Long journey to immortality
The sheer body of work present before us is daunting. In 24 years of international cricket, Tendulkar redefined the art of batting. Abundance of natural talent and sheer hardwork was his strength of character.
One defining quality which Tendulkar had in abundance, was courage. After being hit on the nose by a Waqar Younis bouncer at the tender age of 16, here was a man-child who refused to be daunted. The very next ball was hit through covers for a boundary and carried on to save the Test for India with a tenacious fifty.
His 136 versus Pakistan in Chepauk is an abiding memory. Carrying a serious back injury and scoring all those runs was simply mind-bloqwing. With only 17 runs left to win after his departure, India lost the final three wickets for merely four runs.
The period from January 1997 to December 2002 was the most prolific in his career. He was arguably the best batsman in the world in both formats of the game. In Tests, he scored 5705 runs at 63.38. In terms of run scored, Rahul Dravid was next with 5178 runs (62 Tests) at 55.08. In ODIs, he scored 5871 runs at 50.01 in the same period. Most memorable were those devastating back to back centuries in Sharjah against Australia in 1998 better known as ‘ Desert Storm’.
However, in 69 Tests between the beginning of 1993 and the end of 2001, India won only 23 Tests, with only three victories coming abroad. Post 2001, the scenario changed with Sourav Ganguly ushering in a new era in Indian cricket. The likes of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and later Virender Sehwag came into their own. The work load was evenly shared and in certain cases these individuals did over-shadow Tendulkar. It is also true that post 2002, Tendulkar did fail to win matches for India single-handedly. It was not as if he didn’t consistently contribute to India’s victories. It was just that the correlation between Tendulkar’s moments of brilliance and significant victories for India didn’t always match.
He broke the trend in style with a match-winning unbeaten ton against England in Chennai (2008-09) while chasing 386 in the fourth innings. It was also the highest ever successful fourth innings chase in the sub-continent.
Another aspect of Tendulkar’s personality which got translated onto the pitch was discipline and single-mindedness. His mammoth 241 in Sydney in the final Test of the 2003-04 series Down Under is probably the greatest individual display of pure discipline in modern day sport. After being dismissed twice while chasing the ball outside off-stump, Tendulkar simply shut down the off-side in Sydney, not even hitting a single of his trademark cover drive. And he maintained the policy for over 10 hours, facing 436 deliveries.