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Is sky limit for Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar?
Anybody remotely connected with the game of cricket would love to answer it in favour of the young man who has just turned 37. Let us take a moment to understand what he means to a country and its people where even mediocre passes off as good.
Pages and pages have been written about him and dictionaries have been whetted to find new words to describe his art and yet he conjures something new that challenges the common man and the poet alike to explain and describe.
166 Test matches, 442 One Day matches, 31000 international runs, 93 international centuries - what keeps him going? How does he manage to perform so well for so long? How does he continue to win hearts without losing his credibility at any point of time in his career?
For us to understand this phenomenon of a man, let us try to break him into the different realms of life that he has so successfully mastered in order to be where he is today.
When you love something, you want to do it well and do it again and again, better and better. Sachin has done just that. He has reversed the relationship between age and performance from being directly proportional to inversely proportional. For a man who made his international debut in 1989, it is indeed remarkable that he can carry on like a machine and still capture the hearts of billions of young new cricket watchers today. And even today when he steps on to the cricket field, one can see that the same fire that lit up his eyes two decades ago still burns high and with the same intensity to outperform the others. All artists have the desire to perfect their art. The little master is no different. Once Harsha Bhogle famously said that Sachin actually said “2” to himself before playing a ball and in fact got 2 runs in that ball – that is the masterclass he brings to his game. He has no hesitation to ask even the youngest member of the team about his game. The T20 version was supposedly a young man’s game and supposedly a hitter’s game. Well Sachin proved all that wrong. The class with which he has scored his runs in this year’s IPL shows that a purist, perfect in his game can succeed under any conditions. And Sachin is still one of the quickest runners between the wickets in the Indian team. Although he doesn’t bowl as much these days, Sachin can bowl medium pace, leg spin, off spin , cutters, googlies, the whole bag.
It is one thing wanting to do well and another putting in the effort. For two decades now, Tendulkar has gone through the grind of international cricket – the travel, long tours, time away from family and home, failures, slumps – and yet one can never fault him for his commitment to the team and the game.
He gives it his all. Commitment involves willingness to put leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of excellence. Who can forget the fact that as a young man, he used to shadow practice at midnight before a match when all the other players would be fast asleep. Who can forget those nets sessions where Sachin would ask the local bowlers to bowl around the wicket at his leg stump anticipating Shane Warne’s tactics in 1998 and bringing all those shots into play in a rampaging innings at Chennai. Even at this age when it would be easy for him to just sit back and relax, he is constantly seeking to refine his game, modify, find new shots, helping young cricketers.
Humility is always a defining trait of being Sachin. He respects the game and always treats it as above all individuals. He has carried the imagination, hopes and pressures of billions of people on his shoulders match after match, year after year for 20 long years. That kind of pressure can break a brittle mind but not Sachin’s. The adulation and the attention have ruined many a great talent but could not even touch the great man. It is not easy. Fame and fortune sit lightly on Sachin, they say. Well they are wrong. They have not sat at all. They have just been standing at arm’s length waiting for the master to order them to good deeds. Sachin soaks in these pressures and converts them into energy and motivation he can use on the field. This has also helped him to be one of the most controversy free cricketers. He has never sledged. He has never been involved in match fixing or ball tampering or wild partying. There has been not one allegation of misconduct against him. He has never said no to an interview. He has never declined an autograph. He believes in setting the right example to kids. He loves them. He becomes like them when he is on a cricket field. That is how he conquers all these pressures. For these pressures don’t mean anything to children. That is how he lords over the cricket field. By respecting the game so much and loving the game so much, he masters the game. Even today, if anybody says they are not disappointed when Sachin gets out, I’d question their judgement.
No article about Sachin can be considered complete without mentioning some of his innings as the writer’s favourites. It is very difficult to pick from 31000 international runs and 93 hundreds but again it is also so beautifully romantic and poignant to relive those great moments when nothing else seemed to matter in the world – just watching one man bat would wipe away all the miseries and worries of this world. So let me indulge myself here by listing 10 best knocks each in Test and One day matches:
1. 200 not out vs South Africa, 2010: Of course, what else could it have been? The game’s first double hundred and it inevitably came from the greatest One Day cricketer of all times. Tendulkar again asserted his landlord rights over the format.
2. 175 vs Australia, 2009: The innings that breathed life into the 50 over format after the siege by T20. Sachin single handedly took India to the doorstep of an otherwise unimaginable victory chasing a target of 350.
3. 143 vs Australia, 1998: The Sharjah Desert Storm, it was called. It was an incredible knock, matched only by the importance of the situation Sachin decimated the Aussie bowling attack to single handedly take India into the finals of the tournament. Even today, dictionaries cannot whet the appetite to describe that innings. It was batting nirvana.
4. 134 vs Australia, 1998: It was the final of the tournament and India again chased a stiff target of 270. Sachin, on his birthday, took it upon his shoulders to win the tournament for the country. It was India’s most productive year in terms of trophies won and Sachin of course was the chief architect.
5. 98 vs Pakistan, 2003: A world cup match against arch rivals that would determine who would go through to the next round. India was chasing 275. Sehwag was belligerent while it lasted for 5 overs. Sachin’s calculated assault against one of the most fearsome bowling attacks of the time – Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib Akhtar, brought India victory and thrust to the finals of the tournament.
