If the name Sachin Tendulkar does not ring a bell in the mind of any average Indian then we can safely assume that he is either bluffing or is not a son of the soil. For over two decades this diminutive Indian has kept the nation and possibly the entire cricketing world in thrall with his deeds on the cricketing field. There are probably only a couple of personalities within this country, by my guess, whose acts have caused frenzy of this magnitude in the public and media, but even they have not been able to sustain it for so long.
Sachin’s story does not have the ingredients of a melodramatic novel and it’s not exactly a rags to riches one either. He was not born with a silver spoon but certainly the family had a reasonably comfortable existence in one of the middle class tenements in Bandra, a Western Suburb of Mumbai. Born to a working mother and a journalist father Sachin’s middle class upbringing, with its associated value systems, was the prime reason that his moorings were always on a firm ground and which still remain so to date. Fame, riches, mansions, fast cars and whatever comes as a perk for being the most prolific run getter of all times in virtually all forms of the game do not seem to have fazed this man. Probably the wealthiest sportsperson on mother earth the persona and demeanor of this man does not seem to indicate anything of that sort. He still remains the same old Sachin of yesteryears with his impish grin and a voice which one could easily mistake for that of a school boy. However, under the childlike countenance lies a persona who is all grit and determination ready to grind the opposition bowlers to dust. I am sure bowlers who have faced the brunt of Sachin’s devastating willow will not be easily fooled by that Schoolboyish look.
I was in my diapers when this man was already making his name heard in the echelons of the Cricketing world so I can only quote from the archives. His record partnership with his school mate Vinod Kambli for his alma mater Shardashram High School was being discussed by the Cricketing buffs of Mumbai , especially the cricketing connoisseurs of the “Shivaji Park Katta” who discuss cricket and its personalities with a religious fervor. Incidentally Vinod Kambli also went on to play for India at the highest level however, his turned out to be a classic case of what happens when one becomes heady with the trappings that come with the name and fame associated with a India XI Cricketer. I will not, and don’t want to dwell on Vinod Kambli except that it’s a telling commentary on how two individuals with almost identical career path up to a point can shape their own lives from there on.
From whatever I have read, I can assume more record breaking feats at School level brought him into quick recognition with the Mumbai Selectors and it was only a matter of time that he was playing for the Mumbai team which at one point in time boasted of almost half of India XI. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Chandrakant Pandit the young lad at a tender age of 14 celebrated his arrival on the domestic scenario with a flourish by scoring a ton on debut in the Ranji Trophy. More stellar performances in the domestic cricket ensured his quick passage to the National Team since there was no way that the BCCI Selectors could ignore his record breaking achievements in the domestic fixtures which were a result of his extraordinary talent.
Sachin played as an opener for the first time against New Zealand and a Century was on the cards which would have been a fairy tale beginning for such a great career. But Sachin was not ordained to achieve this land mark. He missed it by getting out on 89. Although one can’t call it by a whisker I would risk sticking my neck out to say that he was barely three strokes away from that coveted landmark. However it’s a way that God wants his chosen one to shape up. Similarly it’s possible that not scoring a Century on debut may be a blessing in disguise. In fact his first ton had to wait for quite a few tests and a few months when it eventually happened in England. I am probably saying this out of my personal adulation for Sachin but I have seen several examples notably that of Surinder Amarnath (Mohinder Amarnath’s elder brother) who entered the test arena with a flurry by hitting a ton but had a career that died without a whimper. Only G.S.Vishwanath and Greg Chappell were notable exceptions. So I feel the century on debut not happening was not a deterrent for Sachin. I presume he in fact became more resolute in his resolve to perform better and achieve not only his first ton but many more that were to follow.
Another story I hear from those who have watched Sachin in those early years is that of his encounter with the Spin Wizard Abdul Qadir in Pakistan when India toured that country in 1989. Abdul Qadir who was unquestionably a great leggie of his time (although I am told that his style was very unorthodox and frequently mimicked by Sunil Gavaskar drawing laughs from the crowd) would not have imagined before he started bowling to this rookie batsman, still in his early teens, that soon he would be at a loss to know as to how and where to bowl to this lad. Ball after ball from this legendary spinner was being carted out of the ground with such disdain by this teenager whose face did not belie any emotions of scoring over one of the ace bowlers of the opposition (especially one from Pakistan for whom India and Indians harbor those “Special Feelings”). Abdul Qadir was one of the first ones to taste the sting of Sachin’s fabled batting skills. However several bowlers after him such as the likes of Shane Warne, McGrath, Akram saw their reputations shred to pieces as they too like Qadir watched haplessly as the ball sailed over their head into the sight screen or disappeared into impunity. If the likes of the above mentioned names got such ‘treatment’, I choose not to talk about someone like Akhtar, who because of Sachin’s blitzkreig has the humiliating record of being the only strike bowler in the history to be taken out of the bowling attack after the 1st over. Humiliation indeed. He has been pulverizing the best of bowling attacks into submission all throughout his career. Akhtar, on the other hand, continues to reply these days, only with a pen though.
