By Sougat Chakravartty
A mountain of runs scored, a plethora of records broken and set; both marked a career that spanned twenty-four glorious years.
A genius who could stop time in India, as the late Peter Roebuck once remarked.
A man who once carried the hopes and expectations of a nation, and received the same gesture in return when the victorious Men in Blue carried him on their shoulders after winning the World Cup.
And a kid with an unruly mop of hair who still possesses that same child-like enthusiasm and excitement for cricket.
He just called time on a glittering journey which began all those years ago at Shivaji Park, under the tutelage of the legendary Ramakant Achrekar (Achrekar Sir, to be precise). It took a ‘late cut’ from the elder statesman to bring the kid to his senses and restore his focus on a game that gave him a lot of joy.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar – master batsman, immortal icon, international legend – will be missed by legions of fans, and by the world of cricket at large.
Here are 10 things that the cricket fraternity will miss about Sachin, making them rue his absence from the game:
10. The courage in the face of fire and pain
He was all of 16 – skinny, his hair standing up all over his head, and wielding a bat as light as his feet. Pakistan pacer Waqar Younis was also making his first appearance in the international arena, and was breathing fire on the Indians along with Wasim Akram and Imran Khan.
Waqar broke Sachin’s nose with a nasty bouncer, making him bleed heavily. Navjot Singh Sidhu, at the other end, rushed over to the youngster, and so did the other Pakistanis.
The young one just shook off the impact of the blow, walked up to Sidhu and said in his now-famous squeaky voice: Main khelega.
Sidhu was shocked, the Pakistanis stunned. Sachin proceeded to play an innings that saved the game for India.
Those two words epitomized the hallmark of the teen prodigy’s character – he was going to play on come what may. It made the world sit up and take notice.
Ten years later, against the same opposition, Sachin would defy pain to delay the inevitable defeat at Chennai. The Main Khelega attitude was there for all to see, and it remained with him all throughout his career; something that the cricketing fraternity has long admired and will miss sorely.
9. The record-breaking knack
Landmarks, milestones, records – throw any moniker you can think of, and Sachin’s achieved it.
Going past both Sir Don Bradman and Sunil Gavaskar’s pre-set target of the maximum Test centuries is no mean feat.
Hitting a hundred international centuries – one of them being the first double century scored by a male player in ODIs – requires three things: skill, guts and stamina. Sachin has had all three in equal measure, maybe even more than any other wielder of the willow.
In the Test arena – the ultimate destination of a cricketer – Sachin stands like a colossal giant, with the distinction of being the second youngest to score a hundred in the longer format. The only individual landmark he has missed out on so far is a Test triple century; hopefully he can achieve that in a winning cause when he takes the field for the final time.
For the statistically inclined members in the world of cricket, Sachin remains the first person to have crossed the 10,000-run mark (and every other 1000-run barrier after that) in ODIs. Speaks volumes of his longevity, doesn’t it?
8. The unique mix of leg breaks, off-breaks and medium pace
Dennis Lillee, the former Australian pacer of the seventies and early eighties, was unimpressed by the precociously talented kid from Mumbai, who had arrived at the MRF Pace Foundation with ambitions of becoming a world-class fast bowler. He advised the youngster to concentrate on batting, and he never looked back from that moment onward.
But Sachin did not give up bowling entirely. He worked on being as versatile as possible in this area, and added both leg-breaks as well as off-breaks to his medium-pace. When it came to breaking partnerships, his services were called upon more than once.
No one will forget the semi-final of the Hero Cup against South Africa at the Eden Gardens, when none of India’s frontline bowlers were willing to take the ball for the last over. Tendulkar put his hand up and requested skipper Azharuddin that he be allowed to send down the final six deliveries, managing to convince both the leader as well as veteran all-rounder Kapil Dev.
What followed was history – India had to defend six runs, Sachin gave away three, and a wicket also fell courtesy a run-out from Salil Ankola. The man himself remained as cool as ever despite the high amount of pressure on his side.
