As readers read this, the clock has started to tick: Five days, 15 sessions and 30 more hours. That’s what we have left to savour and cherish. For we won’t see him in white flannels ever again, turning up for India as second nature.
A journey that had begun on November 15, 1989, will finally start to wind down on November 14, 2013. Life has indeed turned full circle for Sachin Tendulkar.
Where does Sachin Tendulkar go from here? What will he do come the morning of November 19? Will he stop training, giving up on a 25 year old routine? If Mumbai makes the Ranji trophy final will he make one rare appearance for his team, having played the season opener at Lahli? Will he continue to be involved with the Mumbai Indians come the IPL?
As the social media sites started overflowing with Sachin-related tweets and posts, Nita Ambani, the Mumbai Indians owner, summed up the moment nicely.
“As he starts walking back to the pavilion for one final time it will be difficult for me to control tears. As my son Akash says, it will be a story for the grandchildren. I will tell them I was there at the Wankhede when the greatest batsman of all time played the last innings of his life.”
What does one say about Sachin’s career that has not already been said or written? Perhaps the only thing to say is it is a testimony to greatness that can never be challenged by even the most ardent critic.
Cricket has always celebrated Jack Hobbs scoring 100 first class hundreds. In most debates on the world’s best opening batsman of all time, Hobbs has beaten his illustrious successors like Sunil Gavaskar to the finish line on the strength of these hundreds in the first class game. They are a testament to his hunger and phenomenal run scoring ability.
But the difference between first class and test cricket is like chalk and cheese. Scoring 100 hundreds in international
cricket is a feat that has once and for all set Tendulkar apart from his predecessors, contemporaries and perhaps also from a generation of future greats who haven’t yet graced the field of play.
Greatest sportsman ever?
How do we figure out the enormity of a player who has played international cricket for 24 years soaking in the pressure of a billion plus? How do we evaluate a person who has scored 100 international hundreds? How do we rate a person who has scored 50,000 first class runs and has broken every record in the book? If there aren’t any cricketing comparisons, how do these accomplishments stand in comparison to greatness achieved in other sports?
Such comparisons, which are a fancy of every sports fan’s imagination, help in understanding the symbolism of the feat. The nearest comparisons are all from the field of athletics. Most recently Usain Bolt’s multiple world record breaking 100 metre runs serve as a good index. The first word to describe this is “unbelievable”. Sachin’s career is something similar. Babe Ruth’s home runs, Mark Spitz’s seven gold medal winning performance at Munich, subsequently bettered by Michael Phelps at Beijing, Nadia Commaneci’s perfect tens at Montreal are comparisons that help spice up the debate over the greatest ever athlete. It is the pinnacle of achievement in sport, which appears inconceivable to start with.
|Sachin Tendulkar is viewed as one of the biggest
icons in India [AFP]
Now to throw in a few more yardsticks into the mix. Pressure of a billion plus fans every time he has walked in to bat for over two decades, an ordinary team till the late 1990s forcing him to carry the batting burden almost alone and finally surviving at the height of his powers for a staggering 24 years with operations in his feet, ankle, hip, elbow and fingers.
We are now talking of the Sachin Tendulkar phenomenon. No sporting great has overcome so many challenges. Wilma Rudolph beating polio on her way to three Olympic golds fades in comparison. So does the legend from Bowral, considered cricket’s epitome of greatness. Don Bradman had never played with the pressure of a billion plus, never played a game where a loss was similar to a criminal conviction with a billion sitting in judgment. Bradman played a sport. Tendulkar plays a passion and one that drives the world’s most populous nation.
No sportsperson ever, and this is with reference to all the sports played in this world, will ever have to say this about pressure.
“The most important thing in trying to deal with pressure is to evolve your own mechanism to cope with the situation.” explained Tendulkar himself once. “In my case this was essential in trying to control the crowd every time I walked out to bat. I have been fortunate that crowds, both at home and away, have given me a rousing reception every time I have stepped out to bat.
“There has been a build-up right through my career. At times, however, the crowd was so loud that it added to my nervous tension at the start of the innings. Finding it difficult to concentrate, I had to devise my own technique of trying to control the crowd. Whenever I found the crowd too loud I decided to walk down the wicket and tap it for a while giving myself an extra 15-20 seconds to adjust. I’d be hoping that in this extra time the crowd would mellow a little and settle down.”
Possibly no athlete has ever faced this dilemma.
|Amitabh Bachchan, right, says he respects Tendulkar both as a performer and as an individual [AFP]|
Finally, as one time adversary Alan Donald summed it up nicely, “More than their game I judge a person by his character. How is he as a human being? In Sachin’s case he gets the highest marks in this regard. He is a man of impeccable character. And he did not change one bit right through the last 24 years. He remained modest and had time for his colleagues and mates, his competitors and fans. I know how much pressure he must have been under and yet he hardly ever lost his cool. This, more than anything, will be his real legacy. He will always remain the model sportsman that everyone will aspire to be.”
Finally, there are the words of Amitabh Bachchan, another Indian hailed the world over. Speaking on Sachin, he said: “When a performer does well amidst adversity, he adds to the glory of his country. And that’s what Sachin has done for well over two decades. He has made us all proud as a result of his feats of individual brilliance, which in turn have been appropriated by us all as proud Indians in all parts of the world. He stands for all that a mobile, progressive and dynamic India stands for – passion, dedication and excellence. I have the greatest of respect for him both as a performer and as an individual.”
There never was anyone else like Sachin Tendulkar and perhaps there never will be.
Boria Majumdar, a Rhodes Scholar, is one of India’s best known sports scholars and journalists.