A lot of occasions later went on to highlight His temperament, confidence, skill, talent and hunger to score and win for INDIA. There have been hundreds of innings that have time and again proved His mettle. But one such innings that stands out to be the one for me, the one that’s a testament to this underlying two-decade old legacy, is the one against Pakistan in 2003 (yes there are many more, Sharjahs and Perths, but I’m picking my favorite). His sublime knock of 98 in the high-voltage WC’03 Wanderers game could, for many reasons, be the best of His glittering Career. First, INDIA-pakistan is volumes more than just another game of Cricket. Second, the hype surrounding that specific game was tremendously high. And last but not the least, the Pakistani bowling attack, arguably the most feared and penetrative in the world then with Akram and Younis, had vowed to create a torrid time for the INDIAN batsmen. Added to this was a stiff total of 273 by the Men in Green. But through all His Career, Tendulkar had become synonymous to words like dedication, courage, concentration, skill, temperament and perfection. He walked in, in sync with His reputation. And what followed was an exemplary knock that reinvented the way Batting’s done against high-quality pace attacks during high-voltage clashes. INDIA literally cruised home riding high on the platform set up by the Little Master. He has featured in so many similar games and played His part to perfection.
He is the quintessential flagbearer who has time and again planted the country’s flag on the highest meridians. Yes, we have had the Nuke from Najafgarh, the Prince of Kolkata, The Wall, a Very Very Special Artist to paint it in peerless patterns, a Captain Cool, a brilliant Yuvi, a rock-solid Gauty and the latest sensation Virat Kohli. They have had their moments, and have always did their best for us, INDIANS, but perhaps none of them has ever had the kind of impact Sachin has. Impact not only on INDIAN or World Cricket, but on INDIANS and the world as well.
Yes, it is true that Sachin will hang his boots sooner or later. Sachin also very well understands this but does not need to be reminded by people who are neither competent to talk about Sachin nor for that matter about the game itself. He is God’s messiah to Indian Cricket but alas not God himself so as any mortal he will call it a day. Yes, that day will truly be the saddest day for Indian Cricket and especially for the legion of his devout fans whose undying love for him has been undiminished over the years. I also happen to be one among those millions of ardent Sachin fans, better known as Sachinists. I do not claim any supremacy over the rest of my clan but I share the same passion, not an iota less or iota more. For me Cricket will never be the same again after Sachin.
Like you may not ever see another Bradman one may not witness another Sachin for decades or centuries to come. Yes, it’s possible that his records may be broken since, as they say, records are meant to be broken. But yet again, Sachin could turn out to be an exception to this rule as well. Among Sachin’s contemporaries only Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting come anywhere close to getting a mention. No one, absolutely no one has ever had the kind of impact Sachin has on the bowlers of the opposition, and that, I believe, is what takes him in his own league. Yes, he has the records, but its not just the records that make him the best in the business. It’s the apprehensiveness, the fear and the terror he commands in the opposition that sets him apart, and qualifies him as easily the best batsman in the world. His self-restrain from controversies, which, at his level, is incredibly difficult, is something that has taken him at this pedestal.
As any individual has his share of ups and downs in his or her profession even an individual as brilliant as Tendulkar is not spared from this law of nature. He too has had his share of batting failures however much lesser than any average cricketer. Having never scored a triple ton is possibly one such regret that he may be living with. A not so successful tenure as India Skipper may be another one. I personally draw a positive from that fact given that if Tendulkar had ever become a successful skipper the country could possibly have lost out on his sheer batting genius. Also it was greatness of the man when he realized that he was not tailored to be a leader of men to manfully hand over the mantle to more deserving leaders in the team. Not only did he relinquish his crown as a Captain but also was sporting enough to play under players far junior to him. He never allowed his ego to come in the way of national interest, a trait so rare and seldom seen in many of his predecessors who allowed their ego to grow bigger than matters more important to the nation.
Many former and present greats have spoken about Sachin and his greatness on and off the field. A look at Sachin is enough to tell about the man as a human being. I have not seen a face more humble and kind. Modesty and gentleness seem synonymous with him. He is a far cry from the tempestuous, rowdy, abusive cricketers of his genre and the current lot. I am too small a person to write anything more about Sachin and give him any suggestions but I will always carry the image of this great Indian Batting Maestro to the end of this world and will always be grateful to him for giving me those treasured cricketing memories which made my day, sorry, life.
I end with a note to fans. Do not criticize Sachin. He has always tried to do his best for the nation, and will continue to do it. Time and again he has bounced back from failures, coming out stronger than ever. So instead of speculating about his ‘reflexes’ and the impending Test retirement watch out and enjoy his game. Because someday we will have to make it a habit to watch the INDIAN dressing room without it’s most revered, talented and celebrated cricketer.