6. 117 vs Australia, 2008: The first final of the last trination tournament in the Australian summer. India chasing again. Sachin was simply too good for the likes of Lee, Johnson, Bracken and Clarke.
7. 140 not out vs Kenya, 1999, Tendulkar flew in from his father’s funeral to play a very emotional and yet important knock that helped India qualify for the Super Six of the World Cup.
8. 141 vs Australia, 1998: It was the first Mini World Cup – the precursor to today’s Champions Trophy. Sachin took the Aussie attack of Mcgrath, Kaspwowicsz, Warne and Brendon Julian to the cleaners.
9. 118 vs Pakistan, 1996: Sharjah once again was the ambience of a Tendulkar whirlwind that smashed the likes of Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain, Aquib Javed and Ata-ur-Rahman almost had his boot also hit for sixer.
10. 82 vs New Zealand, 1994: It was the innings that defined Sachin as an opening batsman in One Day Cricket. Mark Greatbatch had popularized the concept of pinch hitting in the initial overs. Sachin played an extraordinary innings of 82 off 49 balls to announce the arrival of a master.
1. 155 vs South Africa, 2001: India was in trouble and Pollock, Ntini and Hayward and Klusener were steaming in. Sachin counterattacked and along with Sehwag brought India a respectable total.
2. 169 vs South Africa, 1997: India had lost the 1st Test badly and South Africa had put on a huge score in the second test. Sachin hit back at one of the fastest attacks in the world – Donald, Pollock, Klusener and Mcmillan. It took an amazing catch from Adam Bacher to stop a marauding Sachin.
3. 155 not out vs Australia, 1998: It was the first test of the series and Shane Warne had priced out Sachin cheaply in the first innings. Sachin charged the Aussie attack in the second innings and left Warne in almost tears with his shots over midwicket.
4. 136 vs Pakistan, 1999: An innings that would always pain him for after having batted through back pain and taken India from 62 for 5 to within 13 runs of victory, Sachin was foxed by the wily Saqlain and Indian tail messed it up to lose the game.
5. 103 not out vs England, 2008: A remarkably efficient innings. India was chasing 387 and Sehwag had given a dream start. Sachin controlled the innings on a 5th day turner to register a superb victory.
6. 241 not out vs Australia, 2004: Sydney witnessed a different innings, not the flamboyant Sachin that we usually see but a mellowed down grinding innings - a hundred after 2 years, Sachin silenced his critics who wrote him off. The innings did not have one single cover drive.
7. 194 not out vs Pakistan, Multan: The test will be more remembered for Sehwag’s triple hundred- the first by an Indian in Tests. Sachin had scored back to back hundreds after the Sydney double but this innings was more fluent and we knew he was back.
8. 193 vs England, 2002: A fluent punishing knock at Leeds that got India its first victory in England after a long time. The big 3 – Saurav, Sachin and Rahul all scored hundreds.
9. 116 vs Australia, 1999: Melbourne watched in awe as the great man pummeled the Aussie attach and was making the world’s biggest ground look small. In a series that was marred by poor umpiring against him where he was even given out LBW when he was halfway down the pitch and the ball hit his arm, Sachin had battled single handedly.
10. 114 vs Australia, 1992: Perth was one of the liveliest tracks in the world with pace and bounce. Mcdermott and Merv Hughes breathed fire but a 19 year old Sachin met fire with fire just as he had one in the previous test at Sydney where he had dismantled a hapless debutante Shane Warne.
What an experience, each of these innings was and the countless others.
There is bound to be and there have been criticisms thrown at him at different times. He has never been a match winner, he has always failed in the most crucial matches, and he puts self before the team and all that. Well, to me they are just rubbish. Yes he should have won us 1996 World Cup semifinal against SriLanka. Well remember India was 90 for 1 when he got out for 65. India was 120 for 8 when the match was forfeited due to unruly crowd. Yes he failed in the 2003 World Cup final. But he had scored 670 runs in the tournament and was the highest run getter converting an abysmal start to a dream run. The law of averages had to catch up somehow. Sachin himself would be the first person to admit that he should have won these games for his team. It will irk him no end and will push him to somehow do it somewhere along the line – a World Cup victory would be the crowning glory to the King of One Day cricket.
Yes there have been truly great cricketers who have played the game with such passion, panache and penchant for the game and their talents and every nation during every period has thrown up these giants. Richards, Lara, Steve Waugh, Ponting, Gilchrist, Kallis, Dravid, Ganguly, Flintoff, McGrath, Warne, Wasim, Waqar, Ambrose, Walsh, Kumble, Laxman and the list can go on. All of these cricketers have been a part of the era in which Sachin has played. Sachin has just outlasted all of them.
Brian Lara would have been the sole lord of the game. Ricky Ponting would have been the best One Day player. Rahul Dravid would have been India’s greatest test batsman hands down. VVS Laxman would have been the game’s greatest purist delight. There may not have been an argument on any of the above if not for one man – Sachin Tendulkar. In an era where even good is great, Sachin is beyond compare. He, for me, has been the game’s best ambassador for over two decades.
So is he a man, a machine, a myth or just a product of the television era? How does it matter? If the fire is still burning in him to achieve some more unimaginable feats, we are all blessed to be enthralled.