He single-handedly won the quarterfinal of the 1998 ICC Knockout Trophy against Australia with a magical century and four wickets.
Most remember Harbhajan Singh‘s exploits at the Eden Gardens in 2001, but it was the Little Master’s triple strike on the final day that helped India level the series. It was his unreadable delivery that consigned Adam Gilchrist to his one and only king pair in Test cricket, and will be remembered by the cricketing world for aeons to come.
7. The Prized Wicket – target of bowlers all over
During most of the nineties, the little champion’s wicket was the prize that every bowler wanted. The buzz around cricketing circles at the time was that if you could knock over Sachin early, the rest would fall like a pack of cards.
That happened to come true more often than not. The infamous 1996 World Cup semi-final comes to mind. Tendulkar’s dismissal triggered a collapse that the crowds couldn’t stomach, and ultimately the match referee awarded the game to Sri Lanka, who went on to win the final.
Each time the Master Blaster fell early, India struggled to put up a decent score or stumbled during the chase. The humiliation dished out by the Lankans at the Coca Cola Trophy final in 2000 is still fresh in the minds of many.
During the NatWest Series final in 2002, Sachin was bowled by left-arm spinner Ashley Giles when India were struggling to chase down 326. Millions of viewers in India switched off their television sets – a practice they had been following since the mid-nineties.
This is certainly not something that the great man himself wants to remember, but despite his recent travails in Test matches, he still remains the prize catch.
6. The Run Machine
He just enjoyed doing what he did best – making runs. No, scratch that. Others made runs, Sachin made scores of runs.
There was always a hint of the mischievous child in that smiling face of his each time he made a fifty or a hundred. In the World Cup editions of 1996, 2003 and 2011, he crafted at least one century – each knock a lot more polished and aesthetic than the last. Yet, nothing could take away the sheer joy that suffused his facial features when his brilliant efforts with bat and ball won games for his side.
His double century against the South Africans at Gwalior in 2010 let the entire cricketing fraternity know that at 37, Sachin still had the appetite for amassing as many runs as possible; a run glutton he was, so to speak.
The similarities with Bradman do not stop with their batting styles. Both had such a propensity to score truckloads of runs that it became difficult for opposing captains to set attacking fields in order to curtail their gluttony. It took Bodyline to keep Bradman in check, while Saqlain Mushtaq’s doosra and Glenn McGrath’s probing off-stump line managed to do the same to Tendulkar, albeit briefly.
It is the burning desire for runs that will be conspicuous by its absence when Sachin walks into the sunset of a glorious career.
5. The ‘lone ranger’ quality – the ability to battle on single-handedly
More often than not, the veteran batsman has waged a lone fight for his team on cricket’s battle grounds.
It began with his maiden Test century against England at Old Trafford in 1990, where he had less support before Manoj Prabhakar’s arrival at the crease; his sublime innings saved the match for India.
The Chepauk Test in 1999 is also testimony to his single-minded focus, where he trudged on despite facing the pain of a chronically troublesome back.
On the 2000 tour to Australia, he was the only one to shine during a nightmarish period in his captaincy; at Melbourne, his century and half-century in both innings failed to prevent an Indian defeat.
But each time he scored a century in the final of a tournament, India went on to win the match handsomely. His blitzkrieg against Zimbabwe in the final of the Coca Cola Trophy in 1998 led his side to a comprehensive ten-wicket win. Henry Olonga, who had dismissed him in the previous game with a short delivery, was given a crash course in batting as the master simply tore him apart.
It was the arrival of young turks Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni that lifted the pressure of getting tall scores from Tendulkar’s shoulders. But for the better part of his 24-year journey, it was the Maestro’s immense talent that India thrived on.
4. The crafty mind
Perhaps inspired by the Don, Sachin suggested the promotion of promising young all-rounder Irfan Pathan up the order during the captaincy of Rahul Dravid and tenure of Greg Chappell as the Indian coach.
