Iwas in eighth grade when I first saw Sachin Tendulkar play in flesh and blood at Kolkata in November 1991. South Africa were playing their first official international match since getting suspended from the sport in 1970 due to apartheid and Eden Gardens was chock-a-block with fans, their excitement palpable.
Tendulkar was already a star by then, besides being my favourite player (loyalties shifted rapidly then). Chasing a paltry total, India were left reeling at 60/4 with the yet unknown Allan Donald ripping apart the top order with his lightening pace. But Tendulkar stood firm amidst the collapse before guiding India to a comfortable victory with former schoolmate Praveen Amre playing the perfect foil.
That knock of 62 was enough to turn me into a hard-core Tendulkar fan for life. He was by far the best batsman I saw till then. And the view remains the same after 22 years as the master called it a day after playing a record 200th Test against the West Indies at his home ground, Wankhede Stadium. It was an emotional moment to see Tendulkar bat for the last time. It was unbelievable too as even after 24 years, Tendulkar played with his head still, beautiful balance with the bat coming down straight from middle stump. Class is truly permanent.
It’s a different debate whether the hype and hoopla over Tendulkar’s retirement is justified. But it’s us who put Tendulkar next to god while all the man in question did was bat, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. And his childlike love for batting went on to shatter almost every record a batsman can hold. A roughly calculated estimate shows Tendulkar has spent nearly five years of his life on the ground. Playing passionately over such a long period deserves to applauded. More so in this era of T20 cricket when short-lived instant fun has become the norm.
Tendulkar’s dismissal at Wankhede might sadden those who believe numbers matter the most. But for true cricket lovers, each and every stroke that came out Tendulkar’s bat in the swansong Test was a celebration. The nation cheered every time the master dished out his trademark straight drives, deft late cuts or the back-foot punches piercing the off-side cordon. Interestingly, the numbers too underline Tendulkar’s greatness.
Tendulkar’s overall ODI aggregate is 18,426, almost 35 per cent more than next-best Ricky Ponting. His 49 ODI centuries is 63 per cent better than the second-highest, Ponting’s 30. While people often say he rarely won matches for India, stats reveal a completely different picture. Tendulkar scored 33 of his 49 centuries in wins, and averaged more than 56 in team wins, at a strike rate of 90. Among those who scored at least 5000 runs in wins, only Brian Lara and Vivian Richards have higher averages. In terms of hundreds scored in wins, Ponting is next with 25.
The respect Tendulkar earned across the globe is enormous. And that has been the case since 1989 when he walked out to bat as a 16-year-old rookie against Pakistan, then loaded with fiery fast bowlers. In 1992, noted cricketer-turned-columnist Peter Roebuck saw the little master crack a sublime ton against Australia on a green top at Perth, widely regarded as the most bouncy pitch in the world. This is what he had to say: ‘Sometimes it is a privilege simply to be there. Perth was one such occasion. To see Sachin Tendulkar bat for two hours was like getting transported from our humdrum world and taken to a distant land, a land of magic, an impossible land in which a boy of 18 summers can bat as man can seldom ever have batted.’ No wonder that Allan Donald famously said: ‘I have learnt you don’t sledge a Tendulkar. Having words with them simply makes them even better.’ It was truly an emotional moment when the entire nation stood up to bid adieu to the master, with wife Anjali on her feet, mother Rajni, watching his son play live for the first time, smiling, coach Ramakant Achrekar trying hard to hold back tears and son Arjun waiting near the boundary line to greet him.
The long journey, which began on a chilly November morning at Karachi’s National Stadium and meandered through several venues across the globe with astounding success, has finally come to an end. There will never be another Sachin Tendulkar, simply because there will never be another 1991 or 1996 or 1999 or 2011.
Take a bow master.