of the world, number one on Deloitte’s rating, had troubled every batsman in India two years earlier. He ran in with his smooth fluid steps and sent a perfectly pitched delivery on the stumps. Tendulkar’s head remained steady under the white helmet, his bat swung in a straight arc and sent the ball over mid-off, and it sailed all the way into the stands. A couple of balls later, a bemused Hadlee pitched just outside off, landing on the good-length spot, moving it away. The bat remained straight as it swung down to strike the ball over extra-cover. As confounded eyes followed the resultant trail of miracle, the ball landed soundly on one of the advertising boards beyond the boundary. And this was one and a half decades before the rise of Twenty20.
2. Wankhede, 1994 - Tendulkar walked out on the third morning with the score reading 11 for three, the lead just 40. Another wicket and the Test match would be lost. Kenny Benjamin tore in to bowl, three wickets already in his bag, confidence oozing from every step. And Tendulkar leaned into the cover drive, hit disdainfully on the up, with hardly a follow-through. The ball raced away to the fence, the stroke replayed over and over for life by the few lucky witnesses.
One stroke to shift the balance of power, to upset the rhythm of a battery of fast men – one moment of audacity that snatched the reins from the hands of the West Indians. He went on to score 85, turning the match on its head.
3. Eden Gardens, 1998 - The last over before tea. Tendulkar had just come in and according to every tenet of classical batsmanship, he was supposed to negotiate the over with a straight bat and thrust out pads. Especially because the bowler was a certain Shane Warne, bowling round the wicket, pitching on the rough.
But such measures are for the mortal men. The ball was predictably pitched outside the leg-stump, breaking viciously towards the off. And down went Tendulkar on his knees, the bat came around in a lightning arc, the ball was struck with the resounding thwack, over the mid-wicket against the spin. Almost defying the very laws of motion, forces and gravity, it landed among the raucous crowd already intoxicated by the champagne stroke-play.
4. Blomfontein 2001 – As usual it was crisis galore as Tendulkar faced Shaun Pollock, Nanty Hayward, Makhaya Ntini and Jacques Kallis. It was 68 for four when Sourav Ganguly departed fending Kallis to gully. With debutant Virender Sehwag at the wicket, the master devised a new way of dealing with short, intimidating bowling. The body was arched back, the bat came up and caressed the ball over the slips. He did it again and again, and the ball kept disappearing behind the many men who crouched behind the wicket. At 88, he bettered the efforts. Kallis bowled fast and short, the stroke was brought out yet again, the caress of the bat persuading the ball and it sailed all the way in a magnificent red streak. The momentum had shifted.
5. Napier 2009 – Genius is seldom static – it flows, evolves and adapts. The young Tendulkar pulled with arrogance, the ball zooming over the mid-wicket, regardless of whether it was Andy Caddick, Brett Lee, Muttiah Muralitharan or Shane Warne who dared to pitch short. Lacking inches, he cannot control the stroke and so he pulls into the air – thus was his fierce method annotated by the many experts.
But, now, he was 36. It was during his second phase of absolute greatness, when he batted as if touched by enlightenment, with 16 hundreds during the 2007-2011 phase, after Ian Chappell had written him off for good. By then, he had bartered the edge of audacity for a cloak of impregnability. Here, Chris Martin bounced, with a backward square-leg and long-leg in place. Tendulkar swivelled and pulled, getting on top of the ball, rolling his wrists and keeping it along the ground, bisecting the two fielders with surgical precision. The ball raced away for four.
Five glittering moments that showcase the continuing evolution of genius through the years.
(Arunabha Senguptais 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)