The move paid off almost immediately during the Sri Lanka series, with Pathan belting 83 in one game.
Sachin has always been an integral part of the team’s strategic moves, and has been frequently observed having lengthy, animated chats with the captain on the field. In a recent interview, India skipper MS Dhoni acknowledged that his inputs and differences of opinion with the master about overall strategy resulted in his elevation to the hot seat.
Along with plotting against rival teams, Tendulkar also masterminded the downfall of Shane Warne during Australia’s 1998 visit to India. He would regularly and repeatedly charge down the track to hammer the bowler for boundaries, almost at will.
He has also come up with several unorthodox shots – the paddle-sweep, scoop over fine leg, and the trademark upper-cut over third man, and these strokes have paid rich dividends. This, if not his presence, will be hard to forget for the fraternity at large.
3. The Destroyer of bowling attacks
Before Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni, there was Sachin Tendulkar – the original Destroyer of bowling attacks.
He was a ferocious hitter of the ball in his younger days, and once hit four massive sixes off Pakistan’s legendary spinner Abdul Qadir in a 20-over exhibition game.
Other notable exploits of his unbridled hitting include Desert Storm in 1998, whacking the stuffing out of the Kenyan bowlers in the 1999 World Cup, and pulling Andrew Caddick for a massive six over square leg in 2003.
Upon his surgery for a recurring back problem, a shoulder operation and treatment for tennis elbow, he focused more on dismantling bowling attacks with his varied arsenal of shots. From out-and-out stroke-play to a much more refined, classical selection of shots, Tendulkar dominated the bowlers with the precision of a surgeon.
There will be no more views of the Master in full flow as he prepares to bring down the curtains on an illustrious career. But perhaps in his final match, we may get to see Tendulkar of old!
2. The Master Class – the rare combination of technique, grace and solidity
Described as the most wholesome batsman of his time, Sachin’s stance is based on complete balance and perfect head position when facing a delivery.
He doesn’t indulge in unnecessary flourishes or flashy maneuvers, and quite surprisingly, he has little preference for the slow pitches on offer in the subcontinent.
Uniquely, Sachin has the habit of punching the ball in the direction he wants it to go. The straight drive as well as the cover drive are examples of his compactness at the crease; now vintage stuff for the youthful fans of the Master.
Richie Benaud once stated that the late Frank Worrell had an incredible ability to persuade the ball in the direction he wanted it to travel in. Sachin is in the same mould, though there is a lot more punch in his shots than the former West Indies skipper was wont to display.
He has also shown an amazing ability to adapt to his body’s needs and keep scoring consistently. Not many batsmen in the world, past or present, have managed to do so, beset as they are, or were, with multiple injuries.
Blending classical technique with raw aggression and fluid grace, Sachin in full flow is a sight for sore eyes!
1. The ability to carry the hopes of a billion with grace, dignity and humility
Along with Rahul Dravid, Sachin too has carried himself with the utmost dignity while remaining untouched by needless controversy as much as possible.
His middle-class upbringing may have certainly contributed to this, but it was his long association with childhood coach Ramakant Achrekar that inculcated in him a sense of discipline and hard work while being humble at the same time.
It is not easy to shoulder the hopes of a billion Indian fans and many more around the world for over two decades, leading some to wonder whether Tendulkar is actually human. Yet, he has done so with aplomb.
Flashy stuff, air kisses, publicity stunts – none of these have been seen in the great man who has earned all his riches the hard way. He is as simple as ever, and dignified in his approach both on and off the field. He hasn’t been one to wear his emotions on his sleeve in public, so it came as a surprise when he lashed out at controversial former coach Greg Chappell’s questioning of his attitude towards the game.
For his sheer admirable characteristics, if not for his batting exploits, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar will leave a massive void in the hearts of the cricketing fraternity across the world. There shall never be another one like him, and not seeing him in the line-up after November of this year will take some getting used to.